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71 Freezing and Thawing Phenomena in Soils

Part 6. Soils

  1. Manfred Stähli

Published Online: 15 APR 2006

DOI: 10.1002/0470848944.hsa075

Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences

Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences

How to Cite

Stähli, M. 2006. Freezing and Thawing Phenomena in Soils. Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences. 6:71.

Author Information

  1. Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Water, Soil, and Rock Movements, Birmensdorf, Switzerland

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 APR 2006


More than one-third of the Earth's land surface is subjected to seasonal or permanent soil frost. The freezing and thawing of the soil may generate severe geotechnical, hydrological, and environmental problems, such as frost heaving, restricted infiltration, and enhanced overland flow. Each soil has its own specific freezing characteristic, primarily depending on texture and the prevailing solute concentration. Fine-textured soils tend to form ice lenses at freezingthat causes the soil to heave. In coarse-textured soil, on the other hand, the ice is more regularly distributed within the matrix. The behavior of the soil is always strongly linked to the prevailing meteorological conditions. The hydraulic conductivity of frozen soils is reduced, similar to very dry soils. Locally, this leads to reduced infiltration and delayed recharge to groundwater during snowmelt. For larger areas, for example, watersheds, the effect of frozen ground on infiltration and runoff is ambiguous, as a number of recent studies showed.

This article summarizes current theories and recent investigations on soil freezing and thawing phenomena with a major emphasis on implications for hydrology.


  • soil frost;
  • frozen soil;
  • soil freezing;
  • ice;
  • freezing point