Permafrost thaw and ground settlement considering long-term climate impact in northern Alaska

  • Yang Z
  • Lee K
  • Liu H
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Abstract

Alaska’s North Slope is predicted to experience twice the warming expected globally. When summers are longer and winters are shortened, ground surface conditions in the Arctic are expected to change considerably. This is significant for Arctic Alaska, a region that supports surface infrastructure such as energy extraction and transport assets (pipelines), buildings, roadways, and bridges. Climatic change at the ground surface has been shown to impact soil layers beneath through the harmonic fluctuation of the active layer, and warmer air temperature can result in progressive permafrost thaw, leading to a deeper active layer. This study attempts to assess climate change based on the climate model data from the fifth phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project and its impact on a permafrost environment in Northern Alaska. The predicted air temperature data are analyzed to evaluate how the freezing and thawing indices will change due to climate warming. A thermal model was developed that incorporated a ground surface condition defined by either undisturbed intact tundra or a gravel fill surface and applied climate model predicted air temperatures. Results indicate similar fluctuation in active layer thickness and values that fall within the range of minimum and maximum readings for the last quarter-century. It is found that the active layer thickness increases, with the amount depending on climate model predictions and ground surface conditions. These variations in active layer thickness are then analyzed by considering the near-surface frozen soil ice content. Analysis of results indicates that thaw strain is most significant in the near-surface layers, indicating that settlement would be concurrent with annual thaw penetration. Moreover, ice content is a major factor in the settlement prediction. This assessment methodology, after improvement, and the results can help enhance the resilience of the existing and future new infrastructure in a changing Arctic environment.

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Yang, Z. J., Lee, K. C., & Liu, H. (2021). Permafrost thaw and ground settlement considering long-term climate impact in northern Alaska. Journal of Infrastructure Preservation and Resilience, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s43065-021-00025-2

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