Permafrost is a sensitive element of the cryosphere, but operational monitoring of the ground thermal conditions on large spatial scales is still lacking. Here, we demonstrate a remote-sensing-based scheme that is capable of estimating the transient evolution of ground temperatures and active layer thickness by means of the ground thermal model CryoGrid 2. The scheme is applied to an area of approximately 16 000 km2 in the Lena River delta (LRD) in NE Siberia for a period of 14 years. The forcing data sets at 1 km spatial and weekly temporal resolution are synthesized from satellite products and fields of meteorological variables from the ERA-Interim reanalysis. To assign spatially distributed ground thermal properties, a stratigraphic classification based on geomorphological observations and mapping is constructed, which accounts for the large-scale patterns of sediment types, ground ice and surface properties in the Lena River delta.
A comparison of the model forcing to in situ measurements on Samoylov Island in the southern part of the study area yields an acceptable agreement for the purpose of ground thermal modeling, for surface temperature, snow depth, and timing of the onset and termination of the winter snow cover. The model results are compared to observations of ground temperatures and thaw depths at nine sites in the Lena River delta, suggesting that thaw depths are in most cases reproduced to within 0.1 m or less and multi-year averages of ground temperatures within 1–2 °C. Comparison of monthly average temperatures at depths of 2–3 m in five boreholes yielded an RMSE of 1.1 °C and a bias of −0.9 °C for the model results. The highest ground temperatures are calculated for grid cells close to the main river channels in the south as well as areas with sandy sediments and low organic and ice contents in the central delta, where also the largest thaw depths occur. On the other hand, the lowest temperatures are modeled for the eastern part, which is an area with low surface temperatures and snow depths. The lowest thaw depths are modeled for Yedoma permafrost featuring very high ground ice and soil organic contents in the southern parts of the delta.
The comparison to in situ observations indicates that transient ground temperature modeling forced by remote-sensing data is generally capable of estimating the thermal state of permafrost (TSP) and its time evolution in the Lena River delta. The approach could hence be a first step towards remote detection of ground thermal conditions and active layer thickness in permafrost areas.