Arctic National Parks Thermokarst Feature Inventory & Monitoring

ARCN logo and link

Project Title: Thermokarst distribution and characterization in the National Park Service Arctic Network (ARCN)
Project Duration: 1-May-2006 - 31-Dec-2008
Andrew Balser (University of Alaska Fairbanks)
W. Breck Bowden (University of Vermont)
Michael Gooseff (Pennsylvania State University)
Jeremy Jones (
University of Alaska Fairbanks)
Diane Sanzone (National Park Service)
Ted Schuur (University of Florida)
Overview: Recent summaries of international research clearly document the past and future extent of climate warming in the Arctic. In the decades between 1954 and 2003 annual average temperatures in the Arctic rose ~1 deg C and average winter temperatures increased 2-4 deg C. Results from general circulation models (GCMs) suggest that average annual temperatures in the Arctic may rise a further 3-5 deg C and winter temperatures may increase by 4-7 deg C. These models also suggest that precipitation may increase 20% over the Arctic as a whole and up to 30% in coastal areas during the winter and autumn. These are important changes that will have large impacts on Arctic systems. Of particular interest, is the near certainty that large areas of permafrost will thaw. Permafrost across the Arctic has already warmed by up to 2 deg C and projections are that 10-20% of the area currently occupied by permafrost will thaw in the next 100 years, shifting the permafrost boundary 100’s of kilometers north. It is well recognized that permafrost thawing will lead to increased development of thermokarst features, with severe impacts on civil infrastructure (e.g., roads, railways, and buildings). However, the ecological impacts of increased thermokarst development are relatively poorly understood and may be important. In recent years we have noted a substantial number of fresh thermokarst features in the foothills region around the Toolik Lake Field Station and in the upper reaches of the Noatak River, two areas that we have examined intensively. This study sets our to determine if thermokarst features are wide-spread in the Arctic Parks and whether their frequency of formation has increased.
ARCN map
Map of Arctic National Parks, from National Park Service web site.

Specific Objectives:
1. Inventory and monitor current thermokarst features throughout the Arctic National Parks Network.

2. Develop methods for remote sensing of thermokarst features across the arctic landscape, for identification and monitoring.

3. Monitor the status of thermokarst features in the arctic national parks.

Noatak area thermokarst
3 km long active layer detachment feature found near Feniak Lake, photographed from the air.
Dr. Jones above a thermokarst headwall
Dr. Jones perched above a 1 m tall headwall of an active layer detachment feature.
"Stitched" photos of thermokarsts in the Noatak Preserve:
Thermokarsting along the Anisak River

You can see Andrew Balser on the left side of this photo, at the "head" of the active layer detachment feature.

Balser, AW, WB Bowden, JB Jones, MN Gooseff, DM Sanzone, A Bouchier, and A Allen. 2007. Thermokarst distribution in the Noatak Basin, Alaska: Increased frequency and correlations with local and regional landscape variables. American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, San Francisco (C32A-08).

Gooseff, MN, WB Bowden, A Balser, J Jones, A Rinehart, and A Bouchier. 2008. Permafrost degradation impacts on soils, hydrology, and aquatic biogeochemistry in the Brooks Range, Alaska. 1
st International Conference on Hydropedology, University Park, PA.

Publications Related to this Research

Bowden, WB, MN Gooseff, A Balser, A Green, BJ Peterson, and J Bradford. 2008.
Sediment and nutrient delivery from thermokarst features in the foothills of the North Slope, Alaska: Potential impacts on headwater stream ecosystems. Journal of Geophyscial Research-Biogeosciences, 113, G02026, doi:10.1029/2007JG000470.

Bouchier, A. 2008. Response to permafrost failure features on hillslopes in the Brooks Range, Alaska. Master's thesis, 68 pp., Department of Geology & Geological Engineering, Colorado School of Mines.

Students Involved with Project:

  • Angela Allen (Brown University)
  • Aurora Bouchier (Colorado School of Mines)
  • Martin Briggs (Colorado School of Mines)
  • Julia Larouche (University of Vermont)
  • Amanda Rinehart (University of Alaska, Fairbanks)

  • Project Links:
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    This project is funded through a sub-contract to University of Vermont, originally from the National Park Service.

    This page was created on 02-Aug-2006.
    This page was last updated on 25-Jan-2009.