Geocryology: Characteristics and Use of Frozen Ground and Permafrost Landforms, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover


Characteristics and Use of Frozen Ground and Permafrost Landforms, 1st Edition

By Stuart A. Harris, Anatoli Brouchkov, Cheng Guodong

CRC Press

766 pages

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This book provides a general survey of Geocryology, which is the study of frozen ground called permafrost. Frozen ground is the product of cold climates as well as a variety of environmental factors. Its major characteristic is the accumulation of large quantities of ice which may exceed 90% by volume. Soil water changing to ice results in ground heaving, while thawing of this ice produces ground subsidence often accompanied by soil flowage. Permafrost is very susceptible to changes in weather and climate as well as to changes in the microenvironment. Cold weather produces contraction of the ground, resulting in cracking of the soil as well as breakup of concrete, rock, etc. Thus permafrost regions have unique landforms and processes not found in warmer lands.

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 provides an introduction to the characteristics of permafrost. Four chapters deal with its definition and characteristics, the unique processes operating there, the factors affecting it, and its general distribution. Part 2 consists of seven chapters describing the characteristic landforms unique to these areas and the processes involved in their formation. Part 3 discusses the special problems encountered by engineers in construction projects including settlements, roads and railways, the oil and gas industry, mining, and the agricultural and forest industries.

The three authors represent three countries and three language groups, and together have over 120 years of experience of working in permafrost areas throughout the world. The book contains over 300 illustrations and photographs, and includes an extensive bibliography in order to introduce the interested reader to the large current literature.

Finalist of the 2019 PROSE Awards.


"[This book] should be of interest to a wide range of scientists concerned with the Earth, environmental and ecological sciences, including those specialising in the Holocene.

Stuart Harris and his co-authors provide a[…] comprehensive survey of the closely related field of geocryology. This is defined as the study of frozen ground, especially permafrost. Their book also includes the characteristics, processes, landforms and environmental factors affecting frozen ground, to which they add a wide variety of practical problems encountered by engineers and others who attempt to occupy and use permafrost terrain.

Part III of Geocryology is a superb demonstration, in the context of geocryology, of the intimate, reciprocal relationship that can exist between pure and applied science. Much of the detailed information and theoretical knowledge that underpins present understanding of frozen ground was developed hand in hand with relatively recent attempts to live in and exploit the resources available in permafrost areas."

John A Matthews, Swansea University,UK. In: The Holocene Vol. 28(4) (2018).

"With three co-authors who come from different countries to share their research experience and expertise, this book makes available geocryological information not published originally in the English language. As expected, the book is well endowed with case studies and illustrative examples taken mostly from northern Canada, Alaska, Siberia, and Tibet in China. These are a major attraction of this publication.


Overall, it is comprehensive and places geomorphology and geotechnical engineering under a single cover. As cold regions in general, and circumpolar areas in particular, are highly sensitive to changes due to natural and human-related causes, this book offers materials valuable to understanding and confronting present and future environmental changes. Without rendering quantitative treatment on many topics (except Chapter 12 on soil mechanics), the descriptive approach makes the book easily accessible to a general readership, and it will appeal to undergraduate students who are not mathematically inclined. Those who wish to pursue specific topics at greater depth can consult relevant articles listed in the very extensive bibliography, which covers 119 pages."

Ming-ko Woo, Professor Emeritus at the School of Geography and Earth Sciences, McMaster University, Canada. Published in: Arctic, Vol. 71(2) (2018).

"Overall, therefore, I found the book to be partially successful in its purpose. It does provide a welcome survey of modern geocryology, at least on a descriptive basis, but lacks rigor in terms of providing mechanistic understanding of processes and modeling. I recommend the book to university students, academics, consultant engineers and land managers because it makes a substantial contribution to the study of permafrost. By focusing on geocryological description, it complements the lucid summary of geocryological processes by Peter Williams and Michael Smith."

Julian B. Murton, Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 2018 (29): 131-132

Table of Contents

Part I Introduction and characteristics of permafrost

1 Definition and description

1.1 Introduction

1.2 Additional terms originating in Russia

1.3 History of permafrost research

1.4 Measurement of ground temperature

1.5 Conduction, convection and advection

1.6 Thermal regimes in regions based on heat conduction

1.7 Continentality index

1.8 Moisture movement in the active layer during freezing and thawing

1.9 Moisture conditions in permafrost grond

1.10 Results of freezing moisture

1.11 Strength of ice

1.12 Cryosols, gelisols, and leptosols

1.13 Fragipans

1.14 Salinity in permafrost regions

1.15 Organic matter

1.16 Micro-organisms in permafrost

1.17 Gas and gas hydrates

1.18 Thermokarst areas

1.19 Offshore permafrost

2 Cryogenic processes where temperatures dip below 0◦C

2.1 Introduction

2.2 The nature of ice and water

2.3 Effects of oil pollution on freezing

2.4 Freezing and thawing of the active layer in permafrost in equilibrium with a stable climate

2.5 Relation of clay mineralogy to the average position of the permafrost table

2.6 Ground temperature envelopes in profiles affected by changes in mean annual ground surface temperature (MASGT)

2.7 Needle ice

2.8 Frost heaving

2.9 Densification and thaw settlement

2.10 Cryostratigraphy, cryostructures, cryotextures and cryofacies

2.11 Ground cracking

2.12 Dilation cracking

2.13 Frost susceptibility

2.14 Cryoturbation, gravity processes and injection structures

2.15 Upheaving of objects

2.16 Upturning of objects

2.17 Sorting

2.18 Weathering and frost comminution

2.19 Karst in areas with permafrost

2.20 Seawater density and salinity

3 Factors affecting permafrost distribution

3.1 Introduction

3.2 Climatic factors

3.3 Terrain factors

4 Permafrost distribution

4.1 Introduction

4.2 Zonation of permafrost

4.3 Permafrost mapping

4.4 Examples of mapping units used

4.5 Modeling permafrost distribution

4.6 Advances in geophysical methods

4.7 Causes of variability reducing the reliability of small-scale maps

4.8 Maps of permafrost-related properties based on field observations

4.9 Use of remote sensing and aiborne platforms in monitoring environmental conditions and distubances

4.10 Sensitivity to climate change: Hazard zonation

4.11 Classification of permafrost stability based on mean annual ground temperature

Part II Permafrost landforms

II.1 Introduction

5 Frost cracking, ice-wedges, sand, loess and rock tessellons

5.1 Introduction

5.2 Primary and secondary wedges

6 Massive ground ice in lowlands

6.1 Introduction

6.2 Distribution of massive icy beds in surface sediments

6.3 Sources of the sediments

6.4 Deglaciation of the Laurentide ice sheet

6.5 Methods used to determine the origin of the massive icy beds

6.6 Massive icy beds interpreted as being formed by cryosuction

6.7 Massive icy beds that may represent stgnant glacial ice

6.8 Other origins of massive icy beds

6.9 Ice complexes including Yedoma deposits

6.10 Conditions for growth of thick ice-wedges

6.11 The mechanical condition of the growth of ice-wedges and its connection to the properties of the surrounding sediments

6.12 Buoyancy of ice-wedges

6.13 Summary of the ideas explaining yedoma evolution

6.14 Aufeis

6.15 Perennial ice caves

6.16 Types of ice found in perennial ice caves

6.17 Processes involved in the formation of perennial ice caves

6.18 Cycles of perennial cave evolution

6.19 Ice caves in subtropical climates

6.20 Massive blocks of ice in bedrock or soil

7 Permafrost mounds

7.1 Introduction

7.2 Mounds over 2.5m diameter

7.3 Cryogenic mounds less than 2.5m in diameter

8 Mass wasting of fine-grained materials in cold climates

8.1 Introduction

8.2 Classification of mass wasting

8.3 Slow flows

8.4 Cryogenic fast flows

8.5 Relative effect in moving debris downslope in the mountains

9 Landforms consisting of blocky materials in cold climates

9.1 Introduction

9.2 Source of the blocks

9.3 Influence of rock type

9.4 Weathering products

9.5 Biogenic weathering

9.6 Fate of the sloluble salts produced by chemical and biogenic weathering

9.7 Rate of cliff retreat

9.8 Landforms resulting from the accumulation of predominantly blocky materials in cryogenic climates

9.9 Talus containing significant amounts of finer material

9.10 Cryogenic block streams

9.11 Surface appearance of blocky landforms

10 Cryogenic patterned ground

10.1 Introduction

10.2 Forms of cryogenic patterned ground

10.3 Factors affecting the development of cryogenic patterned ground

10.4 Macroforms of cryogenic patterned ground

10.5 Cryogenic sorted patterned ground

10.6 Identification of active versus inactive forms of macro-sorted patterns

10.7 Microforms of cryogenic patterned ground

11 Thermokarst and thermal erosion

11.1 Introduction

11.2 Causes of thermokarst

11.3 Cavity development in permafrost

11.4 Effect of thermokarst on soil

11.5 Thermokarst landforms

11.6 Thermokarst and thermal erosion along river banks

11.7 Thermal erosion and thermokarst processes along sea coasts

11.8 Processes involved in the erosion of ice-rich arctic coastal sediments

11.9 Importance of coastal erosion of sediments containing permafrost

Part III Use of permafrost areas

III.1 Introduction

12 The mechanics of frozen soils

12.1 Introduction

12.2 Strains and stresses in the freezing and thawing of soils resulting in frost heaving

12.3 Rheological processes

12.4 Frost susceptibility

13 Foundations in permafrost regions: building stability

13.1 Introduction

13.2 The effect of construction on permafrost stability

13.3 Choice of method of construction

13.4 Building materials

13.5 Timing of construction

13.6 Types of foundations

14 Roads, railways and airfields

14.1 Introduction

14.2 The problems

14.3 Types of roads

14.4 Experimental embankments

14.5 Winter roads

14.6 Environmental effects of winter roads

14.7 Embankment heights

14.8 Unpaved embankments

14.9 Main problems with embankment stability

14.10 Concrete versus ballast railway tracks

14.11 Paving of road and airfield runways

14.12 Use of white paint

14.13 Bridges

14.14 Icings

14.15 Cut slopes

14.16 Airfield construction

15 Oil and gas industry

15.1 Introduction

15.2 Oil and gas exploration

15.3 Drilling rigs

15.4 Production and keeper wells

15.5 Sump problems

15.6 Pipelines

15.7 Monitoring

15.8 Compressor stations

15.9 Pipeline crossings

15.10 Effects of heat advection from producing wells

15.11 Gas hydrates in permafrost ice

16 Mining in permafrost areas

16.1 Introduction

16.2 Placer mining

16.3 Open cast/pit mining

16.4 Underground mining

16.5 Waste materials and tailings ponds

16.5.1 Toxic wastes

17 Provision of utilities

17.1 Introduction

17.2 Water supply

17.3 Waste disposal

17.4 Electric transmission lines

18 Agriculture and forestry

18.1 Introduction

18.2 Zonation of natural vegetation across Siberia

18.3 Zonation of natural vegetation in North America

18.4 Southern and Eastern Kazakhstan, Mongolia and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

18.5 The Eichfeld zones

18.6 Asian steppe grasslands and deserts

18.7 The development of modern agriculture in permafrost areas

18.8 Forestry

18.9 Potential effects of climate changes

About the Authors

Stuart Arthur Harris was born in 1931, in Cheltenham, England. He earned the degrees of B. Sc. (Honours), M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Geology and D.Sc. in Geography from Queen Mary University, University of London. During his National Service, he advised the Chief Engineers Branch, British Troops Egypt and the Arab Legion Engineers in Jordan, solving problems in geology, water supply and engineering. Subsequently, he was a soil surveyor for the consulting firm, Hunting Technical Services, before becoming Government Soil Surveyor in Guyana. He taught in the geography Departments of the University of Chicago, Wilfred Laurier University, and the University of Kansas before joining the University of Calgary in 1969. The National Research Council of Canada asked him to study the relationship of climate to permafrost in 1973, and he mapped the permafrost distribution from Northern New Mexico to Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Subsequently, he carried out detailed studies of the permafrost landforms and processes in northwest Canada, as well as on the Tibetan Plateau, China. He has carried out field work in Iceland, the Alps, Poland, Russia, China, Mongolia, New Zealand and Kazakhstan, publishing over 200 papers, books and reports. The Russian Geographical Society awarded him the Nikolai Mihailovich Prjevalsky Medal for his research on Alpine permafrost in 1996. He has also organised three International Field Trips in the Rocky Mountains for overseas scientists in connection with International meetings in Canada.

Professor Anatoli Brouchkov was born April 18, 1957 and raised in Khatanga of Arctic Siberia. He obtained his Ph.D and D.Sc degrees from the Geocryology Department of Geology Faculty of Lomonosov Moscow State University, studying under the tutelage of some of the recent famous Russian permafrost scientists such as V.A. Kudryavtsev, S.S. Vyalov, E. D. Yershov and N. N. Romanovski. Over the years, he has run a geocryological laboratory for the Russian Academy of Sciences as well as an underground permafrost laboratory in Amderma, involving research all over the Russian Arctic. He has specialized in the study of the effects of salinity on the properties of frozen ground and the effects of climate change on permafrost. He has also carried out a research on the survival of microorganisms in permafrost. In addition, he has acted as a geocryological consultant to Gazprom and other Russian and international companies, and a permafrost expert for World Meteorological Organization. He was a professor at Hokkaido University (Japan, 2001–2004) and Tyumen State University (since 2005), publishing over 150 papers and books. In 2010, he succeeded the late Edward Yershov as Professor and Head of the Geocryology Department of Moscow State University.

Academician Cheng Guodong was born in 1943 in Shanghai, China. He earned his B.Sc. at Beijing Geology College (China University of Geosciences), and carried out fundamental research in the CREEL laboratories at Hanover, New Hampshire, before returning to China. Guodong became an Academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1993. He was responsible for reorganizing the Institute of Glaciology and Geocryology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to form the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute. He has led the research very successfully, thus enabling the modernization of the construction techniques in the permafrost areas of China during the last 15 years. One of his most important achievements was the development of the most effective methods of cooling the beds of linear transportation routes using blocks of rock. He has written eight books, and his name appears below the title of numerous papers dealing with the use of permafrost lands. He has received many awards in China, as well as being the recipient of one of the first three IPA Lifetime Achievement awards by the International Permafrost Association.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SCIENCE / Earth Sciences / General
SCIENCE / Earth Sciences / Geology