Consensus Report

Opportunities to Use Remote Sensing in Understanding Permafrost and Related Ecological Characteristics: Report of a Workshop (2014)

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Climate change is causing the widespread thawing and degradation of permafrost, subsurface soil or rock that remains frozen for two or more consecutive years. Changes in permafrost could cause significant impacts -- for example, by causing erosion that damages buildings, roads, or other infrastructure, by causing shifts in ecosystems, and by contributing large amounts of carbon to the atmosphere. Data are needed to observe and monitor permafrost, and project permafrost change. However, permafrost is difficult to study because it is located beneath the ground surface, is largely found in remote locations, and is vastly distributed. An ad hoc committee of experts, under the auspices of the National Research Council, organized a workshop to explore opportunities for harnessing remote sensing technologies (both from existing sensors and those expected in the near future) to learn more about permafrost status and trends. Workshop participants also discussed how measurements of ecological variables could provide insight to permafrost conditions and processes. For example, changes in seasonal micro-topography can be used to estimate the ice content of permafrost. Workshop participants noted that innovative multi-scale, multi-sensor approaches, using ground-based, aircraft, and spaceborne instruments, could substantially advance knowledge of permafrost landscapes and provide insight on vulnerabilities to warming.