An ice wedge polygon photographed from underneath within the advancing headwall of a retrogressive thaw slump in the Wulik River basin, northwest Alaska. Melting of ice wedges and relict glacial ice within thawing permafrost often drives retrogressive thaw slump expansion, as the high gravimetric water percentage promotes instability and soil structural failure.
Andrew Balser (2010)
Webinars held by in 2017 have each addressed multiple Research Objectives and Performance Elements, and have been designed to draw diverse membership to in its inaugural year. Our May webinar featured M. TorreJorgenson's high-level overview of the trajectory of permafrost-related research to date and its integral relationships with other disciplines. Research and coordination covered addressed Research Objectives 6.1 through 6.4, with particular attention to Performance Elements 6.1.1, 6.1.2, 6.1.4, 6.2.1, 6.2.4, 6.3.1, and 6.3.2. Our June webinar highlighted microbial research within permafrost by Dr. Robin Barbato of The Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (), which covers a heretofore underrepresented but critical component relevant to Research Objectives 6.1-6.3, providing specific insight addressing Performance Elements 6.1.2, 6.2.1, and 6.3.1. Dr. Ronnie Daanen with Alaska's Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys (DGGS) described a large, multi-institutional project mapping and monitoring permafrost and permafrost properties within the Goldstream Valley residential area of northwest Fairbanks, AK. This project ties the basic research needs outlined in Research Objectives 6.1 and 6.3 with questions concerning impacts to infrastructure, human health and wellbeing, and the need to engage local residents discussed in Research Objective 6.4.The central achievement of implementation of Research Goal 6 from the Arctic Research Plan is recognizing and developing key linkages between US permafrost research efforts and critical and emerging cross-cutting themes developing among collaboration teams. For example, permafrost dynamics are essential to addressing the Food Security cross-cutting theme, which links with the Health and Wellbeing, Marine Ecosystems, and Coastal Resilience Collaboration Teams.
Collaborations Between Federal Agencies and the Research Community
Improved communication among agencies and teams for cross-cutting themes has been complemented by the introduction of researchers new to . New membership includes researchers attracted by the elevation of permafrost to collaboration team status, notably to include Canadian participation, and also through targeted webinar content expanding into research disciplines not previously present within . Our June webinar featured a presentation on microbial processes in permafrost settings, which is new to , and as a result also attracted researchers from Cal State University working on metagenomics in permafrost environments which is relevant, though perhaps under-represented, in modeling efforts. In addition to recruitment through featured speakers, Co-Leads have been active making individual contacts to raise awareness of our new team, and promoting membership, webinar attendance, and active engagement within webinars through a dedicated Member Updates & Announcements portion of each webinar. Given 's status as a new team, the rise in membership from zero to more than 100 in the first several months is taken as evidence of both the breadth of interest in permafrost-related research, as well as initial success in broadcasting the formation of the and its activities through the website, targeted email and phone efforts, and by extended word of mouth within the community.
The and its associated monthly webinars have helped to foster synthesis studies across disciplines, provided regular meetings for sharing updates and results, while offering a forum for introduction of new ideas to the larger community which currently includes members of select native community groups (e.g. Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium), academic researchers throughout the U.S., and State of Alaska scientists and managers. For example, a State of Alaska DGGS scientist presented an ongoing collaborative research project for our September monthly webinar discussing applications for mapping permafrost distribution and parameters in a residential setting with critical implications for drinking water access as well as carbon cycle dynamics, and the presentation was well attended by Federal, state, and academic researchers. Increased participation from residents of rural communities and Alaska Native organizations is desirable for many Collaboration Teams, including the . Success with this objective in similar venues outside of often hinges on 1) inclusion of personal-contact relationships with residents and rural community leadership, and 2) leveraging specific issues which are immediately relevant and with tangible impacts within communities to better gain attention, focus discussion, and maintain continued involvement. The Environmentally Threatened Communities project, overseen and funded by the Denali Commission, and undertaken as collaborative research and reporting by the University of Alaska Fairbanks () Institute of Northern Engineering and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is assessing threats to rural community infrastructure statewide in Alaska over the next year, and integrally includes regular and highly substantive communication with residents and officials in all affected communities. The permafrost component of this project is the single largest part of the effort, and we have an informal, verbal commitment from an ETC researcher to provide what will be a very well-publicized webinar on the project for early 2018, where residents and local officials will be invited to participate.
Plans for 2018
team leadership has already scheduled webinars for the first quarter of FY2018. These include a presentation by a USGS scientist on the development of a pan-arctic permafrost peatland database that indicates periods in the past when permafrost was vulnerable to thaw and when permafrost formation was conducive. This is important data when trying to determine how permafrost will respond to future climate changes. In addition, we have scheduled a webinar on a nearly two-decade long program, the Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring Network, that will focus on changes to near-surface permafrost since the late 1980s and how these types of long-term data collection efforts are important for understanding changes to this essential component of the Earth’s cryosphere. team lead Benjamin Jones will present to the and Coastal Resilience Collaboration Team discussing permafrost coastal erosion research coordination network efforts and development of an integrated coastal system erosion model. Other planned presentation topics include impacts of permafrost degradation on ecosystems and subsistence hunting as well as gas hydrates in shallow Arctic seas.
In addition to workshops and webinars, leadership intends to sponsor an -wide webinar presenting a Program Managers' Panel. With the combination of an extended Q&A and discussion period, we intend to help researchers better understand and navigate the process of scoping, proposing, and ultimately conducting future research outlined in the Plan, while offering Program Managers some direct exposure to projects and researchers outside of their agency, and with whom they may not be familiar.