The future of community- and policy- relevant thermokarst research: Lessons learned and a call to action

guido.grosse [ at ]


Several decades of research have provided insight into patterns of and controls on thermokarst initiation and expansion, yet studies tend to focus on individual types of thermokarst (i.e., thaw lake formation and subsequent drainage) in particular regions. Today, we are left with uneven knowledge about abrupt permafrost thaw both conceptually and regionally. The goal of this presentation is to summarize recent advancements in monitoring thermokarst and its impact on soil, vegetation, and water while also framing a call to action for the next decade of research. Over the next decade, permafrost researchers must align their efforts on several fronts to not only increase our knowledge about changing permafrost but to align this knowledge with key community and policy needs. To support climate change planning and adaptation, northern communities need future thaw vulnerability mapped at scales relevant to their needs, which will require a suite of downscaled and new mapping and remote sensing products. Thermokarst predisposition maps based on circumpolar datasets greatly overestimate the area vulnerable to thermokarst, which can lead to poor planning and climate anxiety. In some situations, existing mapping products may be useful for downscaling with more detailed input data. In other situations, entirely new approaches may be required to support local action. A second key need for community relevant research is the ability to detect and monitor early warning indicators of thermokarst. Such information is needed to support scenario planning and to help mitigate the risks to social, cultural, and physical infrastructure created by permafrost change. We are evaluating the potential for using changes in vegetation, wetting/drying and topography as early warning indicators of thermokarst, all of which can be remotely sensed. Finally, integrating fine-scale disturbances such as thermokarst into large scale models remains a key challenge but critical for supporting sound climate policy. While a diversity of permafrost modeling approaches is necessary, we outline guiding principles that will help enhance model comparisons, assimilation of simulated data across spatiotemporal scales, and the ability for policy decisions to be rapidly informed by emerging science on permafrost change.

Item Type
Conference (Invited talk)
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Helmholtz Cross Cutting Activity (2021-2027)
Peer revision
Not peer-reviewed
Publication Status
Event Details
AGU Fall Meeting 2021, 13 Dec 2021 - 17 Dec 2021, Online.
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Cite as
Turetsky, M. R. , Cox, W. , Dieleman, C. M. .. , Grosse, G. , Koven, C. and Lawrence, D. M. (2021): The future of community- and policy- relevant thermokarst research: Lessons learned and a call to action , AGU Fall Meeting 2021, Online, 13 December 2021 - 17 December 2021 .


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