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Permafrost CCI Project


Permafrost is a phenomenon of the subsurface thermal state and is defined as ground at or below the freezing point of water for two or more years. Permafrost underlies approximately one quarter of the terrestrial Northern Hemisphere. From borehole temperature data and active layer depth measurements we know that over the past three decades permafrost has been warming, and continues to warm, across the circumpolar North. Changing permafrost interacts with ecosystems and climate on various spatial and temporal scales. Environmental changes accelerate the microbial breakdown of organic carbon and the release of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane what can accelerate climate change. Monitoring across scales is required in order to quantify the changes of variations in this ECV.

Permafrost cannot be directly detected from space, but many surface features of permafrost terrains and typical periglacial landforms are observable with a variety of EO sensors ranging from very high to medium resolution in various wavelengths. In addition, landscape dynamics associated with permafrost changes and geophysical variables relevant for characterising the state of permafrost, such as land surface temperature or snow-water equivalent, can be observed with space-based Earth Observation. Permafrost_cci will provide for different epochs consistent global maps of the parameters permafrost temperature and active layer thickness based on Earth Observation records ingested into a permafrost model scheme.


The ultimate objective of Permafrost_cci is to develop and deliver permafrost maps as ECV products primarily derived from satellite measurements. The required associated parameters by GCOS for the ECV Permafrost are “Depth of active layer (m)” and “Permafrost temperature (K)”. Algorithms have been identified which can provide these parameters ingesting a set of global satellite data products (Land Surface Temperature LST, Snow Water Equivalent SWE, and landcover) in a permafrost model scheme that computes the ground thermal regime. In Permafrost_cci we will strongly rely on data products from recent, ongoing and future ESA projects (e.g. LST_cci, Snow_cci), which offer consistency over several satellite generations. Validation and evaluation efforts comprise comparison to in-situ measurements of subsurface properties(active layer depth,active layer and permafrost temperatures,organic layer thickness, liquid water content in the active layer and permafrost) and surface properties (vegetation cover, snow depth, surface and air temperatures) as well as rock glacier inventories, local permafrost maps and geophysical survey measurements.

Latest news 



Picturing permafrost in the Arctic, 25 February 2020

Permafrost plays an important role in the global climate and is also one of the components of the Earth system that is most sensitive to global warming. Maps produced by CCI permafrost are providing new insights into thawing permafrost in the Arctic. Read the latest ESA "Space for our climate" story, including new visualizations of CRDPv0.

CRDPv0 released, 10 December 2019

Global, consistent mapping of the parameters permafrost temperature and active layer thickness as required by GCOS based on Earth Observation records were for the first time provided by the Permafrost_cci team. The available data set gives insights into variation over time (transient model versus previously used equilibrium model) for the period 2003-2017 with an annual temporal resolution and a spatial resolution of 1km. Ground temperature is provided for several depths (0,1m,2m,5m, 10m). A further product type that was produced is the permafrost extent.

The products can be downloaded via the ESA ftp: validation based a range of available borehole records is documented in the PVIR.

The animation shows mean annual ground temperature at 2m depth. This depth is often used as indicator for presence of permafrost.

Permafrost_CCI mountain permafrost requirements, 3 October 2019

A survey to determine the requirements of the mountain permafrost community covering the two remote sensing based products (1) regional rock glacier inventories and (2) kinematical time series for selected rock glaciers was prepared.

The survey is available online at:

The survey was promoted within the mountain permafrost community at the Workshop I of the IPA Action Group “Rock glacier inventories and kinematics” (, which took place from 23 to 27 September 2019 in Evolène (Switzerland) with the participation of more than 40 international scientists.

CCN2: Rock glacier kinematics as new associated parameter of ECV permafrost, 1 September 2019

CCN2 on the “Rock glacier kinematics as new associated parameter of ECV permafrost” with the Norwegian Research Centre NORCE and the University Centre in Svalbard UNIS as additional partners to Gamma, B.GEOS, GUIO and UNIFR was started. To complement CCN1, this option addresses the need for additional regional cases in cooperation with dedicated users in characterising mountain permafrost – and rockglaciers as one important element of mountain permafrost in particular – as local indicator for climate change and direct impact on the society in mountainous area. Study areas will be in at least six different climatic regions, including Switzerland, Norway and Svalbard.

Permafrost_CCI Annual Review Year 1, ESA ESRIN (Italy), 11 June 2019

The Annual Review Meeting for Year 1 with ESA successfully took place on the 11th of June 2019 at ESRIN. Upon successful completion of Phase 1 and acceptance of the relevant deliverables, the ESA technical officier officially closed Year 1 and opened Year 2.

Permafrost_CCI at LPS 2019, 17 May 2019

Several presentations were held at the LPS 2019 (May 13-17, Milan, Italy), i.e. 2x CCI stand breaks, 1x Climate detectives, 5 scientific oral presentations and 3 posters. ESA released a news story on "Satellites yield insight into not so permanent permafrost" within the “Space for our climate” section of the “Observing the earth” web page including tweets by the climate office, @ESA_EO and @ccipermafrost.

The news story is available via

Permafrost_CCI at the AGU Fall Meeting, 14 December 2018

Along the AGU Fall Meeting (10-14 December 2018, Washington D.C., USA), the project was presented within the framework of the GlobPermafrost information event supported by ARCUS (Arctic Research Community of the US) and at the meeting of the Permafrost Carbon Network.

CCN1: Rock glacier kinematics in the Carpathians (Romania), 28 November 2018

CCN1 on the “Rock glacier kinematics in the Carpathians (Romania)” with the West University of Timișoara and TERRASIGNA (both Romania) as partners was started on the 1st of October 2018. This option addresses the need for additional regional cases in cooperation with dedicated users in characterising mountain permafrost – and rock glaciers as one important element of mountain permafrost in particular – as local indicator for climate change and direct impact on the society in mountainous area.

Permafrost_CCI requirements, 25 September 2018

A survey to determine the requirements of the climate and land surface modelling community covering the two Permafrost_CCI target parameters (1) ground temperatures and (2) active layer thickness was prepared.

The survey is available online at:

15th International Circumpolar Remote Sensing Symposium (10 - 14 September 2018)




Permafrost_CCI activities were presented at the 15th International Circumpolar Remote Sensing Symposium, which took place on September 10-14, 2018 in Potsdam, Germany. This symposium dealt specifically with remote sensing applications in the polar environments, both Arctic and Antarctic. Permafrost_CCI presentations specifically covered different approaches for permafrost extent modelling as well as the suitability of EO derived parameters as indicator for active layer thickness.

For further information:

5th European Conference on Permafrost (EUCOP 2018) (23 June - 1 July 2018)

In the continuation of the International and Regional conferences convened by the International Permafrost Association, the 5th European Conference on Permafrost (EUCOP 2018) will be held in Chamonix-Mont Blanc, France, 23th June - 1st July 2018. The conference aims at covering all relevant aspects of permafrost research, engineering and outreach on a global and regional level. The Permafrost_cci team will be present at the conference with various contributions and will organise a first project meeting on 24 June 2018.

For further information:

GlobPermafrost user workshop, June 24 2018

Permafrost_CCI will be presented at the ESA DUE GlobPermafrost user workshop, dedicated to the evaluation of GlobPermafrost services and scheduled for 24 June 2018 as a pre-meeting to EUCOP 2018 in Chamonix.

For further information:

About the project

Permafrost_cci will use the transient permafrost model CryoGrid 2, which was developed at the University of Oslo and has recently been demonstrated for North Siberia. Remotely sensed data sets of Land Surface Temperature (LST), Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) and landcover will be ingested in a permafrost model that computes the ground thermal regime over time for the production of consistent permafrost maps and active layer thickness at several epochs. We envision a target spatial scale between 10 and 1km and a temporal resolution of 8 days, which meets the requirements of the climate modelling community. Ensemble runs will be performed in order to take the subgrid variability into account and facilitate computing a permafrost probability for each pixel. In addition, ensemble methods can provide a measure of uncertainty, which will be developed and implemented together with users. The performance of the transient algorithm crucially depends on the representation of the ground properties, in particular ice and organic contents. We will compile a new ground stratigraphy product which is tailored to also suit the requirements of the global climate modelling community, thereby addressing a major shortcoming of the permafrost representation in climate models. In addition, soil moisture CDRs will be post-processed to meet the requirements of the permafrost model. Further on, the utilization of freeze/thaw datasets for estimation of permafrost extent and temperature will be considered for round robin activities and especially evaluation of uncertainties in the permafrost transition zone. This approach is purely based on satellite measurements, but with comparably low spatial resolution and accuracy.

Within Permafrost_cci we develop a hierarchical fully automatic processing scheme for the Permafrost ECVs. We will develop a modular production system for depth of active layer and permafrost temperature. The modular design allows extension of the system to support additional/new input data sources. Due to the very large data volumes to be processed, the algorithms will be implemented in a modern way to support distributed processing on multi-core cluster systems and production of intermediate products and of selected spatial tiles. The developed processing system is sustainable in the sense that it can later be exploited outside CCI e.g. within the C3S services.

At least four user case studies will be selected to demonstrate the value and impact of CCI Permafrost products for different aspects of climate research. The user case studies will consider climate models and local scale information from in-situ data and high resolution landcover maps.

Special emphasis is placed on validation via international and national permafrost monitoring networks and in cooperation with the permafrost community enhancing confidence in the validity of the CCI+Permafrost new maps of potential permafrost extent. We are currently assembling and adapting ground data from the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost GTN-P (WMO/GCOS) managed by the International Permafrost Association IPA []. The validation and evaluation efforts will also innovatively consider high-mountain permafrost regions, using in-situ observations of ground temperatures, changes in subsurface ice and unfrozen water content, and velocities of permafrost creep, provided by national data-services such as PERMOS in Switzerland []. The PERMOS data and the ESA GlobPermafrost rock glacier inventory will support the validation of CCI+ Permafrost products in mountain areas, where the CCI+ Permafrost products contain the highest uncertainties. This optimized and standardized validation data set will be supplied within the CCI+ Climate Research Data Package (CRDP) and will thus be publicly available for validation also for the broader climate science community.

Resources, data and documents




KEY DOCUMENTS CCN1&2 "Rock glacier kinematics as new associated parameter of ECV permafrost":




Bergstedt H., A. Bartsch, A. Neureiter, A. Höfler, B. Widhalm, N. Pepin and J. Hjort: Deriving a Frozen Area Fraction From Metop ASCAT Backscatter Based on Sentinel-1. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, Early Access.

Strozzi T., R.Caduff, N. Jones, C. Barboux, R, Delaloye, X. Bodin, A. Kääb, E. Mätzler, L. Schrott (2020): Monitoring Rock Glacier Kinematics with Synthetic Aperture Radar. Remote Sensing, 12(3), 559.

Obu J., S. Westermann, G. Vieira, A. Abramov, M.R. Balks, A. Bartsch, F. Hrbáček, A. Kääb, M. Ramos (2020): Pan-Antarctic map of near-surface permafrost temperatures at 1 km2 scale. The Cryosphere, 14, 497-519.

Bartsch A., B. Widhalm, M. Leibman, K. Ermokhina, T. Kumpula, A. Skarin, E.J. Wilcox, B.M. Jones, G. V. Frost, A. Höfler, G. Pointner (2020) Feasibility of tundra vegetation height retrieval from Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 data. Remote Sensing of Environment, 237, 111515.


Turetsky MR, Abbott BW, Jones MC, Walter Anthony K, Olefeldt D, Schuur 
EAG, Koven C, McGuire AD, Grosse G, Kuhry P, Hugelius G, Lawrence DM, 
Gibson C, Sannel ABK (2019): Permafrost collapse is accelerating carbon release. Nature, 569, 32-34. doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-01313-4.

L. Rouyet, T. R. Lauknes, H. H. Christiansen, S. M. Strand and Y. Larsen (2019): Seasonal dynamics of a permafrost landscape, Adventdalen, Svalbard, investigated by InSAR. Remote Sensing of Environment, Volume 231, 15 September 2019, 111236.

J. Obu, S. Westermann, A. Bartsch, N. Berdnikov, H.H. Christiansen, A. Dashtseren, R. Delaloye, B. Elberling, B. Etzelmüller, A. Kholodov, A. Khomutov, A. Kääb, M.O. Leibman, A.G. Lewkowicz, S.K. Panda, V. Romanovsky, R.G. Way, A. Westergaard-Nielsen, T. Wu, J. Yamkhin, D. Zou (2019). Northern Hemisphere permafrost map based on TTOP modelling for 2000-2016 at 1 km2 scale. Earth-Science Reviews, Volume 193, Pages 299-316.


A. Trofaier, S. Westermann &  A. Bartsch (2017). Progress in space-borne studies of permafrost for climate science: Towards a multi-ECV approachRemote Sensing of Environment, Volume 203, Pages 55-70.



ESA DUE GlobPermafrost Map Viewer. This viewer provides an overview of the products of DUE GlobPermafrost, DUE Permafrost and further associated projects. The European Space Agency has launched the GlobPermafrost initiative (2016-2019) to develop, validate and implement information products to support the research communities and related international organisations like IPA and CliC in their work on understanding permafrost better by integration of Earth Observation data. The GlobPermafrost project was a follow up to the DUE Permafrost project. Permafrost cannot be directly detected from space, but many surface features of permafrost terrains and typical periglacial landforms are observable with a variety of EO sensors ranging from very high to medium resolution in various wavelengths. Prototype cases covered different aspects of permafrost by integrating in-situ measurements of subsurface permafrost properties (active layer depth, active layer and permafrost temperatures, organic layer thickness, liquid water content in the active layer and permafrost), surface properties (vegetation cover, snow depth) and modelling to provide a better understanding of permafrost today. The techniques extended point source process and permafrost monitoring to a broader spatial domain, to support permafrost distribution modelling and mapping techniques implemented in a GIS framework and will complement active layer and thermal observing networks. The service covered the Arctic, Antarctic as well as mountain permafrost regions.

The project team

The Consortium is based on a close collaboration between the following partners:

  • Gamma Remote Sensing and Consulting AG (GAMMA), Switzerland
  • b.geos GmbH (B.GEOS), Austria
  • Department of Geosciences of the University of Oslo (GUIO), Norway
  • Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre of Polar and Marine Research (AWI), Germany
  • Geography Unit of the Department of Geosciences of the University of Fribourg (UNIFR), Switzerland
  • Department of Physical Geography and Bolin Centre of Climate Research of Stockholm University (SU), Sweden
  • Geography Department, West University of Timișoara (WUT), Romania
  • TERRASIGNA, Bucharest, Romania
  • Norwegian Research Centre (NORCE), Tromsø, Norway
  • University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), Norway

Contact us / support

Use the following emails to contact the Permafrost_cci team:

  • Scientific leader: Dr. Annett Bartsch, B.GEOS, annett.bartsch[at]
  • Project manager: Dr. Tazio Strozzi, GAMMA, strozzi[at]
  • ESA technical officer: Dr. Frank Martin Seifert, ESA, Frank.Martin.Seifert[at]