Antarctic Environments and Climate Change Research Group

The year 2009 has been important for Portuguese permafrost research and contributed to the consolidation of research, funding and critical mass. Activities focused on three main subjects: i) Antarctic permafrost and active layer dynamics, led by the Centre for Geographical Studies, University of Lisbon (CEG-UL); ii) Chemistry of Arctic permafrost by IPIMAR; iii) Earth-Mars analogues by CERENA - Instituto Superior Técnico, UTL. 

The CEG-UL is leading the FCT-funded project PERMANTAR in Livingston (LI) and Deception (DI) Islands (Antarctic Peninsula region), which also involves the Centre of Geophysics of the University of Lisbon and Centre of Geophysics of Évora. The project includes also the universities of Alcalá (Spain) and Buenos Aires (Argentina), and the Bulgarian Antarctic Institute. PERMANTAR collaborates closely with the Spanish project PERMAMODEL-IPY. Main activities focused in the the installation and upgrading of permafrost and periglacial processes monitoring sites: i) a new 8 m borehole in LI, ii) three new 4-5m boreholes (collaboration Russian Academy of Sciences) in DI, iii) new CALM-S sites in DI and LI, iv) a meteorological station in LI, v) solifluction, thermokarst and rockglaciers monitoring sites, vi) time-lapse cameras, vii) year-round monitoring with resistivimeter with datalogger in DI, viii) electrical resistivity tomography surveying in LI, and ix) n-factor monitoring sites in DI. Master theses on Antarctic permafrost have been presented by A. Trindade and R. Melo ( Education and outreach activities have been organized, including talks in schools, public lectures and a permafrost film “Permafrost! Polar science at 62ºS” for classroom activities. It will be freely available in DVD to schools and open-access in the Internet. The CEG-UL team continued the scientific coordination of the grant program New Generation of Polar Scientists funded by Caixa Carbono Zero (CGD). This program involves full-time funding of two students on permafrost research in a total of six grants in polar science.

IPIMAR's research on permafrost was conducted in Umuijaq, Northen Québec. The main objectives are studying carbon and contaminant chemistry in thermokarst lakes and their hydrological impact in rivers, sea and snow pack. Measurements of biogas fluxes and sampling of water, ice, snow and sediments for analysis were conducted. Umuijaq is an area of carbon-poor permafrost which contrasts with the results obtained in 2008 in a carbon-rich permafrost area. This study contributes to a better understanding of the impacts of permafrost thaw in the carbon and trace element contaminants cycles.

CERENA continued researching automated mapping and characterization of polygonal networks on Mars. Research focused on the detailed analysis of the NASA Phoenix landing region (around 68º N), which are extensive plains largely occupied by small-scale polygonal terrains. These were difficult to perceive in previous imagery but are now unveiled by the HiRISE camera onboard Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (30 cm/pixel). The huge number of small polygons (diameter around 4 m) demonstrates the necessity of using automated approaches allowing for a detailed mapping of these extensive networks. This will contribute to gather data to help probe into the most widely accepted genetical models, namely thermal contraction of permafrost.  

Gonçalo Vieira, João Canário and Pedro Pina


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