09 Dec 2020

09 Dec 2020

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Surface temperatures and their influence on the permafrost thermal regime in high Arctic rock walls on Svalbard

Juditha Undine Schmidt1, Bernd Etzelmüller1, Thomas Vikhamar Schuler1, Florence Magnin3, Julia Boike4,5, Moritz Langer4,5, and Sebastian Westermann1,2 Juditha Undine Schmidt et al.
  • 1Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, 0316, Norway
  • 2Center for Biogeochemistry in the Anthropocene, University of Oslo, Oslo, 0316, Norway
  • 3EDYTEM Lab, Université Savoie Mont Blanc, CNRS, Le Bourget-du-Lac cedex, 73376, France
  • 4Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Potsdam, 14473, Germany
  • 5Department of Geography, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, 12489, Germany

Abstract. Permafrost degradation in steep rock walls and associated slope destabilization have been studied increasingly in recent years. While most studies focus on mountainous and sub-Arctic regions, the occurring thermo-mechanical processes play an important role also in the high Arctic. A more precise understanding is required to assess the risk of natural hazards enhanced by permafrost warming in high Arctic rock walls.

This study presents rock surface temperature measurements of coastal and non-coastal rock walls in a high Arctic setting on Svalbard. We applied the surface energy balance model CryoGrid 3 for evaluation, including adjusted radiative forcing to account for vertical rock walls.

Our measurements and model results show that rock surface temperatures at coastal cliffs are up to 1.5 °C higher than non-coastal rock walls when the fjord is ice-free in the winter season, resulting from additional energy input due to higher air temperatures at the coast and radiative warming by relatively warm seawater. An ice layer on the fjord counteracts this effect, leading to similar rock surface temperatures as in non-coastal settings. Our results include a simulated surface energy balance with short-wave radiation as the dominant energy source during spring and summer, and long-wave radiation being the main energy loss. While sensible heat fluxes can both warm and cool the surface, latent heat fluxes are mostly insignificant. Simulations for future climate conditions result in a warming of rock surface temperatures and a deepening of active layer thickness for both coastal and non-coastal rock walls.

Our field data present a unique data set of rock surface temperatures in steep high Arctic rock walls, while our model can contribute towards the understanding of factors influencing coastal and non-coastal settings and the associated surface energy balance.

Juditha Undine Schmidt et al.

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Juditha Undine Schmidt et al.

Model code and software

CryoGrid 3 for vertical rock walls Juditha Undine Schmidt

Juditha Undine Schmidt et al.


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Short summary
This study presents rock surface temperatures (RST) of steep high Arctic rock walls on Svalbard from 2016 to 2020. The field data shows that coastal cliffs are characterized by warmer RST than inland locations during winter season. By running model simulations, we analyze factors leading to that effect, calculate the surface energy balance and simulate different future scenarios. Both field data and model results can contribute to a further understanding of RST in high Arctic rock walls.