A new approach to mapping permafrost and change incorporating uncertainties in ground conditions and climate projections
Spatially detailed information on permafrost distribution and change with climate is important for land use planning, infrastructure development, and environmental assessments. However, the required soil and surficial geology maps in the North are coarse, and projected climate scenarios vary widely. Considering these uncertainties, we propose a new approach to mapping permafrost distribution and change by integrating remote sensing data, field measurements, and a process-based model. Land cover types from satellite imagery are used to capture the general land conditions and to improve the resolution of existing permafrost maps. For each land cover type, field observations are used to estimate the probabilities of different ground conditions. A process-based model is used to quantify the evolution of permafrost for each ground condition under three representative climate scenarios (low, medium, and high warming). From the model results, the probability of permafrost occurrence and the most likely permafrost conditions are determined. We apply this approach at 20 m resolution to a large area in Northwest Territories, Canada. Mapped permafrost conditions are in agreement with field observations and other studies. The data requirements, model robustness, and computation time are reasonable, and this approach may serve as a practical means to mapping permafrost and changes at high resolution in other regions.