Multitemporal terrestrial laser scanning point clouds for thaw subsidence observation at Arctic permafrost monitoring sites

Julia.Boike [ at ]


This paper investigates different methods for quantifying thaw subsidence using terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) point clouds. Thaw subsidence is a slow (millimetre to centimetre per year) vertical displacement of the ground surface common in ice‐rich permafrost‐underlain landscapes. It is difficult to quantify thaw subsidence in tundra areas as they often lack stable reference frames. Also, there is no solid ground surface to serve as a basis for elevation measurements, due to a continuous moss–lichen cover. We investigate how an expert‐driven method improves the accuracy of benchmark measurements at discrete locations within two sites using multitemporal TLS data of a 1‐year period. Our method aggregates multiple experts’ determination of the ground surface in 3D point clouds, collected in a web‐based tool. We then compare this to the performance of a fully automated ground surface determination method. Lastly, we quantify ground surface displacement by directly computing multitemporal point cloud distances, thereby extending thaw subsidence observation to an area‐based assessment. Using the expert‐driven quantification as reference, we validate the other methods, including in‐situ benchmark measurements from a conventional field survey. This study demonstrates that quantifying the ground surface using 3D point clouds is more accurate than the field survey method. The expert‐driven method achieves an accuracy of 0.1 ± 0.1 cm. Compared to this, in‐situ benchmark measurements by single surveyors yield an accuracy of 0.4 ± 1.5 cm. This difference between the two methods is important, considering an observed displacement of 1.4 cm at the sites. Thaw subsidence quantification with the fully automatic benchmark‐based method achieves an accuracy of 0.2 ± 0.5 cm and direct point cloud distance computation an accuracy of 0.2 ± 0.9 cm. The range in accuracy is largely influenced by properties of vegetation structure at locations within the sites. The developed methods enable a link of automated quantification and expert judgement for transparent long‐term monitoring of permafrost subsidence.

Item Type
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Research Networks
Peer revision
ISI/Scopus peer-reviewed
Publication Status
Eprint ID
DOI 10.1002/esp.4833

Cite as
Anders, K. , Marx, S. , Boike, J. , Herfort, B. , Wilcox, E. J. , Langer, M. , Marsh, P. and Höfle, B. (2020): Multitemporal terrestrial laser scanning point clouds for thaw subsidence observation at Arctic permafrost monitoring sites , Earth Surface Processes and Landforms . doi: 10.1002/esp.4833



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