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IPA Task Force on Remote Sensing of Permafrost

Initiated during the Ninth International Permafrost Conference (NICOP), Fairbanks, Alaska, USA


Guido Grosse, University of Alaska Fairbanks, USA (
Claude Duguay, University of Waterloo, Canada (


Permafrost covers about one fourth of the Earth’s land surface and is an important component of the cryosphere. Permafrost dynamics during periods of global change are increasingly recognized as an important factor in biogeochemical cycling, topographic and hydrological change, and, recently, in engineering and infrastructure development. Remote sensing of permafrost and permafrost landscapes is a young discipline with some hurdles to overcome: in contrast with ice sheets and glaciers, permafrost is a subsurface feature of the cryosphere solely defined by the temperature of the ground. Spaceborne and airborne remote sensing of permafrost has been primarily restricted to the interpretation of surficial properties to indirectly derive subsurface permafrost characteristics. However, the possible rapid changes in permafrost during climate warming or after surface disturbance can be monitored directly with a broad variety of remote sensing techniques. Of highest interest for the permafrost and climate change research community are quantitative analyses of change, matter and energy fluxes, and the physical properties of permafrost. Often, numerical modeling and intensive ground truthing is involved to support these remote sensing studies.
Current studies focus on the quantitative remote sensing of permafrost dynamics due to thermal erosion and abrasion of coasts, lake shores, and stream banks, thermokarst subsidence, thermo-erosion, frost heave and thaw subsidence, thaw slumping, solifluction, and rock glacier movement; the derivation of surface and sub-surface properties like active layer depth and permafrost temperatures, soil moisture and ground ice contents; the establishment of quantitative relationships between surface features and processes (vegetation, soils, wild fires, human-induced disturbances) and permafrost state and dynamics; the use of remotely sensed data in numerical modeling of permafrost; and the use of remote sensing in detecting and dealing with permafrost-related changes imposed on infrastructure and development in the polar regions and mountainous areas.

Statement of Task Force goals

  1. Generate a database with key information on study sites where change in permafrost was or is investigated using remote sensing methods. See questionnaire here and excel-table with database fields
  2. Promote the use of airborne and spaceborne sensors in detection and mapping of permafrost properties and periglacial processes in the light of ongoing climate change
  3. Strengthen technical expertise and use of remote sensing in other IPA working groups, i.e. on coastal dynamics, periglacial landforms and processes, and permafrost mapping
  4. Synthesize a peer-reviewed paper on current developments in remote sensing of permafrost environments
  5. Establish linkages to major space and funding agencies (NASA, NSF, ESA, CSA, JAXA, DLR) and other entities (STG, WMO) to promote importance of permafrost monitoring from space


  • 1st newsletter of the IPA Task Force on Remote Sensing of Permafrost (2009-07-20) - pdf

Current activities

  1. Organize session C04 on ‘The Changing Cryosphere and Hydrosphere through Remote Sensing, Geodesy and Modeling’ at AGU Fall Meeting, December 2009, San Francisco
  2. Coordinate involvement of permafrost field researchers and modelers as individual user groups in the European Space Agency Project ‘Data User Element Permafrost’ starting in June 2009
  3. Prepare dedicated sessions for Third European Permafrost Conference, June 2010, Svalbard
  4. Contact Journal Editors to facilitate Special Issue on Remote Sensing of Permafrost
  5. Fill a database of sites where studies on change in permafrost were conducted or are ongoing using remote sensing methods. We request input from the permafrost community for this effort. See questionnaire here and excel-table with database fields. Please send filled tables to Guido Grosse.

Current liaisons with international organisations and programmes: European Space Agency Data User Element Permafrost 

Past activities

  1. Oral session on Remote Sensing of Permafrost Landscapes during NICOP 2008, Fairbanks
  2. Oral and Poster Session on ‘Remote Sensing of Changes in Terrestrial Permafrost’ at AGU Fall Meeting 2008, San Francisco 

Involvement of the research community

We invite everybody interested in remote sensing of permafrost and related processes to participate in the Task Force activities. If you are interested to contribute or getting involved please send an email to Guido Grosse and get part of a growing research community focusing on a very hot cryosphere topic. We maintain an email list to which we will send bi-annual updates on our activities and information about space agency programs and initiatives relevant to our Task Force theme. 

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