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Eispolygone (Photo: Konstanze Piel)

Current climate and environmental changes are particularly dramatic in Earth’s permafrost-dominated periglacial regions. Observed warming in the Arctic also results in warming and thawing of permafrost in many regions and thus in the change of an important component of Arctic ecosystems. At the same time these changes cause feedbacks to the biosphere, the atmosphere, and the hydrosphere that can have regional and global impacts well beyond the permafrost regions and thus may also affect directly our lives in central Europe. The Periglacial Research Section therefore focuses its efforts on:

(1) the reconstruction of periglacial geo-ecosystems of the last 200,000 years, delivering important information on the temporal variability of landscape and climate change, ecosystem dynamics, and the carbon cycle.

(2) the observation and quantification of current periglacial processes and environmental changes and their causes in order to assess the state of permafrost today and its future transformation.

Our methods for (1) include the:

  • geological and paleoecological study of permafrost and lake drill cores as well as of natural exposures along sea coasts, river banks, and lake shores
  •  paleontological, biogeochemical, isotopic and paleogenetic analysis of samples in our laboratories
  • development of models to reconstruct past environments and dynamics of permafrost landscapes

Important methods for (2) include the:

  • remote sensing of landscape-scale changes due to permafrost dynamics
  • quantification of sediment and geochemical fluxes due to Arctic streams and from coastal erosion
  • continuous measurements of climate data, water and permafrost temperatures
  • the study of permafrost characteristics using geophysical methods
  • biogeochemical investigation of permafrost soils and deposits
  • formation and release of the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide through microbial and energetic processes in permafrost soils
  • study of water and energy balances of typical permafrost landscapes

Our research provides an outlook on the future developments within the 23 million square kilometer large terrestrial permafrost region on the northern hemisphere as well as the extensive regions with submarine permafrost under shallow Arctic shelf seas.

Our section, now active in researching periglacial landscapes since 1992, is focusing on Arctic and Subarctic Regions in Siberia, Alaska, Canada, and Spitzbergen. Since 1998 we conduct regular geoscientific and ecological studies during the Russian-German ‘Lena’ field expeditions at the research station Samoylov Island in the Lena River Delta of Northeast Siberia. These studies include long-term observations of permafrost state, energy and water balances, and trace gas fluxes.