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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 


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

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:

NEWS: GlobPermafrost user workshop, June 24

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.

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

Resources, data and documents

PAPER: 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, 15 December 2017, Pages 55-70. 

APPLICATION: 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 is 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 will cover 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 will extend 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 covers the Arctic, Antarctic as well as mountain permafrost regions.

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]