Atmosphere - permafrost relationship in the Austrian Alps - atmospheric extreme events and their relevance for the mean state of the active layer (ATMOPERM)

  2015-09-01 - 2018-08-31

ATMOperm ( Atmosphere - permafrost relationship in the Austrian Alps - extreme atmospheric events and Their relevance for the mean state of the active layer) :
Permafrost is a forming element of the high mountain landscape, subject to considerable degradation due to global climate change. In the Alps infrastructure facilities such as roads, routes or buildings are affected by the changes of permafrost , which often cause enormous reparation costs. Investigation on degradation of Alpine Permafrost in the last decade has increased, however, the understanding of the permafrost changes inducing its atmospheric forcing processes is still insufficient. In particular, the energy exchange with the atmosphere, in the interplay with processes in the soil (e.g. transfer of water and energy), is weakly recognized and understood. This is especially true for the influence of extreme atmospheric events such as a summer heat wave (about 2003), early-winter cold wave or events relating to the snow thickness . This scientific deficit is not only due to the complexity of permafrost processes, but also because of the relatively short period for establishment of alpine permafrost research (especially in Austria).
The geophysical method of geoelectric (Electrical Resistivity Tomography ERT) is an innovative approach for the delineation of thermal variations in the subsurface. ATMOperm ( Atmosphere - permafrost relationship in the Austrian Alps - atmospheric extreme events and their relevance for the mean state of the active layer) has the goal of further exploring the application of the geoelectrics method to estimate thawing layer thickness for mountain permafrost and to optimize it for long- term monitoring. To achieve this goal, it is clearly necessary to further optimize the transformation of ERT data to thermal structures in the ground - a significant innovation of ATMOperm. The measurement of the thawing layer by the geoelectric method is complemented by measurements of the energy fluxes between the atmosphere and soil. This allows to investigate the effects of energy exchange between the atmsosphere and the ground on the thickness and the thermal structure of the thawing layer in an ideal way. The use of an energy and mass transfer model of the soil (Coupling Model) allows to simulate exchange processes between the atmosphere and the ground and so to understand the effect of atmospheric energy fluxes on the temperature distribution in the soil.
The ATMOperm monitoring will be developed for the Sonnblick (Austrian Central Alps). Considering that at Sonnblick an extensive permafrost monitoring already exists and that the atmospheric monitoring network is highly developed there, even more than at almost any other site in the Alps. Moreover, in addition to Sonnblick, we propose to test the developed data processing, inversion and modelling techniques for other sites. In particular we consider to work together with ongoing projects at Schilthorn (Bernese Alps , Switzerland) and Kitzsteinhorn (Austrian Central Alps). These sites offer on the one hand longer geoelectric measurement time series or even longer time series with parallel measurements of atmospheric energy fluxes and on the other hand, these sites offer different geological characteristics which permit to evaluate the robustness of our modelling tools.
By the ATMOperm project not only the knowledge about the causes of changes in alpine permafrost is significantly improved in the light of global climate change, but also the foundation for a pioneering environmental monitoring is laid. The results from ATMOperm also make a significant contribution for better interpretation of the long-term temperature measurements of permafrost, as the influence of single extreme events on the long-term trend can be better understood and interpreted.

Project manager Partners
  •   Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik
  •   Geologisches Bundesanstalt
  •   Universität Graz