Slope Edge Deformation and Permafrost Dynamics Along the Arctic Shelf Edge, Beaufort Sea, Canada
Tuesday, 15 December 2015: 11:50
3009 (Moscone West)
The shelf of the Canadian Beaufort Sea is underlain by relict offshore permafrost that formed in the long intervals of terrestrial exposure during glacial periods. At the shelf edge the permafrost thins rapidly and also warms. This area has a very distinct morphology that we attribute to both the formation and degradation of ice bearing permafrost. Positive relief features include circular to oval shaped topographic mounds, up to 10 m high and ~50 m in diameter which occur at a density of ~6 per km2. Intermixed are circular topographic depressions up to 20 m deep. This topography was investigated using an autonomous underwater vehicle that provides 1 m horizontal resolution bathymetry and chirp profiles, a remotely operated vehicle to document seafloor textures, and sediment cores to sample pore waters. A consistent down-core freshening at rates of 14 to 96 mM Cl- per meter was found in these pore waters near the shelf edge. Downward extrapolation of these trends indicates water with ≤335 mM Cl- should occur at 2.3 to 22.4 m sub-seafloor depths within this shelf edge deformation band. Pore water with 335 mM Cl- or less freezes at -1.4°C. As bottom water temperatures in this area are persistently (<-1.4°C) cold and ground ice was observed in some core samples, we interpret the volume changes associated with mound formation are in part due to pore water freezing. Thermal models (Taylor et al., 2014) predict brackish water along the shelf edge may be sourced in relict permafrost melting under the adjacent continental shelf. Buoyant brackish water is hypothesized to migrate along the base of the relict permafrost, to emerge at the shelf edge and then refreeze when it encounters the colder seafloor. Expansion generated by the formation of ice-bearing permafrost generates the positive relief mounds and ridges. The associated negative relief features may be related to permafrost dynamics also. Permafrost dynamics may have geohazard implications that are unique to the Arctic shelf edge.