Test trenches excavated into muskeg near Fairbanks in 1969 exposed a polygonal network of active ice wedges. The wedges occur in peat that has accumulated since about 3500 yr BP and have grown episodically as the permafrost table fluctuated in response to fires, other local site conditions and perhaps regional climatic changes. Radiocarbon dates suggest one or two episodes of ice-wedge growth between about 3500 and 2000 yr BP as woody peat accumulated at the site. Subsequent wedge truncation evidently followed a fire that charred the peat. Younger peat exhibits facies changes between sedge-rich components that filled troughs over the ice wedges and woody bryophytic deposits that formed beyond the troughs. A final episode of wedge development took place within the past few hundred years. Pollen data from the site indicate that boreal forest was present throughout the past 6000 yr, but that it underwent a gradual transition from a predominantly deciduous to a spruce-dominated assemblage. This change may reflect either local site conditions or a more general climatic shift to cooler, moister summers in late Holocene time. The history of ice-wedge growth shows that wedges can form and grow to more than 1 m apparent width under mean annual temperatures that probably are close to those of the Fairbanks area today (-3.5°C) and under vegetation cover similar to that of the interior Alaskan boreal forest. The commonly held belief that ice wedges develop only below mean annual air temperatures of -6 to -8°C in the zone of continuous permafrost is invalid.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Late Holocene ice wedges near Fairbanks, Alaska, USA: Environmental setting and history of growth|
|Series title||Arctic and Alpine Research|
|Publisher||INSTAAR, University of Colorado|