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Short and long-term thermokarst dynamics due to climate changes and human impacts in Central Yakutia, Siberia


Ice-rich permafrost degradation is a major environmental change at high latitudes and results in the expression of characteristic periglacial hollows (thermokarst basins), which are widespread in Central Yakutia, East Siberia. Permafrost thawing due to increased air temperatures during the late Pleistocene-Holocene transition resulted in surface subsidence and the subsequent formation of thermokarst lakes and basins. The past thermokarst evolution was a dominantly climate-driven process. Today, the landscape of Central Yakutia is subject to strong short-term modifications by intensified land use, extreme weather events, and the contemporary global warming. It is not sufficiently clear, how and when thermokarst basins in Central Yakutia were formed or how they have evolved long-term trough the Holocene. It is neither clarified for the Holocene nor the short-term modern thermokarst depression and lake dynamics which climatic, morphological or hydrological parameters these are influencing. The anthropogenic aspect is of special interest for modern dynamics as human existence in this populated permafrost region is strongly connected to the use of thermokarst basins and lakes. The overarching aim of the project is to reconstruct Holocene and recent permafrost degradation processes, their influencing factors and environmental impacts on long-term and short-term time-scales (millennial to sub-decadal) in the subarctic regions of Central Yakutia. On this basis, the future landscape evolution and potential hazards associated with thermokarst will be assessed. To reach this goal, an innovative approach will be performed combining remote sensing and geoinformation system (GIS) techniques with detailed geomorphological and sedimentological analyses in high temporal resolution at different thermokarst sites. At the local level, extensive field work will be carried out in order to understand small-scale variations that may arise in connection with cryolithology, relief, vegetation, hydrology, and land use. In examining the dynamics of thermokarst both the various properties as well as the diverse origins of the frozen sediments must be considered. Remote sensing methods are used and combined with detailed field knowledge to investigate thermokarst processes on large spatial scales. The Lena-Aldan-Amga region east and northeast of Yakutsk is of special interest, as this populated area is highly affected by thermokarst formations in ice-rich permafrost deposits, which are moreover highly vulnerable under a warming climate.

Funded by DFG UL 426/1-1 (2013-2017)


Dr. Mathias Ulrich


Project report / results under

New publication:
Ulrich M, Matthes H, Schirrmeister L, Schütze J, Park H, Iijima Y, Fedorov AN, 2017: Differences in behavior and distribution of permafrost-related lakes in Central Yakutia and their response to climatic drivers. Water Resources Research, 53(2), 1167-1188. doi:10.1002/2016WR019267

December 2015: Mathias Ulrich participated at the AGU Fall Meeting 2015 in San Francisco, USA presenting a poster entitled: “Size, Distribution, and Evolution of Thermokarst Lakes in Central Yakutia, Russia”. More details and a PDF of the poster can you found here.

New publication:
Opel T & Ulrich M, 2015: Permafrostdegradation in Sibirien – Sozio-öknomische Aspekte. In: Lozán, J.L., Grassl, H., Kasang, D., Notz, D., Escher-Vetter, H. (Hrsg.): Warnsignal Klima: Das Eis der Erde. pp. 261-270. Online: (in German with English abstract)

August 2015: Johannes Schmidt completed his Master thesis entitled “Rekonstruktion und Vergleich der Entwicklung zweier zentraljakutischer Thermokarstsenken”, Universität leipzig, Fakultät f. Physik und Geowissenschaften, p. 131. (in German)

July 2015: Mathias Ulrich participated at the (Field-)Workshop “Yakutsk-PaC 2015” organized by the International Permafrost Association (IPA) Action Group “Permafrost and Culture”. Report on the workshop is coming soon. More information about the IPA Action Group (co-founded by Mathias Ulrich) you will find here.

April 2015: Johannes Schmidt (Master student within the project) joined the European Geoscience Union (EGU) General Assembly 1015. Abstract for poster presentation cound be found here.

March 2015: Mathias Ulrich conducted field work in Central Yakutia together with Guido Grosse and Jens Strauss of the AWI PETA-CARB project. Field work comprised deep drilling of thermokarst basin and lake deposits, thermokarst lake hydrology, and permafrost and lake temperature monitoring.

July/August 2014: Mathias Ulrich, together with the Master students Johannes Schmidt and Christian Siegert conducted field work in Central Yakutia. Field activities focused on: Thermokarst basin and lake morphology, DGPS surveys, Bathymetric measurements, Field spectrometry, Soil and botanical surveys, Permafrost and lake temperature monitoring

New publication:
Ulrich M, Grosse G, Strauss J, Schirrmeister L, 2014: Quantifying wedge-ice volumes in Yedoma and thermokarst-basin deposits. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes, 25 (3), 151-161. doi:10.1002/ppp.1810

Have a look at the Frostbyte made by Mathias Ulrich for the Permafrost Young researcher’s workshop at EUCOP 18-21 June 2014, Évora, Portugal, here.

Mathias Ulrich participated in the Workshop “Permafrost and Indigenous Land Use” in connection with the Arctic Science Summit Week (ASSW 2014), April 6-7, Helsinki, Finnland. Picture on participants here. Details on programme and abstracts here.

New publication:
Strauss J, Schirrmeister L, Grosse G, Wetterich S, Ulrich M, Herzschuh U, Hubberten H-W, 2013: The deep permafrost carbon pool of the Yedoma region in Siberia and Alaska. Geophysical Research Letters, 40, 1-6. doi: 10.1002/2013GL058088

Ausschreibung Masterarbeit (M.Sc. thesis): “Charakteristik und spektrale Eigenschaften von Thermokarstlandschaften in Zentralsibirien (Russland) und deren räumliche und zeitliche Variationen

New publication:
Morgenstern A, Ulrich M, Günther F, Roessler S, Fedorova IV, Rudaya NA, Wetterich S, Boike J, Schirrmeister L. 2013: Evolution of thermokarst in East Siberian ice-rich permafrost: A case study. Geomorphology, 201, 363-379.

Expeditionsbericht (Expedition short report, german) – Juli / August 2013 (hier)

Letzte Änderung: Juli 10, 2019