EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Detecting permafrost freeze-thaw front propagation using time-laps ERT observations in a large column experiment

Jelte de Bruin, Victor Bense, and Martine van der Ploeg
Jelte de Bruin et al.
  • Wageningen University, Wageningen, Netherlands

Cold regions are increasingly subjected to higher air temperatures, causing warming of permafrost and a deepening of the active layer. This activates hydrogeological groundwater flow and new groundwater pathways to emerge. Monitoring of the active layer depth occurs mainly with the use of temperature observations, but a more flexible and non-invasive method to study transient subsurface processes is with the use of Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) observations. 

Automated time-laps ERT arrays are used to monitor the frozen ground evolution during various seasons, observing resistivity variations during freezing and thawing. Similarly, the leaching of meltwater into the ground under freezing/thawing conditions can be observed. Not only geophysical changes such as fluctuations in water content and water table, but also temperature variations affect the electrical resistivity field. In order to track the development of permafrost active-layer freeze-thaw fronts using ERT observations, it is thus essential that the effect of temperature on the resistivity is clearly defined at realistic scales representing field conditions. Our aim is to determine fluid resistivity at various stages during freezing and thawing and validate current temperature–resistivity relations for partly frozen soils.

This study used a soil column (0.4 m diameter, 1 m heigh) equipped with 96 stainless steel electrodes placed at 8 horizontal rings of 12 electrodes each at various heights around the circumference of the column alongside with temperature sensors. The column was fully insulated on the sides and top except for the bottom, creating a 1D heat transfer system. The soil column was filled with quartzite sand with a D50 of 350 (μm) and organic matter content of 5 (wgt %). The experimental setup was placed within a climate chamber where the column was frozen to -4 °C and thawed to 3 °C over a 3-month period. During the freezing and thawing phase, a full 3D resistivity image was collected using the ERT at a weekly interval. Initial results show that the setup is capable of simulating permafrost freezing and thawing dynamics and ongoing work focuses on the relation between the temperature and time lapse ERT resistivity observations.

How to cite: de Bruin, J., Bense, V., and van der Ploeg, M.: Detecting permafrost freeze-thaw front propagation using time-laps ERT observations in a large column experiment, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-4895,, 2023.