Employing Automated Electrical Resistivity Tomography for detecting short- and long-term changes in permafrost and active layer dynamics in the Maritime Antarctic
Abstract. Repeated electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) surveys can substantially advance the understanding of spatial and temporal freeze-thaw dynamics in remote regions, such as Antarctica, where the evolution of permafrost has been poorly investigated. To enable the time-lapse ERT surveys in Antarctica, however, an automated ERT (A-ERT) system is required, as regular site visits are not feasible. In this context, we developed a robust A-ERT prototype and installed it in the Crater Lake CALM-S site at Deception Island, Antarctica to collect quasi-continuous ERT measurements. To efficiently process a large number of obtained A-ERT datasets, we developed an automated data processing workflow to efficiently filter and invert the A-ERT datasets and extract the key information required for a detailed investigation of permafrost and active layer dynamics.
In this paper, we report on the results of two complete year-round A-ERT datasets collected in 2010 and 2019 at Crater Lake CALM-S site and compare them with available climate and borehole data. The A-ERT profile has a length of 9.5 m with an electrode spacing of 0.5 m, enabling a maximum investigation depth of approximately 2 m. Our detailed investigation of the A-ERT data and inverted modeling results shows that the A-ERT system can detect the active-layer freezing and thawing events with very high temporal resolution. The resistivity of the permafrost zone in 2019 is very similar to the values found in 2010, suggesting the stability of the permafrost over almost one decade at this site. The evolution of thaw depth exhibits also a similar pattern in both years, with the active layer thickness fluctuating between 0.20–0.35 m. However, a slight thinning of the active layer is evident in early 2019, compared to the equivalent period in 2010.
These findings show that A-ERT, combined with the new processing workflow that we developed, is an efficient tool for studying permafrost and active layer dynamics with very high resolution and minimal environmental disturbance. The ability of the A-ERT setup to monitor the real-time progression of thaw depth, and to detect brief surficial refreezing and thawing of the active layer reveals the significance of the automatic ERT monitoring system to record continuous resistivity changes. This shows that the A-ERT setup described in this paper can be a significant addition to the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost (GTN-P) and the Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring (CALM) networks to further investigate the impact of fast-changing climate and extreme meteorological events on the upper soil horizons and work towards establishing an early warning system for the consequences of climate change.
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