Surface temperatures and their influence on the permafrost thermal regime in high-Arctic rock walls on Svalbard

Julia.Boike [ at ]


Permafrost degradation in steep rock walls and associated slope destabilization have been studied increasingly in recent years. While most studies focus on mountainous and sub-Arctic regions, the occurring thermo-mechanical processes also play an important role in the high Arctic. A more precise understanding is required to assess the risk of natural hazards enhanced by permafrost warming in high-Arctic rock walls. This study presents one of the first comprehensive datasets of rock surface temperature measurements of steep rock walls in the high Arctic, comparing coastal and near-coastal settings. We applied the surface energy balance model CryoGrid 3 for evaluation, including adjusted radiative forcing to account for vertical rock walls. Our measurements comprise 4 years of rock surface temperature data from summer 2016 to summer 2020. Mean annual rock surface temperatures ranged from −0.6 in a coastal rock wall in 2017/18 to −4.3 ∘C in a near-coastal rock wall in 2019/20. Our measurements and model results indicate that rock surface temperatures at coastal cliffs are up to 1.5 ∘C higher than at near-coastal rock walls when the fjord is ice-free in winter, resulting from additional energy input due to higher air temperatures at the coast and radiative warming by relatively warm seawater. An ice layer on the fjord counteracts this effect, leading to similar rock surface temperatures to those in near-coastal settings. Our results include a simulated surface energy balance with shortwave radiation as the dominant energy source during spring and summer with net average seasonal values of up to 100 W m−2 and longwave radiation being the main energy loss with net seasonal averages between 16 and 39 W m−2. While sensible heat fluxes can both warm and cool the surface, latent heat fluxes are mostly insignificant. Simulations for future climate conditions result in a warming of rock surface temperatures and a deepening of active layer thickness for both coastal and near-coastal rock walls. Our field data present a unique dataset of rock surface temperatures in steep high-Arctic rock walls, while our model can contribute towards the understanding of factors influencing coastal and near-coastal settings and the associated surface energy balance.

Item Type
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Helmholtz Cross Cutting Activity (2021-2027)
Research Networks
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Eprint ID
DOI 10.5194/tc-15-2491-2021

Cite as
Schmidt, J. U. , Etzelmüller, B. , Schuler, T. V. , Magnin, F. , Boike, J. , Langer, M. and Westermann, S. (2021): Surface temperatures and their influence on the permafrost thermal regime in high-Arctic rock walls on Svalbard , The Cryosphere, 15 (5), pp. 2491-2509 . doi: 10.5194/tc-15-2491-2021

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