Permafrost Biogeochemistry in Nordenskiold Land (ClimaGas, formerly LowPerm)

Changes in the biogeochemistry of active layer pore waters, groundwaters and runoff are being studied with a particular emphasis upon methane, but also upon other redox-sensitive processes and their relationship with climate-relevant gases, nutrients and organic matter.

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  • field work
  • long-term monitoring
  • education and outreach


  • cryosphere
  • geology
  • other

Project Keywords

  • cryosphere / frozen ground / permafrost
  • cryosphere / frozen ground / seasonally frozen ground

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The release of methane from the summer thaw layer above permanently frozen ground (permafrost) is a well known problem in Arctic science, because it constitutes a potentially harmful greenhouse gas emission source. This problem was the focus of our first project (LowPerm). However, too little is understood about how deeper methane sources within and beneath the permafrost are also able to escape to the atmosphere. Permafrost thaw and glacier retreat are two climate-driven processes that make this possible. ClimaGas has therefore started monitoring these two scenarios in Svalbard. In so doing we have found that groundwaters emerging from deep beneath the permafrost in the valley bottom can emerge with methane at very high concentrations. Next to the retreating glaciers, we found lower concentrations of methane, and in some cases, none at all due oxidation by glacial meltwater. The first year of the project has also involved mapping these groundwater springs across Nordenskiold Land, an area ~ 4800 km2. Ground truthing has detected methane in some but not all cases. However, an important outcome has been confirmation that the field sites initially chosen for our project in Adventdalen are representative of other sites in Svalbard. Other work has focussed upon numerical modelling of the groundwater flow, which has shown very long residence times (1000s of years) beneath the permafrost in the valley bottom due to very slow migration of the water. By contrast, seasonal freshening of the groundwater springs in the mountains has been detected during summer, indicating a faster flowing system (with less methane). Lastly, the collection of samples for chemical and microbiological analysis at the seepage sites has commenced. Chamber measurements at these sites have shown far more emission of methane than initially expected, due to the escape of the gas through cracks in the permafrost around the seepage site. Soon the chemical and biological processes that heavily influence the methane that is able to escape to the atmosphere at these locations will be understood in a quantitative manner.

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