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The Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost (GTN-P)

Official website: GTN-P 

Contact: Vladimir Romanovsky, GTN-P and Jerry Brown, International Permafrost Association 

The Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost (GTN-P) is a monitoring network that provides timely information to the scientific community and to society on the state of the permafrost. GTN-P was developed by the International Permafrost Association (IPA) under GCOS and the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) with the long-term goal to detect and monitor spatial and temporal variability changes in the active layer thickness and permafrost temperature.

In June 1998, the IPA Council passed two resolutions to facilitate development of a permafrost observing and monitoring network and service. IPA subsequently prepared strategy and implementation documents consistent with the GCOS monitoring observations (also see GCOS Climate Monitoring Principles), and the development of GTN-P was approved by the GCOS Steering Committee in February 1999.  

Past and recent activities of GTN-P

GCOS-ECVs: Permafrost (Thermal State), Active Layer Thickness; (please see GTOS-62)

GCOS and GTOS, under the Terrestrial Observation Panel of Climate (GCOS TOPC) and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), have identified the Permafrost Thermal State and the Permafrost Active Layer as key permafrost variables for monitoring the cryosphere changes in surface climate over time, and therefore serve as a useful indicator of climate change. The permafrost ECV data is essential for detecting the terrestrial climate signal in the permafrost terrain. As GTN-P describes in more detail on its website, the permafrost temperature signal provides an indication of integrated changes in the ground surface energy balance, whereas that may in turn reflect changes in the overall climate.

Unfortunately, many permafrost temperate records are of short duration and discontinuous, and only a limited number of sites have continuous time series of 20 or up to 30 years long. As a result, there is a strong need for a continuous monitoring of the permafrost natural system on a long-term scale. GTN-P is a globally comprehensive permafrost monitoring network that actively implements the observation of the GCOS’ Essential Climate Variables Permafrost and Active Layer Thickness, and serves the need of finding new long-term global climate observations, particularly on a regional basis. It comprises two international monitoring networks: Thermal State of Permafrost (TSP) and Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring (CALM). Permafrost monitoring is conducted mainly through ground-based, pointed measurements, while the permafrost thermal state (e.g. ground temperature) and active layer thickness are permafrost variables identified for monitoring under the GCOS/GTOC program.

Future plans

The role of permafrost in the overall Earth System and its growing impact on infrastructure and land management has increased the awareness of the scientific community as well as the general public. The thawing of permafrost and the resulting release of greenhouse gases is arguably one of the most prominent issues in global climate science up to date. At the 2012 UN Climate Conference in Doha, Qatar, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has raised concerns that thawing permafrost, which covers almost a quarter of the northern hemisphere, could “significantly amplify global warming” at a time when the world is already struggling to reign in rising greenhouse gases. “Permafrost is one of the keys to the planet's future because it contains large stores of frozen organic matter that, if thawed and released into the atmosphere, would amplify current global warming and propel us to a warmer world," said United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner in a statement. Broadening the approach of monitoring and observing those natural permafrost systems is therefore an important aspect of climate change mitigation through the GTN-P mechanism.

Following the development of its Strategy and Implementation Plan 2012-2016, and with support from the GCOS Secretariat, GTN-P hosted its first National Correspondents Workshop on the GTN-P Implementation and Data Policy in May 2013 at WMO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The workshop consisted of an introductory seminar to identify and adapt clear guidelines for the National Correspondents (NC) to clarify their tasks and responsibilities, as well as a discussion on how to measure future protocols, standards and data reporting. The meeting results and a new guidelines document are disseminated through the networks of the GTN-P main sponsors (GCOS, GTOS), as well as the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (ISAC), the Scientific Committee on Arctic Research (SCAR) and WMO, and on the websites of the IPA and GTN-P. The workshop results have also been communicated to the Arctic Portal and to stakeholders involved in arctic permafrost observing (e.g. the National Science Foundation, the EU, the Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks, and the European Space Association).

The permafrost network will also further be developed by creating new partnerships with those networks that monitor other cryospheric ECV components (e.g. soils, snow cover, glaciers) to locate new monitoring sites and expand existing networks at a reduced cost.