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  • Monday, July 12, 2021
  • Permafrost Thawing Could Cause Faster Infrastructure Deterioration

Roads, bridges pipelines and other types of infrastructure in Alaska and elsewhere in the Arctic will deteriorate faster than expected due to a failure by planners to account for the structures’ impact on adjacent permafrost, according to research by a University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute permafrost expert and others.

ACEP’s Erin Trochim is among 13 authors of a recently published paper that focused on a portion of the Dalton Highway on Alaska’s North Slope about 10 miles south of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. Sensors monitored the temperature at seven locations, three to the west of the highway and four on the east.

The researchers found that top-down thawing isn’t confined to the area beneath the road surface. They found instead that thawing spreads outward, leading to destabilization of the embankment and ground underneath it. The thawing creates taliks — areas of subsurface ground that remain unfrozen year-round — under a roadway’s toe, the prepared zone at the base of the embankment and abutting the natural terrain.

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