Permafrost saline water and Early to mid-Holocene permafrost aggradation in Svalbard

Dotan Rotem, Vladimir Lyakhovsky, Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen, Yehudit Harlavan, Yishai Weinstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Deglaciation in Svalbard was followed by seawater ingression and deposition of marine (deltaic) sediments in fjord valleys, while elastic rebound resulted in fast land uplift and the exposure of these sediments to the atmosphere, whereby the formation of epigenetic permafrost was initiated. This was then followed by the accumulation of aeolian sediments, with syngenetic permafrost formation. Permafrost was studied in the eastern Adventdalen valley, Svalbard, 3-4 km from the maximum up-valley reach of post-deglaciation seawater ingression, and its ground ice was analysed for its chemistry. While ground ice in the syngenetic part is basically fresh, the epigenetic part has a frozen freshwater-saline water interface (FSI), with chloride concentrations increasing from the top of the epigenetic part (at 5.5 m depth) to about 15 % that of seawater at 11 m depth. We applied a one-dimensional freezing model to examine the rate of top-down permafrost formation, which could be accommodated by the observed frozen FSI. The model examined permafrost development under different scenarios of mean average air temperature, water freezing temperature and degree of pore-water freezing. We found that even at the relatively high air temperatures of the Early to mid-Holocene, permafrost could aggrade quite fast down to 20 to 37 m (the whole sediment fill of 25 m at this location) within 200 years. This, in turn, allowed freezing and preservation of the freshwater-saline water interface despite the relatively fast rebound rate, which apparently resulted in an increase in topographic gradients toward the sea. The permafrost aggradation rate could also be enhanced due to non-complete pore-water freezing. We conclude that freezing must have started immediately after the exposure of the marine sediment to atmospheric conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3363-3381
Number of pages19
Issue number8
StatePublished - 21 Aug 2023

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