Articles | Volume 3, issue 3
Research article
10 Aug 2015
Research article |  | 10 Aug 2015

Vertical movements of frost mounds in subarctic permafrost regions analyzed using geodetic survey and satellite interferometry

I. Beck, R. Ludwig, M. Bernier, T. Strozzi, and J. Boike

Abstract. Permafrost-affected soils cover about 40–45 % of Canada. The environment in such areas, especially those located within the discontinuous permafrost zone, has been impacted more than any other by recorded climatic changes. A number of changes, such as surface subsidence and the degradation of frost mounds due to permafrost thawing, have already been observed at many locations.

We surveyed three frost mounds (lithalsas) in the subarctic, close to Umiujaq in northern Quebec, using high-precision differential global positioning system (d-GPS) technology during field visits in 2009, 2010 and 2011, thus obtaining detailed information on their responses to the freezing and thawing that occur during the course of the annual temperature cycle. Seasonal pulsations were detected in the frost mounds, and these responses were shown to vary with their state of degradation and the land cover. The most degraded lithalsa showed a maximum amplitude of vertical movement (either up or down) between winter (freezing) and summer (thawing) of 0.19 ± 0.09 m over the study period, while for the least degraded lithalsa this figure was far greater (1.24 ± 0.47 m). Records from areas with little or no vegetation showed far less average vertical movement over the study period (0.17 ± 0.03 m) than those with prostrate shrubs (0.56 ± 0.02 m), suggesting an influence from the land cover.

A differential interferometric synthetic aperture radar (D-InSAR) analysis was also completed over the lithalsas using selected TerraSAR-X images acquired from April to October 2009 and from March to October 2010, with a repeat cycle of 11 days. Interferograms with baselines shorter than 200 m were computed revealing a generally very low interferometric coherence, restricting the quantification of vertical movements of the lithalsas. Vertical surface movements of the order of a few centimeters were recorded in the vicinity of Umiujaq.