2009 Polaris Project students Joanne Heslop from University of Nevada, Reno and Nicholai Torgovkin from Yakutsk State University describe their research on permafrost.

“The entire Kolyma River basin is underlain by permafrost, soil that is perennially frozen. Permafrost in this basin can be categorized into three layers: the active layer, the transitional layer, and the yedoma layer. The active layer is a thin layer of soils between the surface and the top of the permafrost which thaws and refreezes. The transitional layer is an old active layer that dates back to the Holocene optimum, a warm period some 5,000 years ago. This layer has now become re-frozen. The lowermost layer, yedoma, represents ancient soil deposits dating from the late Pleistocene era, over 10,000 years ago.

In our experiment, we are focusing on how permafrost qualities change over both space and time. First, we are comparing how the active layer differs across different landscapes, including lowlands, ridges, and tundra. Second, we are comparing the composition of the three permafrost layers to determine if there have been changes in organic matter over time. Finally, we are examining a potential connection between the active layer and water by testing what and how many nutrients are ‘picked up’ by water passing through the active layer.

On site, we are measuring the active layer depth, vegetation, and soil characteristics. In the lab, we analyze the soil samples for moisture and organic matter. To test for nutrient transfer from soil to water, we mix the soil samples with distilled water, allow them to incubate for 24 hours, and measure changes in the water.” -Joanne Heslop and Nicholai Torgovkin