Geophysics: Elastic properties as indicators of heat flux into cold near-surface Arctic sediments

Helene Meling Stemland1, Tor Arne Johansen1,2, Bent Ole Ruud1, and Gary Mavko3 are the authors of the research paper “Elastic properties as indicators of heat flux into cold near-surface Arctic sediments” published in Geophysics.

1University of Bergen, Department of Earth Science, Bergen, Norway
2The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), Longyearbyen, Norway
3Stanford University, Department of Geophysics, Stanford, California, USA


Temperatures in the terrestrial Arctic today are increasing at the highest rate on earth, and heat flux into the cold sediments may result in extensive thawing. Thawing sediments lose their mechanical strength; therefore, warming has significant geomorphic consequences.We have combined heat flux, rock physics, and seismic modeling to estimate the change in elastic properties related to various published future climate scenarios in the Arctic, and we thus investigate the feasibility of exposing thawing rates from seismic data. The heat-flux model was validated using temperature data continuously recorded at the surface and within a well in Adventdalen, Svalbard. We estimated the evolving temperatures in an upper vertical section of the well using the heat-flux model, and we compared them with actual measured well temperatures. The modeled and measured data were consistent, even though our simplified model ignores heat transport due to fluid flow and the effects of clay. The heat-flux modeling resulted in subsurface isotherms that were input to rock-physics modeling based on two-end-member mixing of fully frozen and unfrozen composites to delineate possible climate effects on the seismic properties of the sediments. The results show that the elastic and seismic properties of (partly) frozen unconsolidated near-surface saline sediments strongly depend on heat flux into the subsurface, and they vary seasonally and between different climate scenarios. Seismic data obtained by full-waveform modeling and real experiments in Adventdalen show that time-lapse analysis of Rayleigh waves may be an efficient tool for monitoring heat flux into the terrestrial Arctic.


Stemland, H.M.; Johansen, T.A.; Ruud, B.O.; Mavko, G. (2020): Elastic properties as indicators of heat flux into cold near-surface Arctic sediments. Geophysics, Vol. 85, No. 5 (September-October 2020); P. MR309–MR323, 14 figs., 4 tables. DOI: 10.1190/GEO2019-0662.1. [intranet]