Cold Regions Engineering

The extreme climatic conditions of the Arctic and subarctic affect the design of engineering infrastructure such as roads and buildings. One major engineering challenge is permafrost, which underlies approximately 80% of Alaska. Road and building construction modify the microclimate at the soil surface and the underlying ice-rich permafrost often thaws so that surface structures collapse. Also, when permafost degrades, earthquake damage is greater, thermokarst landslides occur more often, and thawing coastal and riverine areas erode faster. Climate change and the accelerated warming anticipated for Alaska and other northern regions will exacerbate permafrost-related difficulties. To develop effective strategies, new basic and applied research is needed.

This research component included several research areas linked by dependence on an understanding of heat transfer processes. It focused on developing a basic understanding of fundamentals that will apply in transportation, industrial and municipal facilities, pipelines, resource extraction, and environmental conservation. Specific research foci included thermal protection of building foundations, frost heave and cryoturbation, thermal/mechanical properties of soils and geotechnical materials, and thermal erosion in soil and bedrock materials and sediment transport.