Peter Aagaard Brixen

What will happen when the permafrost melts?

Tuesday 23 Mar 21


Thomas Ingeman-Nielsen
Associate Professor
DTU Civil Engineering
+45 45 25 22 51

Greenland Integrated Observing System

Greenland Integrated Observing System (GIOS) is a joint project to establish a coordinated monitoring system to clarify Greenland’s role in the global climate system.

In addition to DTU Civil Engineering, DTU Space, and DTU Aqua, the collaboration involves Aarhus University, GEUS (the National Geological Survey for Denmark and Greenland), the University of Copenhagen, Aalborg University, the University of Greenland, ASIAQ Greenland Survey, and the Greenland Climate Research Centre.

In addition to permafrost monitoring, GIOS includes other monitoring infrastructure on land, at sea, and in the air.

Greenland’s first highway—between Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut—is being built to monitor the impact of climate change.

Greenland’s Arctic Circle Road has begun to wind its way through the landscape. On the flat terrain in West Greenland, near Kangerlussuaq airport, a new gravel road and a track for ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) are being built. The road will run from the ice sheet to the coastal city of Sisimiut, and will pave the way for the establishment of a number of new climate change measuring stations along the 150-kilometre stretch.

Kangerlussuaq (formerly known in Denmark as Søndre Strømfjord) is an international centre for climate research, on and around the ice sheet. This is due to Kangerlussuaq’s good access to the ice sheet, combined with an airport with a safe approach.

Permafrost disappearing 

Thomas Ingeman-Nielsen is an Associate Professor at DTU Civil Engineering. He is a co-applicant for the project to establish six new measuring stations along the new road. Thomas Ingeman-Nielsen has been researching permafrost and Greenland’s engineering geology for ten years. He has also served as a supervisor for many students doing the Arctic Civil Engineering study programme. DTU students have taken part in a number of projects examining engineering geology conditions along the stretch of road since 2006, contributing to the data that underlies the road project.

“The area between Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq is the broadest ice-free land area in West Greenland. We are clearly seeing the consequences of climate change here, for example through the disappearance of the permafrost. This provides unique opportunities to monitor the process, and develop calculation models that can be used to forecast the trend and advise construction work in the Arctic or other areas,” says Thomas Ingeman-Nielsen.

New measuring stations 

DTU is therefore taking part in the Greenland Integrated Observing System (GIOS) collaboration project, to drill six new holes to a depth of 20 meters along the new stretch of road. Measuring equipment will be installed in the holes to collect data on how the underground is changing, and on the local and regional effects of climate change. The measurements can also be used to validate climate models and calculate the release of greenhouse gases from the underground in areas where the permafrost is disappearing.

The new permafrost monitoring will expand DTU’s existing network of measuring stations and form part of the coordinated monitoring efforts with other monitoring networks in Greenland. A permafrost station under Arctic DTU, located on DTU’s campus in Sisimiut, will also be included in the monitoring and will be upgraded to transmit data in real time.

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