EGU2020 BG Sessions in the spotlight: Permafrost

EGU2020 BG Sessions in the spotlight: Permafrost

The EGU 2020 abstract submissions are open until January 15. Here, we’ll highlight the planned biogeoscience (BG) sessions. Stay tuned and find the session for your abstract!

Today’s focus is on permafrost. These perennially frozen regions span the Arctic, the Tibetan Plateau, and mountain regions throughout the globe. Permafrost is highly vulnerable to current and future climate change and could form a potentially significant positive climate feedback loop. In the biogeosciences, permafrost research focuses mainly in the carbon-rich regions of the Arctic and Tibetan Plateau, and three sessions hosted or co-organised by the Biogeosciences Division five into these topics in detail:


First, CR1.2, co-organized by BG1: Permafrost in transition – future permafrost ecosystems and consequences for climate feedback. This session is convened by Juul Limpens, Rúna Magnússon and Gabriela Schaepman-Strub.

The convenors say:

Rationale: Progressive thawing of permafrost poses a significant threat to the stability of arctic landscapes, and has strong consequences for our climate. To predict the transition of arctic landscapes and its consequence for climate-feedback, we need to understand the dynamics of permafrost thaw. Most climate models assume a gradual, top-down thawing of permafrost, resulting in gradual decomposition of carbon and enhanced plant growth (“Arctic Greening”). However, evidence of an alternative, abrupt thawing trajectory of permafrost (“Arctic Browning”) is currently increasing across the Arctic. Consequences for landscape stability and climate feedback diverge widely between these trajectories, which emphasizes the need to understand their triggers.

Aim: In this session we aim to bring together and integrate the state-of the art on the future development of permafrost ecosystems from various disciplinary backgrounds. Thereby, we hope to improve our understanding of (i) the anticipated occurrence of various thaw phenomena under global warming, (ii) the implications of these various thaw phenomena for permafrost ecosystems and (iii) the implications of various thaw phenomena for climate feedbacks.

Contributions: We welcome contributions from all disciplinary fields focusing on the future development permafrost ecosystems. Contributions may include, but are not limited to: (i) observational studies of permafrost degradation and recovery and associated developments in vegetation, hydrology and/or greenhouse gas fluxes, (ii) modelling of the occurrence, distribution and implications of permafrost thaw and (iii) remote sensing studies of the extent and rate of development of permafrost features.

We anticipate an exciting programme with a keynote lecture by Dr. Merritt Turetsky (incoming Director, INSTAAR at the University of Colorado Boulder) on our current knowledge and the main research gaps related to the cross-scale impacts of abrupt thaw phenomena, from local-scale changes that affect water and food security to carbon emissions and global climate. She will also discuss how permafrost thaw is interacting with other disturbance regimes such as wildfire.


Secondly, CR4.4, co-organized by BG3/CL4/GM7: Permafrost Retrogressive Thaw Slumps – Hotspots of Rapid Permafrost Thaw. This session is convened by Sebastien Wetterich, Alexandr Kizyakov, Thomas Opel, Trevor Porter and Melissa Ward Jones.

The convenors say:

The study of rapid permafrost degradation features such as thaw slumps on river shores, sea coasts and slopes in High Latitudes have increased in recent years with accelerated permafrost thaw, tundra and taiga fires and thermo-erosion driven by ongoing Arctic warming. Furthermore, thaw slumps measuring several hundred meter wide and several decameters deep known as ‘megaslumps’ have been identified in Siberia and Canada and introduced to the scientific literature within the last decade. The combination of thermal and erosional processes in ice-rich permafrost terrain promotes the release of organic matter, nutrients and trace elements into riverine and marine systems that certainly alters food webs and biogeochemical cycling. Ongoing research focuses (1) on modern thaw slumps dynamics monitored by onsite and remote sensing as well as geophysical methods, (2) on quality and quantity of released material and its impact on adjacent ecosystems, and (3) on still preserved Quaternary inventories of fossil organic matter and ground ice that are accessible in thaw slump headwalls. The session seeks to combine these main research directions to promote interdisciplinary approaches within the field of permafrost research.

We are happy to confirm solicited presentations by Steve Kokelj (Northwest Territories Geological Survey) and George Tanski (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam).


And finally, BG4.3: Mobilization of permafrost material to aquatic systems and its biogeochemical fate. This session is convened by Birgit Wild, Lisa Bröder and Örjan Gustafsson.

The convenors say:

Permafrost thaw is expected to amplify the release of previously frozen material from terrestrial into aquatic systems: rivers, lakes, groundwater and oceans. Current projections include changes in precipitation patterns, active layer drainage and leaching, increased thermokarst lake formation, as well as increased coastal and river bank erosion that are further enhanced by rising water temperatures, river discharge and wave action. In addition, subsea permafrost that formed under terrestrial conditions but was later inundated might be rapidly thawing on Arctic Ocean shelves. These processes are expected to substantially alter the biogeochemical cycling of carbon but also of other elements in the permafrost area.

This session invites contributions on the mobilization of terrestrial matter to aquatic systems in the permafrost domain, as well as its transport, processing and potential interaction with autochthonous, aquatic matter. We encourage submissions focusing on organic and inorganic carbon as well as on other elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus, silica, iron, mercury and others, from all parts of the global permafrost area including mountain, inland, coastal and subsea permafrost, on all spatial scales, in the contemporary system but also in the past and future, based on field, laboratory and modelling work.


If you’re working in permafrost research, or permafrost research interests you, these three sessions will cover a wide range of topics relevant to biogeosciences. The interdisciplinary nature of this research is evident by the shared organisation with other divisions, so there will be plenty of opportunities to explore the significance of permafrost ecosystems within and beyond the biogeosciences. So, if this sounds like a topic of interest to you, please consider attending these session and submitting your abstracts here.


Post written by Joshua Dean.

Joshua is a new lecturer at the University of Liverpool in the UK. He teaches across the Geography and Environmental Science programs, and his research considers the role of aquatic systems in the global carbon cycle. He focuses on carbon dioxide and methane emissions from freshwater ecosystems, and uses radiocarbon and stable isotopes to trace carbon sources and its fate during aquatic transport.

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