GeoZack

GeoZack

Research leader: Marco Marcer, postdoc at Arctic DTU – Ilinniarfeqarfik Sisimiut
Other participants: 
Michael Krautblatter, associated professor, Technical Unversity of Munich
Saskia Eppinger, Phd candidate, Technical Unversity of Munich

Keywords: Geohazards, infrastructure, Permafrost, Geophysics, Geotechnics

Area, purpose and research questions:
In the context of climate change, the stability of Arctic infrastructure is challenged (IngemanNielsen et al, 2018). The Zackenberg station, a research facility located in North-East Greenland, serves as base for several research and monitoring projects on the Arctic ecosystems since 1995.
This infrastructure has an enormous value for the Arctic scientific community, as it is one of the northernmost facilities of its kind, providing continuous long-term monitoring time series relevant for many scientific disciplines such as Arctic ecology, physical geography, and global climate change science.

A Retrogressive Thaw Slump (RTS) is a type of landslide typical of permafrost terrain, where
abrupt thawing of ice-rich permafrost causes a rapidly developing slope failure. RTSs are known to occur across the Arctic, and have severe impacts on ecosystems and infrastructure (French 2007, Lantuit and Pollard, 2008, Huscroft et al.,2004).
Although the Zackenberg research facility was designed to operate over a 50-year period, two
Retrogressive Thaw Slumps have developed on the bank of the Zackenberg River since 2017 following a glacial lake outburst flood (Tomczyk and Ewertowski, 2020). As of August
2020, the slumps had developed to within 20 to 30 m from buildings 1 and 10, and at the current rate of advance (20 cm/day in summer, reaching 9 m/year), the largest of the two RTS could reach the nearest buildings within a few years (Marcer and Ingeman-Nielsen, in review). There is a critical need to understand and predict the future evolution of the RTSs and their potential impacts on the stability of the Zackenberg station infrastructure, and evaluate if engineering solutions are available to protect the infrastructure by stopping or slowing the erosion, or if a translocation of the infrastructure must be planned.
Studies have revealed an increased activity of RTSs in artic Canada in recent decades (Lantuit and Pollard, 2008) also in locations that result in risks to vital infrastructure (Huscroft et al.,2004).

Monitoring and detailed mapping of RTSs have been performed using geophysical and geotechnical methods mapping internal structures to better understand the development and evolution of these landforms (Eppinger and Krautblatter, 2021; Eppinger et al., 2020; Krautblatter et al., in prep).
Prediction and modeling of rock slope stability in a degrading permafrost environment (Mamot et al., 2021) has also been performed, but the mechanics and hazard posed by RTS are less well understood.
Although Retrogressive Thaw Slumps occur also under Greenland conditions, there are currently no detailed analysis of such landscape processes from Greenland in the scientific literature. The purpose of this project is therefore to provide the first detailed geomorphological and geotechnical analysis of retrogressive thaw slumps from Greenland, as a step towards understating the threat they pose to infrastructure in Greenland and at the same time provide valuable information to evaluate the future stability and fate of the Zackenberg Research Station.

The project will benefit from an established collaboration between Arctic DTU (Technical
University of Denmark) and the Technical University of Munich (TUM). Artic DTU have long traditions with research focusing on infrastructure hazard mapping in permafrost regions, where TUM brings research competences in slope stability evaluation and modelling. The project activities are coordinated with and supported by Aarhus University and the Zackenberg Station management.

Inclusion of society and dissemination:
The Zackenberg Research Station and the monitoring programmes conducted there are an important contribution from Greenland. This project specifically contributes to the continued operation of these important long-term monitoring programmes. The project will also contribute to the general knowledge and understanding of slope stability issues in thawing permafrost soils in Greenland and will provide relevant tools for the analysis and planning of future infrastructure developments in permafrost regions of Greenland.

Results and progress on the project will be shared with the public through social media e.g. the Arctic DTU Facebook page, and we plan to present at Greenland Science Week a popular science talk focusing on how the knowledge obtained in this project may be useful in other parts of Greenland.

Project start and end date: 01/08/2022 – 31/12/2023

Granted: 97.900,00 kr.

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