This review focuses on advances in applications of geophysical methods to permafrost terrain that have emerged in 2007–12. Improvements in the four main geophysical techniques presently used in permafrost research (i.e. electric, electromagnetic, seismic and radar methods) and new or resurrected methods for permafrost applications are discussed. Advances in geophysical monitoring and quantitative interpretation of geophysical survey results are presented, especially for ground ice and water content. Electrical resistivity is now used operationally for long-term monitoring of ice content, as well as for short-term process studies. Quantitative approaches to determine realistic ice and liquid water content values and their spatial and temporal variability exist, but need to be further refined to be widely applicable for geotechnical and numerical modelling purposes. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.