Degrading permafrost and its impacts

Published 03 December, 2019

Permafrost mainly presents in three poles and other alpine and subalpine regions, with a total extent of ~22±3 million km2 and approximately a quarter of exposed land surfaces. Permafrost affects terrestrial ecosystem dynamics, water-carbon cycles, infrastructures and socioeconomic development to varied extents. Under a warming climate, permafrost has been degrading as evidenced by shrinking areal extent, rising temperature, reducing thickness, melting ground-ice, and extensive thermokarsting. Permafrost studies have been flourishing due to increasing concerns on the feedbacks of permafrost carbon to climate systems and ecological impacts from degrading permafrost, sustainable water supplies in Central Asia, and engineering ramifications.

Under a warming climate, permafrost has been degrading persistently and extensively, resulting in profound hydrological, ecological and socio-economic consequences. In Arctic, subarctic, boreal and alpine/plateau regions, natural and anthropogenic systems are undergoing unprecedented changes, with rapidly thawing permafrost as one of the most striking impacts in the terrestrial cryosphere, ecosystems and hydrosphere. In addition to the potential adverse effects on global climate, ecosystems, and human health, warming and thawing of near-surface permafrost may impair critical infrastructure. This could pose a serious threat to the utilization of natural resources, and to the sustainable development of cold regions communities. These impacts are mainly manifested in changing ecosystematic structures and functions, hydrogeological structures, hydrological processes and resources, and structural integrity and long-term stability of foundation soils. Some important and rapid progress has been made per se. However, these studies are still inadequate in desired spatiotemporal series and resolutions, multi-source data assimilation and integration, as well as predictive numerical models. Future research priorities should be given to better understanding of concordant changes in processes, mechanisms and trends for warming/thawing permafrost and their impacts; establishing and improving coupled, predictive distributed models for permafrost and; predicting and evaluating these ensued impacts from degrading permafrost.

To ensure the sustainable development of the permafrost environment under a constantly changing climate, we need to scientifically, prudently and adaptively design and manage our environmental and engineering project. Thus, we need to research and communicate the science, technology and engineering practices at the cutting edges and for the great demands. In this regard, international conferences and bilateral symposia are some of the traditional and most efficient venues.

The 12th International Conference on Permafrost (ICOP 2020) will be held in Lanzhou, China on 22-26 June 2020. The conference theme is "Permafrost environments under persistent warming: Challenges for scientific assessment and engineering practice". China successfully hosted the 6th International Conference on Permafrost at Beijing in 1993. Since then, a number of major engineering and environmental projects have been undertaken in the permafrost regions of China. These include the Qinghai-Tibet Railway (QTR), the Qinghai-Kang Expressway, the Russia-China Crude Oil Pipelines, and the studies on the Asian Water Towers, Changing Arctic Cryosphere and Sustainable Development, and the Pan-Third Pole Environment have also been initiated since the 2000s, with many inspiring and groundbreaking achievements. This ICOP 2020 is opportune to review and exchange these great advances with permafrost scientists, engineers and managers all over the world. Additionally, the 12th International Symposium on Permafrost Engineering (ISOPE) is planned to be held in Lanzhou immediately prior to the ICOP2020. This 12th ISOPE aims at promoting theories and practice of permafrost engineering in Russia and China, and beyond, with foci on the High, Central and East Asia.

To harvest the great accomplishments of the two meetings, these special issues are dedicated to the research to understand the degrading permafrost under a warming climate and its impacts, in particular, identify predictive, evaluative and diagnostic tools for adapting and mitigating these changes effectively and in a sustainable way. In particular, the Special Issues of the Advances in Climate Change Research (ACCR) are focused on the environmental and engineering impacts and mitigation/adaption and welcome the contributions yielding from the ICOP2020 and 12th ISOPE.

More specifically, the subjects may include, but not strictly limited in the following aspects:

  • Formation and longer-term evolution of permafrost;
  • Degrading permafrost: field and lab observations and predictive models and assessment;
  • Ecological impacts from degrading permafrost;
  • Hydrological impacts from degrading permafrost;
  • Impacts on engineered structures and mitigation;
  • Adaptation to and sustainability of degrading permafrost environments under a warming climate, and;
  • Methods and approaches for studying and assessing the degrading permafrost and its impacts.


Manuscript Submission Information:

Manuscripts should be submitted online at by registering and logging in to this website. Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page at

Ensure that you mention the Special Issues (Degrading permafrost and its impacts) call for papers in your cover letter. Manuscripts, preferably no more than 10-15 pages, can be submitted until the deadline. All manuscripts will be peer-reviewed. Manuscripts will be published continuously online immediately on acceptance. All accepted manuscripts will be listed together on the Special Issue website, and the ACCR special issues are to be printed timely before the 12th ISOPE and ICOP2020.

Guest Editors:

  • Huijun Jin, State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soils Engineering, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • Qingbai Wu, State Key Laboratory of Frozen Soils Engineering, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • Vladimir E Romanovsky, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, USA


Deadline for manuscript submissions is 15 February 2020.

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