Unprecedented permafrost thaw dynamics on a decadal time scale: Batagay mega thaw slump development, Yana Uplands, Yakutia, Russia

Frank.Guenther [ at ] awi.de


Ice-rich permafrost that formed in glacial periods of the Quaternary is highly vulnerable to thaw under ongoing climate warming and anthropogenic disturbance. The mega thaw slump near the village of Batagay (Yakutia, Russia) is an outstanding example of permafrost degradation and demonstrates that thermo-erosion processes may occur in unexpected locations, develop very rapidly in particular after disturbances, and leave behind deep rutted badlands. Retrogressive thaw slumps are particularly frequent along riverbanks and coastlines of regions where buried glacier ice or ice-rich glacial till have been mapped. In East Siberia, syngenetic Late Pleistocene Ice Complex (Yedoma) permafrost deposits accumulate volumetric ground ice contents of up to 80-90% % and extend tens of meters below the ground surface. Beyond the Yedoma main distributional range in the coastal lowlands of the Laptev and East Siberian seas, these deposits are also found on slopes of the Verkhoyan Mountain Range and in valleys of surrounding foothills, providing favorable preconditions for rapid thaw development. The Batagay mega slump exposes a profile of 30m thick Yedoma deposits underlain by ice saturated alluvial sand of around 60 m thickness and another very ice-rich layer at the base. We present data from a multi-sensor remote sensing time series investigation of the mega slump in order to assess the planimetric and volumetric dimensions and its decadal and interannual expansion rates. For ortho-rectification purposes and for volumetric analyses, we photogrammetrically derived highly detailed digital elevation models. The height difference between the headwall and the slump outflow is 145 m along a distance of 2300 m, while the maximum slump width is 840 m. Our analysis does not show any signs of stabilization after several decades (since 1980s) of slump growth, with the headwall retreating with observed rates of generally >10 m and more recently up to 30m per year. Reconstruction of a paleo-surface revealed that the slump has carved into the rolling topography to a depth of up to 73 m. The current size of the slump is >69 ha, while it had thawed >25 × 106 m³ of ice-rich permafrost through 2016. The majority of sediment released from the slump episodically dams up the Batagay River, forming a large temporary lake which then empties catastrophically.

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AGU Fall Meeting, 12 Dec 2016 - 16 Dec 2016, San Francisco, USA.
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Günther, F. , Grosse, G. , Jones, B. M. , Schirrmeister, L. , Romanovsky, V. E. and Kunitsky, V. V. (2016): Unprecedented permafrost thaw dynamics on a decadal time scale: Batagay mega thaw slump development, Yana Uplands, Yakutia, Russia , AGU Fall Meeting, San Francisco, USA, 12 December 2016 - 16 December 2016 .

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