Development of permafrost thaw along topographical gradients and its links to vegetation

Vegetation, especially mosses, play an important role in insulating the soil from increasing air temperatures, potentially reducing permafrost thaw, thus leading to a reduced active layer depth (ALT). As of now, we have little knowledge on how the different plant communities on Svalbard affect ALT beneath them, and whether the insulating effects of plant communities change over the growing season. Also, scale is often crucial in identifying drivers in ecological studies, and (a-) biotic drivers on small scale may not be the same as found on larger scales. However, we have little knowledge of how active layer depth develops on a small scale, along gradients with contrasting vegetation and contrasting environmental variables.

Project description:

The aim of this project is to observe active layer depth spatially and temporally underneath contrasting plant communities during summer.
The student will join an on-going PhD project. You will assist with field work.
The study makes use of four grids in Endalen and at Isdammen, close to Longyearbyen. Each grid covers a gradient in topography, from ridge to late-lying snow, where contrasting plant communities occur. Vegetation composition is known, and in 2020 frost tubes were installed in 80 plots (see Fieldwork will concentrate on weekly measurements of active layer depth (ALT), soil moisture and soil temperature.

The project involves: 

Field work

Starting date/period: 

from 1. June 2021 – to 30. September 2021


Able to carry and handle a rifle. Basic knowledge in ecology.

Experience/skills to be acquired:

The student will gain some knowledge on how to conduct abiotic measurements in the field. The student will also learn how to operate in a high Arctic environment where polar bears can be present.


Flexible (max 40h). It is recommended to work at least 7 h/day when being in the field.

Interested by this project? Need more info? Contact:

Sil Schuuring

Project number: 14

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