Preliminary assessment of thaw slump hazard to Arctic cultural heritage in Nordenskiöld Land, Svalbard
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Permafrost-dependent landslides occur in a range of sizes and are among the most dynamic landforms in the Arctic in the warming climate. Retrogressive thaw slumps (RTSs) are enlarging landslides triggered by thawing and release of excess water from permafrost ground ice, causing smaller or larger collapses of ground surface, which in turn exposes new permafrost to rapid thawing and collapse. In this study, a preliminary assessment of previous thaw slump activity in Nordenskiöld Land area of Svalbard is made based on remote sensing digitisation of 400 slump-scar features from aerial images from the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI). RTS properties and distribution are analysed with an emphasis on their implications for the preservation of the Svalbard’s cultural heritage (CH). Our analysis shows that the areas where RTS scars and CH co-exist in Nordenskiöld Land are, at present, limited and cover mainly areas distributed along north-west (Colesbukta, Grønfjorden, Kapp Starostin), north-east (Sassendalen and Sassenfjorden) and south-west (Van Muydenbukta) coastlines. Taking into consideration the preliminary aspect of this inventory and study, it can be stated that for now, RTS and CH sites do not have a high level of co-existence, except for eight sites which are located at less than 100 m to a RTS and one site that is located inside a currently inactive slump-scar. Further mapping of RTS will be undertaken in order to have a complete picture of these climate triggered landslides potentially threatening the Arctic CH. The results of this study, even if preliminary, can be used by local authorities and stakeholders in prioritising future documentation and mitigation measures and can thus present a powerful tool in disaster risk reduction.