A new way to study permafrost soil will lead to a better understanding of the Arctic ecosystem’s impact on the planet's climate. The new approach combines several remote-sensing tools to study the Arctic landscape—above and below ground—in high resolution and over large spatial scales.

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) used ground-penetrating radar, electrical resistance tomography, electromagnetic data, and LiDAR airborne measurements. Together, these tools allow the scientists to see the different layers of the terrestrial ecosystem, including the surface topography, the active layer that seasonally freezes and thaws, and the deeper permafrost layer.

The goal is to help scientists determine what will happen to permafrost-trapped carbon as the climate changes. Will it stay put? Or will it enter the atmosphere and accelerate climate change?

The scientists tested their system on a plot of land near Barrow, Alaska, that measures about 500 meters long and 40 meters wide. To characterize the land surface, they used data from a remote sensing LiDAR device. The scientists also used three tools to explore the hidden world below the surface.

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Also: Learn about a NASA pro who studied glaciers in the Arctic.