Skip to main content

Monitoring Thermokarst on the Landscapes of Northern Alaska

Thermokarst Monitoring at the Landscape Level: A Feasibility Study


Start Date
End Date
Release Date


Permafrost – the thick layer of permanently frozen soil found in Arctic regions – has been thawing rapidly over the past century due to climate change. When permafrost thaws unevenly, it produces thermokarst landscapes, irregular surfaces of small hills interspersed with hollows. The processes that produce thermokarst can lead to significant changes within the surrounding ecosystems, altering water quality, vegetation, and water, carbon, and nutrient storage and flows. These changes can have substantial implications for fish and wildlife populations and disrupt rural communities and infrastructure. The goal of this project was to better understand the extent of thermokarst processes and the rate at which they are happening under [...]

Child Items (4)


Attached Files

Click on title to download individual files attached to this item.

“Thermokarst lakes on Flaxman Island, AK - Credit: Bruce Richmond & Ann Gibbs ”
thumbnail 3.29 MB image/jpeg


Thermokarst-related surface disturbance alters hydrology, carbon and nutrient flux, vegetation, stream sediment-loading, and consequently, fish and wildlife habitat use and population dynamics. Lake expansion accompanied by drainage, development of new drainage networks due to thawing ice wedges, and riverbank thaw slumps are examples of thermokarst processes that may be increasing in areal extent with climate change and could substantially affect fish and wildlife populations. However, the rate and extent of thermokarst-driven land surface change at the landscape scale is poorly quantified. Project researchers will review and consider current and past efforts to monitor thermokarst processes at broad spatial and temporal scales, compare scale-relevance, costs, and strengths/weaknesses of the various approaches and techniques. Researchers will then outline potential study designs for monitoring thermokarst events that emphasize processes affecting large areas, or with a disproportionately large impact on fish and wildlife habitat quality. Specifically, we will 1) review existing thermokarst monitoring methods via a literature review, 2) provide a brief description and review of thermokarst landforms and processes associated with permafrost degradation typical of northern Alaska, 3) describe the landscape settings associated with each type, form, or process, 4) quantify the rate and cumulative area of such features in northern Alaska, 5) conduct a literature review to identify the ways in which fish, wildlife, and habitat resources may be impacted by thermokarst-affected landscapes, and 6) describe possible study designs (including novel approaches) and required sample sizes for a thermokarst monitoring program on the North Slope.

Project Extension


Item Actions

View Item as ...

Save Item as ...

View Item...