Origin and polycyclic behaviour of tundra thaw slumps, Mackenzie Delta region, Northwest Territories, Canada

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Abstract

In tundra uplands east of the Mackenzie Delta, retrogressive thaw slumps up to several hectares in area typically develop around lakes. Ground temperatures increase in terrain affected by slumping due to the high thermal conductivity of exposed mineral soils and deep snow accumulation in winter. Mean annual temperatures at the top of permafrost were several degrees warmer in thaw slumps (−0.1°C to −2.2°C) than beneath adjacent undisturbed tundra (−6.1°C to −6.7°C). Simulations using a two-dimensional thermal model showed that the thermal disturbance caused by thaw slumping adjacent to tundra lakes can lead to rapid near-surface lateral talik expansion. Talik growth into ice-rich materials is likely to cause lake-bottom subsidence and rejuvenation of shoreline slumping. The observed association of thaw slumps with tundra lakes, the absence of active slumps on the shores of drained lakes where permafrost is aggradational and depressions in the lake bottom adjacent to thaw slumps provide empirical evidence that thermal disturbance, talik enlargement and thawing of subadjacent ice-rich permafrost can drive the polycyclic behaviour (initiation and growth of slump within an area previously affected by slumping) of lakeside thaw slumps. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. and Her Majesty the Queen in right of Canada.

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