Scope of activities

Permafrost conditions throughout the Arctic are fundamental to ecosystem processes from local to global scales, influencing human health and infrastructure, structure and function of natural communities, and dynamics and fate of carbon stocks. The Permafrost Collaboration Team facilitates the understanding of permafrost processes and their dynamic linkages with natural and social systems directly addressing issues relevant for a) Arctic systems science, b) effective Arctic stewardship, c) national defense and homeland security, and d) the health and well-being of Arctic residents, and the infrastructure and economies upon which they depend.

Team leaders

Andrew Balser
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Website)

Christina Schaedel
Northern Arizona University (Website)

Benjamin Jones
USGS Alaska Science Center (Website)

Performance elements from the Arctic research plan

6.1 Improve understanding of how climate, physiography, terrain conditions, vegetation, and patterns of disturbance interact to control permafrost dynamics.

  • 6.1.1 Continue to conduct and coordinate monitoring and modeling of permafrost temperature across a wide range of terrain units and climatic zones and to use obtained data to refine relationships between the ground thermal regime of shallow and deep permafrost and terrain properties.
  • 6.1.2 Conduct field-based research that examines and quantifies relationships among surface topography, vegetation composition, hydrology, disturbance effects (including fire and thermokarst), and geophysical processes in permafrost soils to feed directly into models, decision support tools, and predictive analyses.
  • 6.1.3 Support field-based research to improve understanding of how changes to Arctic lake and river ecosystems affect permafrost stability, water availability, and habitat provision, with a particular focus on wintertime ice regimes.
  • 6.1.4 Integrate field, laboratory, and remote sensing information to map local, regional, and global permafrost-influenced landscape dynamics and their impact on vegetation, hydrology, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and soil carbon dynamics in the Arctic. Develop spatially-explicit decision support systems and predictive tools.
  • 6.1.5 Support activities, including the SEARCH Permafrost Action Team, to foster continued efforts to link multi-agency investments while expanding empirical datasets and synthesizing information that will inform the development of an updated permafrost ground ice content map for Alaska.

6.2 Improve and expand understanding of how warming and thawing of permafrost influence the vulnerability of soil carbon, including the potential release of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) to the atmosphere.

  • 6.2.1 Support field-based research and monitoring focused on quantifying the key processes controlling soil carbon cycling at northern latitudes and potential carbon release to the atmosphere, including temperature and hydrological effects.
  • 6.2.2 Support research to improve scaling methods for estimating CO2 and CH4 emissions from the permafrost region (including that which is conducted by the SEARCH Permafrost Action Team) to link multi-agency investments in soil carbon research that culminates in synthesis publications.
  • 6.2.3 Utilize empirical, multi-scale approaches to make spatially-explicit estimates of vulnerability of permafrost carbon and release of both CO2 and CH4.
  • 6.2.4 Utilize empirical, multi-scale approaches to make spatially explicit estimates of the potential extent and modes of abrupt permafrost thaw, including thermokarst and cryogenic landslides, and of the downstream effects of these events on microbial processes and carbon fluxes.
  • 6.2.5 Better understand the rate of subsea permafrost degradation and its role in methane gas hydrate decomposition and feedbacks to the climate system. Develop estimates of contributions to atmospheric carbon from subsea permafrost sources at present and under future scenarios.

6.3 In collaboration with efforts described under the Terrestrial Ecosystems Goal, continue to improve integration of empirically measured permafrost processes into models that predict how climate change, hydrology, ecosystem shifts and disturbances interact within terrestrial and freshwater aquatic systems to impact permafrost evolution, degradation, and feedbacks from local landscapes to the circum-Arctic.

  • 6.3.1 Conduct field-based research and monitoring needed to improve understanding of the linkages between key terrestrial ecosystem processes and permafrost properties and to incorporate empirical information into modeling efforts at various scales.
  • 6.3.2 Carry out research to quantify and integrate across scales, the effects of warming permafrost on ecosystem processing related with disturbance regimes, including fire, thermokarst, and landscape changes.
  • 6.3.3 Facilitate and harmonize the production of key geospatial datasets from extensive field measurements, remotely-sensed, and other data sources needed for model initialization, calibration, and validation. Organize and host workshops to enable this activity across agencies engaged in data development with attention to data congruity and scalability.
  • 6.3.4 Support continued development of robust modeling tools and approaches to integrate models of ecosystem processes at various scales since permafrost dynamics are integral to these processes and vice-versa.

6.4 Determine how warming and thawing permafrost impacts infrastructure and human health.

  • 6.4.1 Survey Federal research agencies and non-Federal partners/stakeholders on their use of tools, methods, and means to monitor changes in landscape conditions due to changes in permafrost with a focus on hazards to infrastructure and health. Develop, enhance, and update “Best Practices” guides for mitigation of impacts to building foundations and other infrastructure.
  • 6.4.2 In collaboration with relevant Indigenous organizations, survey local communities and regional agencies—those which maintain infrastructure and monitor health—on the impacts of warming and thawing permafrost. Integrate these responses within a document characterizing and summarizing overall impacts of warming and thawing permafrost.


The Permafrost Collaboration Team is a new team under Arctic Research Plan 2017-2021. Accomplishments will be listed here as they are made. 

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