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InSAR-measured permafrost degradation of palsa peatlands in northern Sweden

Valman, Samuel; Siewert, Matthias B.; Boyd, Doreen; Ledger, Martha; Gee, David; de la Barreda-Bautista, Betsabé; Sowter, Andrew; Sjögersten, Sofie

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Samuel Valman

Matthias B. Siewert

Professor of Earth Observation

Martha Ledger

David Gee

Andrew Sowter

Professor of Environmental Science


Climate warming is degrading palsa peatlands across the circumpolar permafrost region. Permafrost degradation may lead to ecosystem collapse and potentially strong climate feedbacks, as this ecosystem is an important carbon store and can transition to being a strong greenhouse gas emitter. Landscape-level measurement of permafrost degradation is needed to monitor this impact of warming. Surface subsidence is a useful metric of change in palsa degradation and can be monitored using interferometric synthetic-aperture radar (InSAR) satellite technology. We combined InSAR data, processed using the ASPIS algorithm to monitor ground motion between 2017 and 2021, with airborne optical and lidar data to investigate the rate of subsidence across palsa peatlands in northern Sweden. We show that 55% of Sweden's eight largest palsa peatlands are currently subsiding, which can be attributed to the underlying permafrost landforms and their degradation. The most rapid degradation has occurred in the largest palsa complexes in the most northern part of the region of study, also corresponding to the areas with the highest percentage of palsa cover within the overall mapped wetland area. Further, higher degradation rates have been found in areas where winter precipitation has increased substantially. The roughness index calculated from a lidar-derived digital elevation model (DEM), used as a proxy for degradation, increases alongside subsidence rates and may be used as a complementary proxy for palsa degradation. We show that combining datasets captured using remote sensing enables regional-scale estimation of ongoing permafrost degradation, an important step towards estimating the future impact of climate change on permafrost-dependent ecosystems.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 18, 2024
Online Publication Date Apr 17, 2024
Publication Date Apr 17, 2024
Deposit Date Apr 27, 2024
Publicly Available Date Apr 30, 2024
Journal Cryosphere
Print ISSN 1994-0416
Electronic ISSN 1994-0424
Publisher European Geosciences Union
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 18
Issue 4
Pages 1773-1790
Public URL
Publisher URL


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