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SCAR GSSG - Expert Group on Permafrost and Periglacial Environments - EGPPE


Expert Group on Permafrost and Periglacial Environments

The Expert Group have established their own web site with a mailing list, members, meetings and links to related sites.

Chief Officer: Jan Boelhouwers, Uppsala University, Sweden
Deputy*: Jim Bockheim, University of Wisconsin, United States
Mauro Guguelmin, University Insubria, Varese, Italy
Secretary: Megan Balks, Department of Earth Sciences, University Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand

* Two Deputy Chief Officers are identified because of the expected heavy workload associated with this expert group.


Neither the Science Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) nor the International Permafrost Association (IPA) effectively reach the entire Antarctic permafrost community. Given the important role played by permafrost and periglacial activity in Antarctic landscape dynamics, weathering, soil biogeochemical processes and biodiversity, and human activities (e.g. construction, disturbance, contaminant behaviour) there is a need to bring both groups together under the auspices of a single and expanded working group. Thus the main recommendation of the Permafrost Action Group (PAG) is the creation of a SCAR Expert Group on Permafrost and Periglacial Environments (EGPPE). This expert group will report to the Standing Science Group on Geoscience but has the added value of involving experts from both the Life and Physical Science SSGs. It will also have direct links with the IUGS International Permafrost Association, the WCRP CliC Programme, WMOs GTOS Programme and IPY.

Background and Rational

Permafrost and periglacial environments are key elements of the Earth’s cryosphere and are highly sensitive systems subject to disturbance by human activity and climate change. These systems are an expression of the interaction between Antarctica’s cold climate and geology, and operate on time scales ranging from minutes and seconds to millions of years. The role of permafrost areas in Earth system dynamics and the bi-polar linkages between permafrost environments are still very poorly understood. In contrast with the Arctic, information about the permafrost and periglacial conditions of Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands is limited and generally sporadic in coverage.

However, from the limited information it is clear that permafrost and periglacial processes have played, and continue to play, an important role in the evolution of Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic ice-free landscapes and areas beneath cold-based glacier ice. Several aspects of Antarctic permafrost are unique and different from the northern hemisphere. For example, in some places Antarctic permafrost is much older than anywhere else on Earth, there are also extensive areas of dry permafrost, active layers are often thin, soils have high salinitys, and the intensity of mechanical weathering is high. The cold, dry nature of Antarctic landscapes provides valuable analogues for planetary exploration and astrobiological studies. The proposed expert group will approach the Antarctic permafrost and periglacial environment as a multidimensional and multidisciplinary system and will therefore be comprised of a multi-disciplinary team. It is noteworthy that the permafrost session at the 2004 SCAR Open Science Conference was attended by 40+ persons.

Group aims

The overarching aim of this expert group is to raise the profile of Antarctic permafrost science within the SCAR community and to provide SCAR with a stronger information base about the role of permafrost in the Antarctic Environment. Specific aims include:

Work plan and outputs

This expert group will be active for a period of four to six years; with a review planned for the SCAR meeting in 2008. During this period the group will hold several meetings, the first dedicated meeting has already been organised (Antarctic Permafrost and Soils Workshop, November 15-18, 2004 at the University of Wisconsin convened by Jim Bockheim). In addition it will sponsor several sessions at professional meetings, including:

The expert group will also:


Four-six years (2004-2010) and a review scheduled for 2008