Mapping Permafrost Variability and Degradation Using Seismic Surface Waves, Electrical Resistivity, and Temperature Sensing: A Case Study in Arctic Alaska

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Ahmad Tourei , Xiaohang Ji, Gabriel Fernando Rocha dos Santos, Rafał Czarny, Sergei Rybakov, Ziyi Wang, Matthew Hallissey, Eileen Martin, Ming Xiao, Tieyuan Zhu, Dmitry Nicolsky, Anne Jensen


Subsurface processes significantly influence surface dynamics in permafrost regions, necessitating utilizing diverse geophysical methods to reliably constrain permafrost characteristics. This research uses multiple geophysical techniques to explore the spatial variability of permafrost in undisturbed tundra and its degradation in disturbed tundra in Utqiaġvik, Alaska. Here, we integrate multiple quantitative techniques, including multichannel analysis of surface waves (MASW), electrical resistivity tomography (ERT), and ground temperature sensing, to study heterogeneity in permafrost’s geophysical characteristics. MASW results reveal active layer shear wave velocities (Vs) between 240 and 370 m/s, and permafrost Vs between 450 and 1,700 m/s, typically showing a low-high-low velocity pattern. Additionally, we find an inverse relationship between in situ Vs and ground temperature measurements. The Vs profiles along with electrical resistivity profiles reveal cryostructures such as cryopeg and ice-rich zones in the permafrost layer. The integrated results of MASW and ERT provide valuable information for characterizing permafrost heterogeneity and cryostructure. Corroboration of these geophysical observations with permafrost core samples’ stratigraphies and salinity measurements further validates these findings. This combination of geophysical and temperature sensing methods along with permafrost core sampling confirms a robust approach for assessing permafrost’s spatial variability in coastal environments. Our results also indicate that civil infrastructure systems such as gravel roads and pile foundations affect permafrost by thickening the active layer, lowering the Vs, and reducing heterogeneity. We show how the resulting Vs profiles can be used to estimate key parameters for designing buildings in permafrost regions and maintaining existing infrastructure in polar regions.



Civil Engineering, Geophysics and Seismology, Geotechnical Engineering, Hydrology


Permafrost Degradation, Polar Civil Infrastructure, Shear Wave Velocity, Multichannel Analysis of Surface Waves, Electrical Resistivity Tomography, Ground Temperature Sensing


Published: 2023-07-19 06:52

Last Updated: 2024-03-18 10:58

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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Conflict of interest statement:

Data Availability (Reason not available):
The seismic and ERT data have been submitted to The Arctic Data Center for open release and are currently under review prior to release and DOI assignment. Once these data have been released, this DOI will be added to the open data statement. Should any reviewers or editors wish to access this data submission as part of the review process, the authors would be happy to share a copy. The seismic data were processed using the SeisImagerSW software (GeometricsTM), with parameters as described in Section 3.1. The ERT data were processed using the Res2Dinv software (Geotomo SoftwareTM), with parameters as described in Section 3.2. The physical permafrost samples photographed in Figure 6 have been submitted for registration through SESAR and are currently under review prior to release and IGSN assignment. The temperature data are available through The Arctic Data Center (Nicolsky & Wright, 2023).