Articles | Volume 8, issue 3
Research article
11 Jun 2014
Research article |  | 11 Jun 2014

Surface kinematics of periglacial sorted circles using structure-from-motion technology

A. Kääb, L. Girod, and I. Berthling

Abstract. Sorted soil circles are a form of periglacial patterned ground that is commonly noted for its striking geometric regularity. They consist of an inner fine domain bordered by gravel rings that rise some decimetres above the fine domain. Field measurements and numerical modelling suggest that these features develop from a convection-like circulation of soil in the active layer of permafrost. The related cyclic burial and exhumation of material is believed to play an important role in the soil carbon cycle of high latitudes. The connection of sorted circles to permafrost conditions and its changes over time make these ground forms potential palaeoclimatic indicators. In this study, we apply for the first time photogrammetric structure-from-motion technology (SfM) to large sets of overlapping terrestrial photos taken in August 2007 and 2010 over three sorted circles at Kvadehuksletta, western Spitsbergen. We retrieve repeat digital elevation models (DEMs) and orthoimages with millimetre resolution and precision. Changes in microrelief over the 3 yr are obtained from DEM differencing and horizontal displacement fields from tracking features between the orthoimages. In the fine domain, surface material moves radially outward at horizontal rates of up to ~2 cm yr−1. The coarse stones on the inner slopes of the gravel rings move radially inward at similar rates. A number of substantial deviations from this overall radial symmetry, both in horizontal displacements and in microrelief, shed new light on the spatio-temporal evolution of sorted soil circles, and potentially of periglacial patterned ground in general.