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Climate and material controls on periglacial soil processes: Toward improving periglacial climate indicators

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Norikazu Matsuoka*
Graduate School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba 305-8572, Japan


One of the distinguished efforts of A.L. Washburn was to reconstruct mean annual air temperature using periglacial features as climate indicators. This paper reviews existing periglacial indicators and proposes a strategy to improve their thermal resolution based on recent periglacial process studies, with a focus on solifluction and thermal contraction cracking and associated landforms/structures. Landforms resulting from solifluction reflect both the depth subjected to freeze–thaw and the thickness of frost-susceptible soils. The thickness of a solifluction structure can be used to infer the dominant freeze–thaw regime and minimum seasonal frost depth. Ice-wedge pseudomorphs have limited potential as a climate indicator because (1) they mainly reflect extreme winter temperatures, (2) their thermal thresholds depend on the host material, and (3) they need to be distinguished from frost wedges of other origin produced under different thermal and/or material conditions. Monitoring studies of currently active ice wedges suggest that ice-wedge cracking requires a combination of low temperature and large temperature gradients in the frozen active layer. Further field monitoring of periglacial processes and their controlling factors under various climate conditions and in various materials are needed, however, to improve the resolution of periglacial paleoclimate indicators.

Research Article
University of Washington

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