Abstract

We present a detailed cryostratigraphic reconstruction of the degradation and recovery of near-surface permafrost in the southern Klondike goldfields, central Yukon Territory. Two ice-rich layers are recognized in near-surface permafrost and attributed to thermal impacts following vegetation disturbance. At an undisturbed forest site, the base of the modern active layer is stable. At an adjacent site, where a late twentieth century disturbance of surface vegetation and permafrost degradation occurred, there is evidence of recovery in the form of aggradation (upward shift) of the permafrost table following limited vegetation succession. Underlying both the undisturbed forest and the late twentieth century disturbance is an older thaw unconformity corresponding to a thaw depth of ∼2 m, likely associated with early twentieth century (gold rush era) impacts. Field and air photo surveys allow identification of the nature of the disturbances, while a chronology of the surface disturbance has been established using age estimates from tree rings, and the presence of tritium and post-bomb 14C from organic samples within aggradational ice. Collectively, these data underscore the importance of vegetation cover in maintaining ground temperatures in the discontinuous permafrost zone and suggest that, at least at the study site in recent decades, permafrost shows the potential to recover from disturbance in the modern climatic regime of the region.

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