Increased precipitation drives mega slump development and destabilization of ice-rich permafrost terrain, northwestern Canada




Kokelj, S.V.
Tunnicliffe, J.
Lacelle, D.
Lantz, T.C.
Chin, K.S.
Fraser, R.

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Global and Planetary Change


It is anticipated that an increase in rainfall will have significant impacts on the geomorphology of permafrost landscapes. Field observations, remote sensing and historical climate data were used to investigate the drivers, processes and feedbacks that perpetuate the growth of large retrogressive thaw slumps. These “mega slumps” (5–40 ha) are now common in formerly glaciated, fluvially incised, ice-cored terrain of the Peel Plateau, NW Canada. Individual thaw slumps can persist for decades and their enlargement due to ground ice thaw can dis- place up to 106 m3 of materials from slopes to valley bottoms reconfiguring slope morphology and drainage net- works. Analysis of Landsat images (1985–2011) indicate that the number and size of active slumps and debris tongue deposits has increased significantly with the recent intensification of rainfall. The analyses of high resolution climatic and photographic time-series for summers 2010 and 2012 shows strong linkages amongst temperature, precipitation and the downslope sediment flux from active slumps. Ground ice thaw supplies meltwater and sediments to the slump scar zone and drives diurnal pulses of surficial flow. Coherence in the timing of down valley debris tongue deposition and fine-scaled observations of sediment flux indicate that heavy rainfall stimulates major mass flow events. Evacuation of sediments from the slump scar zone can help to maintain a headwall of exposed ground ice, perpetuating slump growth and leading to larger disturbances. The development of debris tongue deposits divert streams and increase thermoerosion to initiate adjacent slumps. We conclude that higher rainfall can intensify thaw slump activity and rapidly alter the slope-sediment cascade in regions of ice-cored glaciogenic deposits.



climate change, ground ice, landscape change, mass wasting, permafrost, rainfall intensity, thaw slump, thermokarst


Kokelj, S.V., Tunnicliffe, J. Lacelle, D., Lantz, T.C., Chin, K.S. & Fraser, R. (2015). Increased precipitation drives mega slump development and destabilization of icerich permafrost terrain, northwestern Canada. Global and Planetary Change, 129, 56-68.