ABSTRACT

Accurate identification of the relationships between permafrost extent and landscape patterns can help to develop airborne geophysical or remote sensing tools to map permafrost in remote locations or across large areas. These tools will be particularly applicable in discontinuous permafrost where climate warming or disturbances such as human development or fire can lead to rapid permafrost degradation. We have linked field-based geophysical, point-scale, and imagery surveying measurements to map permafrost at five fire scars (1930, 1975, 1988, 2001, and 2010) on the Tanana Flats in central Alaska. Ground-based elevation surveys, seasonal thaw-depth profiles, and electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) measurements were combined with airborne imagery and light detection and ranging (LiDAR) to identify relationships between permafrost geomorphology and elapsed time since fire disturbance. ERT proved to be a robust technique for mapping the presence or absence of permafrost because of the marked difference in resistivity values for frozen versus unfrozen material. There was no clear relationship between elapsed time since fire and permafrost extent at our sites. However, we have found that the transition zone boundaries between permafrost soils and unfrozen soils in the collapse-scar bogs at our sites had complex and unpredictable morphologies. This result suggested that attempts to quantify the presence or absence of permafrost using aerial measurements alone could lead to incomplete results. Taken in total, the results from our study indicated that although ground-based ERT measurements were the most rapid means of mapping permafrost, we were still limited in being able to apply airborne surveying measurements at the landscape scale toward accurately estimating permafrost extent.

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