Temperature measurements through permafrost in the oil field at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, combined with laboratory measurements of the thermal conductivity of drill cuttings permit an evaluation of in situ thermal properties and an understanding of the general factors that control the geothermal regime. A sharp contrast in temperature gradient at ~600 m represents a contrast in thermal conductivity caused by the downward change from interstitial ice to interstitial water at the base of permafrost under near steady-state conditions. Interpretation of the gradient contrast in terms of a simple model for the conductivity of an aggregate yields the mean ice content and thermal conductivities for the frozen and thawed sections (8.1 and 4.7 mcal/cm sec ?C, respectively). These results yield a heat flow of ~1.3 HFU which is similar to other values on the Alaskan Arctic Coast; the anomalously deep permafrost is a result of the anomalously high conductivity of the siliceous ice-rich sediments. Curvature in the upper 160 m of the temperature profiles represents a warming of ~1.8?C of the mean surface temperature, and a net accumulation of 5-6 kcal/cm 2 by the solid earth surface during the last 100 years or so. Rising sea level and thawing sea cliffs probably caused the shoreline to advance tens of kilometers in the last 20,000 years, inundating a portion of the continental shelf that is presently the target of intensive oil exploration. A simple conduction model suggests that this recently inundated region is underlain by near-melting ice-rich permafrost to depths of 300-500 m; its presence is important to seismic interpretations in oil exploration and to engineering considerations in oil production. With confirmation of the permafrost configuration by offshore drilling, heat-conduction models can yield reliable new information on the chronology of arctic shorelines.
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Thermal regime of permafrost at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska