Scientists use forest color to measure permafrost depth

Scientists use forest color to measure permafrost depth

IMAGE: The Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest near Fairbanks, Alaska covers an area north of the Tanana River and south of the Parks Highway, roughly in the center of this image. Researchers … see more

Credit: Veronika Döpper

Scientists regularly use drones and remote sensing satellites to record how climate change is affecting permafrost thaw rates – methods that work well in barren tundra landscapes where nothing obstructs the view.

But in boreal regions, which are home to a significant portion of the world’s permafrost, obscuring vegetation can thwart even the most advanced remote sensing technology.

In a study published in January, researchers in Germany and at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks developed a method of using satellite imagery to measure the depth of the thaw directly above permafrost in boreal ecosystems. Rather than trying to observe the vegetation beyond, they come up with a unique solution that uses the color variations of the forest to infer the depth of the permafrost below.

The forest for the trees

Permafrost deposits in the northern hemisphere have been continuously frozen for hundreds of thousands of years….

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