Recent changes in the active layer thickness across the northern hemisphere

  • Dongliang LuoEmail author
  • Qingbai Wu
  • Huijun Jin
  • Sergey S. Marchenko
  • Lanzhi Lü
  • Siru Gao
Original Article


To better understand the ecological and hydrological responses to climatic and cryospheric changes, the spatiotemporal variations in the active layer thickness (ALT) need to be scrupulously studied. Based on more than 230 sites from the circumpolar active layer monitoring network, the spatiotemporal characteristics of the ALT across the northern hemisphere during 1990–2015 were investigated. Results indicate that the ALT exhibits substantial spatial variations across the northern hemisphere, ranging from approximately 30 cm in the arctic and subarctic regions to greater than 10 m in the mountainous permafrost regions at mid-latitudes. Regional averages of ALT are 48 cm in Alaska, 93 cm in Canada, 164 cm in the Nordic countries (including Greenland and Svalbard) and Switzerland, 330 cm in Mongolia, 476 cm in Kazakhstan, and 230 cm on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP), respectively. In Russia, the regional averages of ALT in European North, West Siberia, Central Siberia, Northeast Siberia, Chukotka, and Kamchatka are 110, 92, 69, 61, 53 and 60 cm, respectively. Increasing trends of ALT were not uniformly present in the observational records. Significant changes in the ALT were observed at 73 sites, approximately 43.2 % of the investigated 169 sites that are available for statistical analysis. Less than 25 % Alaskan sites and approximately 33 % Canadian sites showed significant increase in the ALT. On the QTP, almost all the sites showed significant ALT increases. Insignificant increase and even decrease in the ALT were observed in some parts of the northern hemisphere, e.g., Mongolia, parts of Alaska and Canada. The air and ground temperatures, vegetation, substrate, microreliefs, and soil moisture in particular, play decisive roles in the spatiotemporal variations in the ALT, but the relationships among each other are complicated and await further studies.


Circumpolar active layer monitoring (CALM) program Active layer thickness (ALT) Northern hemisphere Cryosphere and climate change Spatiotemporal variations 



This work was supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Key Research Program (Grant No. KZZD-EW-13), the National Natural Science Foundation (NSF) of China (Grant No. 41301068), Excellent Youth Scholars Fund of Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant No. 51Y351051). Dr. Geoffrey Gay from University of Stuttgart and Dr. Victor F. Bense from Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University provided generous assistance in English and technical editing. The authors are herein grateful to acknowledge their generous help. The authors also would like to salute all the scientists who contribute to the set-up, collection and synthesis of CALM data. The constructive suggestions from three anonymous reviewers and the editor-in-chief are especially appreciated.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dongliang Luo
    • 1
    Email author
  • Qingbai Wu
    • 1
  • Huijun Jin
    • 1
  • Sergey S. Marchenko
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lanzhi Lü
    • 1
  • Siru Gao
    • 1
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soil Engineering, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research InstituteChinese Academy of SciencesLanzhouChina
  2. 2.Geophysical InstituteUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA

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