Landscape Patterns of Permafrost Disturbance and Degradation in the Canadian High Arctic
Intensification of permafrost disturbances such as active layer detachments (ALDs) and retrogressive thaw slumps (RTS) have been observed across the circumpolar Arctic. These features are indicators of unstable conditions stemming from recent climate warming and permafrost degradation. In order to understand the processes interacting to give rise to these features, a multidisciplinary approach is required; i.e., interactions between geomorphology, hydrology, vegetation and ground thermal conditions. The goal of this research is to detect and map permafrost disturbance, predict landscape controls over disturbance and determine approaches for monitoring disturbance, all with the goal of contributing to the mitigation of permafrost hazards. Permafrost disturbance inventories were created by applying semi-automatic change detection techniques to IKONOS satellite imagery collected at the Cape Bounty Arctic Watershed Observatory (CBAWO). These methods provide a means to estimate the spatial distribution of permafrost disturbances for a given area for use as an input in susceptibility modelling. Permafrost disturbance susceptibility models were then developed using generalized additive and generalized linear models (GAM, GLM) fitted to disturbed and undisturbed locations and relevant GIS-derived predictor variables (slope, potential solar radiation, elevation). These models successfully delineated areas across the landscape that were susceptible to disturbances locally and regionally when transferred to an independent validation location. Permafrost disturbance susceptibility models are a first-order assessment of landscape susceptibility and are promising for designing land management strategies for remote permafrost regions. Additionally, geomorphic patterns associated with higher susceptibility provide important knowledge about processes associated with the initiation of disturbances. Permafrost degradation was analyzed at the CBAWO using differential interferometric synthetic aperture radar (DInSAR). Active-layer dynamics were interpreted using inter-seasonal and intra-seasonal displacement measurements and highlight the importance of hydroclimatic factors on active layer change. Collectively, these research approaches contribute to permafrost monitoring and the assessment of landscape-scale vulnerability in order to develop permafrost disturbance mitigation strategies.