Skip navigation.

New global satellite permafrost maps available

The first global and consistent permafrost maps using satellite observations are now available from the ESA’s Climate Change Initiative.

The release of these maps is timely given that the IPCC, in its latest Special Report, highlight the permafrost warming trend (1980-present) has reached record levels. As a consequence, concern is growing that significant amounts of greenhouse gases could be mobilised over the coming decades as it thaws, and potentially amplify global climate change. 

Caption: Animation showing mean annual ground temperature at 2m depth, the standard depth used to indicate the presence of permafrost. Units Kelvin (273K=0°C)

Permafrost is one of 54 Essential Climate Variables used to describe Earth’s climate by the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS). However, monitoring has relied on in-situ networks to date, which is challenging as permafrost covers a quarter of the northern hemisphere’s land area. Use of Earth Observation data can provide global and spatially consistent permafrost data coverage for this variable, even in the most remote and inaccessible areas.

Satellite sensors cannot detect Permafrost directly, but a dedicated research project, part of the ESA Climate Change Initiative, and led by Annett Bartsch has used complementary satellite measurements of landscape features including land surface temperature and landcoverUsed in tandem with in-situ observations, the data are anticipated to improve the understanding of permafrost dynamics and the ability to model its future climate impact.

The maps provided by the Permafrost_cci team (University of Oslo CryoGrid model) cover the period, 2003-2017 at a spatial resolution of 1km for the parameters, subsurface temperature and the depth of the active layer – the topsoil that thaws during the summer and freezes again during the autumn. Ground temperature data is provided for several depths (0, 1m, 2m, 5m, 10m) and permafrost extent products are also available.

Dr Bartsch explains that, “although the maps provide useful insight with regard to interannual variability over a 14-year period, drawing conclusions regarding climate trends is not possible.”

She advises researchers, "to wait and use permafrost maps covering the full 30 year time series, which are expected to be ready for release by the project around mid 2020." 

Access Permafrost data

Downloads of the Permafrost_cci data products are available via the CCI’s Open Data Portal (cci.esa.int/data):

·     Permafrost Active Layer Thickness for the Northern Hemisphere, v1.0: http://dx.doi.org/10.5285/1ee56c42cf6c4ef698693e00a63795f4

·     Permafrost Extent for the Northern Hemisphere, v1.0: http://dx.doi.org/10.5285/c7590fe40d8e44169d511c70a60ccbcc

·     Permafrost Ground Temperature for the Northern Hemisphere, v1.0: http://dx.doi.org/10.5285/9a333481e9a34c7a8f78902f77ad3fe7