Permafrost in Iceland - Climate Change Impact on Permafrost Development and Resulting Mass Movment Processes

Short Description

In recent years, mass movement processes have become increasingly frequent in the mountain areas of Iceland. The idea that these processes are triggered by permafrost decay as consequence of climate change/global warming has been discussed but is still speculative as the knowledge on permafrost distribution in Iceland is rather little.

According to a first rough estimation, about eight percent of the land surface of Iceland seems to be underlain by permafrost, most of which may melt under further warming conditions in the 21st century according to climate projections. These drastic potential changes will cause sincere problems for the society in the mountain areas of Iceland as thus triggered mass movement processes can threaten settlement areas, traffic connections and other important infrastructure.

Project Contents and Objectives

The project Permafrost in Iceland – Climate Change Impact on Permafrost Development and Resulting Mass Movment Processes (PERM::ICE) will be carried out in the mountain environment of the Tröllaskagi peninsula which seems to be the area in Iceland with the highest permafrost density.

It will contribute to

  • an improved knowledge of the actual permafrost distribution, and
  • a better understanding of the interrelations of climate change and permafrost as well as permafrost melting and mass movement processes.

As permafrost is at most an invisible phenomenon, indicators, i.e. rockglaciers and their state of activity as well as perennial snow patches, will be used to get an area-wide impression on the distribution of permafrost, both in the recent past and at present. This will be done on the basis of satellite data, i.e. Landsat 5/7/8 and Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2, and aerial photo information which dates back to the mid-1940s. This data will further be used for detecting mass movement processes which have taken place in the investigation area by quantifying surface deformation between two data sets.

Expected Results

The resulting maps will be evaluated by ground control in selected areas of societal relevance. In order to get a first impression about the relationship between climate change and permafrost, the development of the permafrost distribution since the mid-20th century will be xx with climate records from weather stations in the research area.

Besides the area-wide information on permafrost and mass movement activity, a further result of the project PERM::ICE is a workflow for tracking the temporal evolution of the snow line from end of winter towards the minimum snow cover extent in late summer from high resolution optical satellite data. This tool may be operationally used for the observation of future permafrost shrinkage and thus triggered mass movement processes in mountain regions in Iceland using optical and RADAR satellite data, i.e. Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 data.

Project Partners


University of Innsbruck - Institute of Geography

Project partner

ENVEO - ENVironmental Earth Observation IT GmbH

Contact Address

University of Innsbruck
Institute of Geography
Mag. Dr. Rudolf Sailer
Innrain 52f
A-6020 Innsbruck