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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 31, 2024
  2. Abstract

    Climate warming threatens to destabilize vast northern permafrost areas, potentially releasing large quantities of organic carbon that could further disrupt the climate. Here we synthesize paleorecords of past permafrost-carbon dynamics to contextualize future permafrost stability and carbon feedbacks. We identify key landscape differences between the last deglaciation and today that influence the response of permafrost to atmospheric warming, as well as landscape-level differences that limit subsequent carbon uptake. We show that the current magnitude of thaw has not yet exceeded that of previous deglaciations, but that permafrost carbon release has the potential to exert a strong feedback on future Arctic climate as temperatures exceed those of the Pleistocene. Better constraints on the extent of subsea permafrost and its carbon pool, and on carbon dynamics from a range of permafrost thaw processes, including blowout craters and megaslumps, are needed to help quantify the future permafrost-carbon-climate feedbacks.

  3. Abstract Beavers were not previously recognized as an Arctic species, and their engineering in the tundra is considered negligible. Recent findings suggest that beavers have moved into Arctic tundra regions and are controlling surface water dynamics, which strongly influence permafrost and landscape stability. Here we use 70 years of satellite images and aerial photography to show the scale and magnitude of northwestward beaver expansion in Alaska, indicated by the construction of over 10,000 beaver ponds in the Arctic tundra. The number of beaver ponds doubled in most areas between ~ 2003 and ~ 2017. Earlier stages of beaver engineering are evident in ~ 1980 imagery, and there is no evidence of beaver engineering in ~ 1952 imagery, consistent with observations from Indigenous communities describing the influx of beavers over the period. Rapidly expanding beaver engineering has created a tundra disturbance regime that appears to be thawing permafrost and exacerbating the effects of climate change.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2023
  4. Remote sensing-based Earth Observation plays an important role in assessing environmental changes throughout our planet. As an image-heavy domain, the evaluation of the data strongly focuses on statistical and pixel-based spatial analysis methods. However, considering the complexity of our Earth system, there are some environmental structures and dependencies that are not possible to accurately describe with these traditional image analysis approaches. One example for such a limitation is the representation of (spatial) networks and their characteristics. In this study, we thus propose a computer vision approach that enables the representation of semantic information gained from images as graphs. As an example, we investigate digital terrain models of Arctic permafrost landscapes with its very characteristic polygonal patterned ground. These regular patterns, which are clearly visible in high-resolution image and elevation data, are formed by subsurface ice bodies that are very vulnerable to rising temperatures in a warming Arctic. Observing these networks’ topologies and metrics in space and time with graph analysis thus allows insights into the landscape’s complex geomorphology, hydrology, and ecology and therefore helps to quantify how they interact with climate change. We show that results extracted with this analytical and highly automated approach are in line with those gatheredmore »from other manual studies or from manual validation. Thus, with this approach, we introduce a method that, for the first time, enables upscaling of such terrain and network analysis to potentially pan-Arctic scales where collecting in-situ field data is strongly limited.« less
  5. Abstract Nitrogen regulates multiple aspects of the permafrost climate feedback, including plant growth, organic matter decomposition, and the production of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. Despite its importance, current estimates of permafrost nitrogen are highly uncertain. Here, we compiled a dataset of >2000 samples to quantify nitrogen stocks in the Yedoma domain, a region with organic-rich permafrost that contains ~25% of all permafrost carbon. We estimate that the Yedoma domain contains 41.2 gigatons of nitrogen down to ~20 metre for the deepest unit, which increases the previous estimate for the entire permafrost zone by ~46%. Approximately 90% of this nitrogen (37 gigatons) is stored in permafrost and therefore currently immobile and frozen. Here, we show that of this amount, ¾ is stored >3 metre depth, but if partially mobilised by thaw, this large nitrogen pool could have continental-scale consequences for soil and aquatic biogeochemistry and global-scale consequences for the permafrost feedback.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2023
  6. Rapid Arctic environmental change affects the entire Earth system as thawing permafrost ecosystems release greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Understanding how much permafrost carbon will be released, over what time frame, and what the relative emissions of carbon dioxide and methane will be is key for understanding the impact on global climate. In addition, the response of vegetation in a warming climate has the potential to offset at least some of the accelerating feedback to the climate from permafrost carbon. Temperature, organic carbon, and ground ice are key regulators for determining the impact of permafrost ecosystems on the global carbon cycle. Together, these encompass services of permafrost relevant to global society as well as to the people living in the region and help to determine the landscape-level response of this region to a changing climate.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 17, 2023
  7. In a warming Arctic, permafrost-related disturbances, such as retrogressive thaw slumps (RTS), are becoming more abundant and dynamic, with serious implications for permafrost stability and bio-geochemical cycles on local to regional scales. Despite recent advances in the field of earth observation, many of these have remained undetected as RTS are highly dynamic, small, and scattered across the remote permafrost region. Here, we assessed the potential strengths and limitations of using deep learning for the automatic segmentation of RTS using PlanetScope satellite imagery, ArcticDEM and auxiliary datasets. We analyzed the transferability and potential for pan-Arctic upscaling and regional cross-validation, with independent training and validation regions, in six different thaw slump-affected regions in Canada and Russia. We further tested state-of-the-art model architectures (UNet, UNet++, DeepLabv3) and encoder networks to find optimal model configurations for potential upscaling to continental scales. The best deep learning models achieved mixed results from good to very good agreement in four of the six regions (maxIoU: 0.39 to 0.58; Lena River, Horton Delta, Herschel Island, Kolguev Island), while they failed in two regions (Banks Island, Tuktoyaktuk). Of the tested architectures, UNet++ performed the best. The large variance in regional performance highlights the requirement for a sufficient quantity, qualitymore »and spatial variability in the training data used for segmenting RTS across diverse permafrost landscapes, in varying environmental conditions. With our highly automated and configurable workflow, we see great potential for the transfer to active RTS clusters (e.g., Peel Plateau) and upscaling to much larger regions.« less
  8. Abstract. Sea level rise and coastal erosion have inundated large areas of Arctic permafrost. Submergence by warm and saline waters increases the rate of inundated permafrost thaw compared to sub-aerial thawing on land. Studying the contact between the unfrozen and frozen sediments below the seabed, also known as the ice-bearing permafrost table (IBPT), provides valuable information to understand the evolution of sub-aquatic permafrost, which is key to improving and understanding coastal erosion prediction models and potential greenhouse gas emissions. In this study, we use data from 2D electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) collected in the nearshore coastal zone of two Arctic regions that differ in their environmental conditions (e.g., seawater depth and resistivity) to image and study the subsea permafrost. The inversion of 2D ERT data sets is commonly performed using deterministic approaches that favor smoothed solutions, which are typically interpreted using a user-specified resistivity threshold to identify the IBPT position. In contrast, to target the IBPT position directly during inversion, we use a layer-based model parameterization and a global optimization approach to invert our ERT data. This approach results in ensembles of layered 2D model solutions, which we use to identify the IBPT and estimate the resistivity of the unfrozenmore »and frozen sediments, including estimates of uncertainties. Additionally, we globally invert 1D synthetic resistivity data and perform sensitivity analyses to study, in a simpler way, the correlations and influences of our model parameters. The set of methods provided in this study may help to further exploit ERT data collected in such permafrost environments as well as for the design of future field experiments.« less
  9. Abstract The accelerating climatic changes and new infrastructure development across the Arctic require more robust risk and environmental assessment, but thus far there is no consistent record of human impact. We provide a first panarctic satellite-based record of expanding infrastructure and anthropogenic impacts along all permafrost affected coasts (100 km buffer, ≈6.2 Mio km 2 ), named the Sentinel-1/2 derived Arctic Coastal Human Impact (SACHI) dataset. The completeness and thematic content goes beyond traditional satellite based approaches as well as other publicly accessible data sources. Three classes are considered: linear transport infrastructure (roads and railways), buildings, and other impacted area. C-band synthetic aperture radar and multi-spectral information (2016–2020) is exploited within a machine learning framework (gradient boosting machines and deep learning) and combined for retrieval with 10 m nominal resolution. In total, an area of 1243 km 2 constitutes human-built infrastructure as of 2016–2020. Depending on region, SACHI contains 8%–48% more information (human presence) than in OpenStreetMap. 221 (78%) more settlements are identified than in a recently published dataset for this region. 47% is not covered in a global night-time light dataset from 2016. At least 15% (180 km 2 ) correspond to new or increased detectable human impact sincemore »2000 according to a Landsat-based normalized difference vegetation index trend comparison within the analysis extent. Most of the expanded presence occurred in Russia, but also some in Canada and US. 31% and 5% of impacted area associated predominantly with oil/gas and mining industry respectively has appeared after 2000. 55% of the identified human impacted area will be shifting to above 0 ∘ C ground temperature at two meter depth by 2050 if current permafrost warming trends continue at the pace of the last two decades, highlighting the critical importance to better understand how much and where Arctic infrastructure may become threatened by permafrost thaw.« less