ABSTRACT

Surface-based 2D electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) surveys were used to characterize permafrost distribution at wetland sites on the alluvial plain north of the Tanana River, 20 km southwest of Fairbanks, Alaska, in June and September 2014. The sites were part of an ecologically-sensitive research area characterizing biogeochemical response of this region to warming and permafrost thaw, and the site contained landscape features characteristic of interior Alaska, including thermokarst bog, forested permafrost plateau, and a rich fen. The results show how vegetation reflects shallow (0–10 m depth) permafrost distribution. Additionally, we saw shallow (0–3 m depth) low resistivity areas in forested permafrost plateau potentially indicating the presence of increased unfrozen water content as a precursor to ground instability and thaw. Time-lapse study from June to September suggested a depth of seasonal influence extending several meters below the active layer, potentially as a result of changes in unfrozen water content. A comparison of several electrode geometries (dipole-dipole, extended dipole-dipole, Wenner-Schlumberger) showed that for depths of interest to our study (0–10 m) results were similar, but data acquisition time with dipole-dipole was the shortest, making it our preferred geometry. The results show the utility of ERT surveys to characterize permafrost distribution at these sites, and how vegetation reflects shallow permafrost distribution. These results are valuable information for ecologically sensitive areas where ground-truthing can cause excessive disturbance. ERT data can be used to characterize the exact subsurface geometry of permafrost such that over time an understanding of changing permafrost conditions can be made in great detail. Characterizing the depth of thaw and thermal influence from the surface in these areas also provides important information as an indication of the depth to which carbon storage and microbially-mediated carbon processing may be affected.

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