What are Permafrost Models?
Permafrost models provide information on ground temperatures and the freeze-thaw cycle for time-periods and places where direct measurements are not available. The models are based on physical laws which control the thermal state of the ground. The complexity of permafrost models strongly varies according to the number and kind of processes represented by the model. Permafrost models, thus, can be as simple as a single equation which may be calculated on a sheet of paper and as complex as rocket science using super computers to obtain results. At the Alfred-Wegener-Institute we mainly work with so called transient permafrost models that aim to represent all exchange processes between the atmosphere and the ground as realistic as possible. With our model we investigate interactions between permafrost, vegetation, snow, lakes, and the Arctic ocean. Furthermore, we use our models to gain insights into important ecosystem functions such as the water and carbon cycles. We also investigate interactions between permafrost and infrastructure such as buildings, roads and railroad tracks. Our models can be used to test the sensitivity of permafrost soils to past, current, and future climatic conditions – which in turn helps us to understand the consequences of a rapidly warming Arctic.