Insights on seasonal solifluction processes in warm permafrost Arctic landscape using a dense monitoring approach across adjacent hillslopes


Solifluction processes in the Arctic are highly complex, introducing uncertainties in estimating current and future soil carbon storage and fluxes, and assessment of hillslope and infrastructure stability. This study aims to enhance our understanding of triggers and drivers of soil movement of permafrost-affected hillslopes in the Arctic. To achieve this, we established an extensive soil deformation and temperature sensor network, covering 48 locations across multiple hillslopes within a 1 km2 watershed on the Seward Peninsula, AK. We report depth-resolved measurements down to 1.8 m depth for May to September 2022, a period conducive to soil movement due to deepening thaw layers and frequent rain events. Over this period, surface movements of up to 334 mm were recorded. In general, these movements occur close to the thawing front, and are initiated as thawing reaches depths of 0.4–0.75 m. The largest movements were observed at the top of the south-east facing slope, where soil temperatures are cold (mean annual soil temperatures averaging −1.13 °C) and slopes are steeper than 15°. Our analysis highlights three primary factors influencing movements: slope angle, soil thermal conditions, and thaw depth. The latter two significantly impact the generation of pore water pressures at the thaw–freeze interface. Specifically, soil thermal conditions govern the liquid water content, while thaw depth influences both the height of the water column and, consequently, the pressure at the thawing front. These factors affect soil properties, such as cohesion and internal friction angle, which are crucial determinants of slope stability. This underscores the significance of a precise understanding of subsurface thermal conditions, including spatial and temporal variability in soil temperature and thaw depth, when assessing and predicting slope instabilities. Based on our observations, we developed a factor of safety proxy that consistently falls below the triggering threshold for all probes exhibiting displacements exceeding 50 mm. This study offers novel insights into patterns and triggers of hillslope movements in the Arctic and provides a venue to evaluate their impact on soil redistribution.

Journal Article
Year of Publication
Environmental Research Letters
Start Page
Download citation