Characterisation and Evolution of Periglacial Landscapes in Northern Siberia during the Late Quaternary : Remote Sensing and GIS Studies.

Grosse, Guido (2005) Characterisation and Evolution of Periglacial Landscapes in Northern Siberia during the Late Quaternary : Remote Sensing and GIS Studies. (PhD/ Doctoral thesis), Universität Potsdam, Potsdam, VIII, 117 pp. DOI URN: urn:nbn:de:kobv:517-opus-5544.

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About 24 % of the land surface in the northern hemisphere are underlayed by permafrost in various states. Permafrost aggradation occurs under special environmental conditions with overall low annual precipitation rates and very low mean annual temperatures. Because the general permafrost occurrence is mainly driven by large-scale climatic conditions, the distribution of permafrost deposits can be considered as an important climate indicator. The region with the most extensive continuous permafrost is Siberia. In northeast Siberia, the ice- and organic-rich permafrost deposits of the Ice Complex are widely distributed. These deposits consist mostly of silty to fine-grained sandy sediments that were accumulated during the Late Pleistocene in an extensive plain on the then subaerial Laptev Sea shelf. One important precondition for the Ice Complex sedimentation was, that the Laptev Sea shelf was not glaciated during the Late Pleistocene, resulting in a mostly continuous accumulation of permafrost sediments for at least this period. This shelf landscape became inundated and eroded in large parts by the Holocene marine transgression after the Last Glacial Maximum. Remnants of this landscape are preserved only in the present day coastal areas. Because the Ice Complex deposits contain a wide variety of palaeo-environmental proxies, it is an excellent palaeo-climate archive for the Late Quaternary in the region. Furthermore, the ice-rich Ice Complex deposits are sensible to climatic change, i.e. climate warming. Because of the large-scale climatic changes at the transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene, the Ice Complex was subject to extensive thermokarst processes since the Early Holocene. Permafrost deposits are not only an environmental indicator, but also an important climate factor. Tundra wetlands, which have developed in environments with aggrading permafrost, are considered a net sink for carbon, as organic matter is stored in peat or is syn-sedimentary frozen with permafrost aggradation. Contrary, the Holocene thermokarst development resulted in permafrost degradation and thus the release of formerly stored organic carbon. Modern tundra wetlands are also considered an important source for the climate-driving gas methane, originating mainly from microbial activity in the seasonal active layer. Most scenarios for future global climate development predict a strong warming trend especially in the Arctic. Consequently, for the understanding of how permafrost deposits will react and contribute to such scenarios, it is necessary to investigate and evaluate ice-rich permafrost deposits like the widespread Ice Complex as climate indicator and climate factor during the Late Quaternary. Such investigations are a pre-condition for the precise modelling of future developments in permafrost distribution and the influence of permafrost degradation on global climate. The focus of this work, which was conducted within the frame of the multi-disciplinary joint German-Russian research projects "Laptev Sea 2000" (1998-2002) and "Dynamics of Permafrost" (2003-2005), was twofold. First, the possibilities of using remote sensing and terrain modelling techniques for the observation of periglacial landscapes in Northeast Siberia in their present state was evaluated and applied to key sites in the Laptev Sea coastal lowlands. The key sites were situated in the eastern Laptev Sea (Bykovsky Peninsula and Khorogor Valley) and the western Laptev Sea (Cape Mamontovy Klyk region). For this task, techniques using CORONA satellite imagery, Landsat-7 satellite imagery, and digital elevation models were developed for the mapping of periglacial structures, which are especially indicative of permafrost degradation. The major goals were to quantify the extent of permafrost degradation structures and their distribution in the investigated key areas, and to establish techniques, which can be used also for the investigation of other regions with thermokarst occurrence. Geographical information systems were employed for the mapping, the spatial analysis, and the enhancement of classification results by rule-based stratification. The results from the key sites show, that thermokarst, and related processes and structures, completely re-shaped the former accumulation plain to a strongly degraded landscape, which is characterised by extensive deep depressions and erosional remnants of the Late Pleistocene surface. As a results of this rapid process, which in large parts happened within a short period during the Early Holocene, the hydrological and sedimentological regime was completely changed on a large scale. These events resulted also in a release of large amounts of organic carbon. Thermokarst is now the major component in the modern periglacial landscapes in terms of spatial extent, but also in its influence on hydrology, sedimentation and the development of vegetation assemblages. Second, the possibilities of using remote sensing and terrain modelling as a supplementary tool for palaeo-environmental reconstructions in the investigated regions were explored. For this task additionally a comprehensive cryolithological field database was developed for the Bykovsky Peninsula and the Khorogor Valley, which contains previously published data from boreholes, outcrops sections, subsurface samples, and subsurface samples, as well as additional own field data. The period covered by this database is mainly the Late Pleistocene and the Holocene, but also the basal deposits of the sedimentary sequence, interpreted as Pliocene to Early Pleistocene, are contained. Remote sensing was applied for the observation of periglacial strucures, which then were successfully related to distinct landscape development stages or time intervals in the investigation area. Terrain modelling was used for providing a general context of the landscape development. Finally, a scheme was developed describing mainly the Late Quaternary landscape evolution in this area. A major finding was the possibility of connecting periglacial surface structures to distinct landscape development stages, and thus use them as additional palaeo-environmental indicator together with other proxies for area-related palaeo-environmental reconstructions. In the landscape evolution scheme, i.e. of the genesis of the Late Pleistocene Ice Complex and the Holocene thermokarst development, some new aspects are presented in terms of sediment source and general sedimentation conditions. This findings apply also for other sites in the Laptev Sea region.

Document Type: Thesis (PhD/ Doctoral thesis)
Keywords: Climate change; Permafrost; Siberia; Thermokarst; Geomorphology; Global change; Permafrost soil; Remote sensing; Optical remote sensing; Periglacial; Periglacial geomorphology
Research affiliation: HGF-AWI
Projects: Laptev Sea System, Permafrost
Date Deposited: 07 Apr 2015 08:16
Last Modified: 07 Apr 2015 08:16

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