A Handbook on Periglacial Field Methods

A hosted by the International Permafrost Association (IPA) 1999-2008, supported by UNIS, and carried out by 

The Working Group on Periglacial Processes and Environments

Co-chairs: Ole Humlum and Norikazu Matsuoka.

Jump to:   Rationale   Approach   Cost   Editors   Layout   Topics

Click here for download of the entire handbook (version 20040406; pdf-file; 2.7 MB)



The IPA Working Group (WG) on Periglacial Processes and Environments was back in 1993 at the Beijing 6th International Permafrost Conference mandated to produce a handbook on recommended methods to measure periglacial processes. The proposal received additional support at the Berlin meeting of the IPA Council in 1995 when a resolution was passed stating: "Considering the importance of documenting and understanding long-term change in permafrost terrain the IPA recommends: 1) the establishment of an international network for long-term monitoring of the thermal state of the permafrost and active layer in both hemispheres; and 2) the standardization of methods for measurement and site selection...".

At the 1998 Yellowknife 7th International Permafrost Conference the IPA Council decided that all IPA working groups should have two Co-chairs, instead of one Chair and one Secretary. At this conference the existing chair for the present WG, Dr. Toni Lewkowicz (University of Ottawa, Canada) and Secretary, Dr. Charles Harris (University of Wales, Cardiff, UK), decided to step down from their posts following several years of intense activities, leadership and administrative duties. As new Co-chairs of the WG were elected Professor Ole Humlum (The University of Oslo + UNIS, Norway) and Professor Norikazu Matsuoka (University of Tsukuba, Japan). 

At the Yellowknife conference it was also decided that the single main objective during the next five years for the WG should be the production of a handbook on recommended methods to measure periglacial processes, and that this handbook should be available at the 8th International Permafrost Conference in Switzerland 2003.



The impetus to standardize techniques is drawn from the need to be able compare circumpolar and alpine studies, particularly in the context of global change research. Standardization of methodology has been followed in the International Tundra Experiment (ITEX) and in work on the Paleoclimates of Arctic Lakes (PALE), part of Past Global Changes (PAGES) which is a core project of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP).

Subsequent discussions between the two chairs of the WG have narrowed the proposed scope of the handbook. What is going to be produced is ‘A handbook on field methods’ rather than ‘A handbook on both field and laboratory methods’. We believe that efforts should be concentrated toward this, as highly sophisticated laboratory techniques are continuously being developed and improved by a rather small number of laboratories and scientists. Therefore, a handbook of recommended laboratory techniques would presumably be of limited use for these institutions and individuals. Compared to this, a handbook of various field techniques would be of much more general use for students and scientists involved in periglacial research.

The handbook is not going to represent a textbook on periglacial field techniques. It is intended as a field handbook to be used during both planning and conduct of periglacial field research. Its prime purpose is to contain useful information for efficient fieldwork and by this, act as an aide memoire and a source of inspiration. One fundamental assumption made while compiling the handbook is that the user should be familiar with at least the essentials of the techniques that she or he proposes to employ. For fuller discussions on the relative merits of a wide range of periglacial techniques and for further references on them, the user should consult appropriate textbooks or journals.

The idea of this handbook is to assist in a certain standardization of various measurement techniques, so that studies undertaken at different locations in the northern and southern polar areas and at high altitude produce comparable results. The aim is not to stifle creativity, but to suggest useful methods available at the present. New methods that may be developed in the future can then be compared with the old so that the data will remain comparable.

It is the aim of the WG to ensure a cheap publication of the manual, so that it can be published, sold for minimal cost or given away. Above all, it should be available on the Internet, which ensures easy and efficient update.

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Two extremes are possible in a handbook of this sort. The first provides a true cook-book approach, concentrating on the exact instructions for setting up equipment (e.g. the ITEX manual). At the other extreme, it is possible to simply refer to the literature and leave many of the details for the interested reader to look up (e.g. many of the PALE protocols).

Unfortunately, the latter method works only if the reader has easy access to the original literature which may not be the case in some countries. The approach proposed for the production of this publication combines the two methods. Within the body of the text concerning each process, reference is made to the literature and there is a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of different methodologies and techniques. At the end of each section, the recommended methods (which may involve varying levels of sophistication) are listed. However, the actual procedures to be followed in order to initiate measurements are described line by line in an Appendix. This should leave the text interesting to the general reader while those actually conducting research will have full protocols to follow. For the Internet version, the use of hyperlinks to other sources of relevant information will be exploited.

The recommendations expressed in the manual by no means prevent ongoing advances in measurement techniques. They simply provide baseline standardized methods so that as newer, better techniques are developed, data obtained can be compared to the existing records. In addition, the manual can be readily updated for a given topic, or broadened if it becomes desirable to include additional processes.

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A fundamental aim for this publication is that it should have the widest possible distribution. It should be made available especially to scientists who do not necessarily have funds for purchasing such a handbook from a traditional publishing house. Thus the aim would be to produce it cheaply, in a manner similar to the ITEX manual, so that it can be given away or sold for minimal cost (including packaging and mailing). For this reason, we will be seeking sponsorship from the IPA for the final production costs. In addition, it is planned that the material will be made available on the Internet for those who have Internet access.

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Professor Ole Humlum 

Professor Norikazu Matsuoka 

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1. Topic title (process or technique)

  • Significance of process
  • Brief literature review (summary of literature on process with principal references)

2. Recommended measurement techniques

  • This section should review techniques and demonstrate why the recommended techniques are the best.
  • It should also indicate which techniques are not recommended and give reasons. 
  • It will also deal with aspects such as spatial sampling and the minimum time necessary for acceptable results.

3. References

4. Appendix

  • Gives all the details necessary to employ the technique without previous experience.

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Topics (preliminary)

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Latest update: 5. April 2005.