The active layer plays a key role in geomorphic, hydrologic, and biogeochemical processes in permafrost regions. We conducted a systematic investigation of active layer thickness (ALT) in northeastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau by using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) with 100 and 200 MHz antennas. We used mechanical probing, pit, and soil temperature profiles for evaluating ALT derived from GPR. The results showed that GPR is competent for detecting ALT, and the error was ±0.08 m at common midpoint co-located sites. Considerable spatial variability of ALT owing to variation in elevation, peat thickness, and slope aspect was found. The mean ALT was 1.32 ± 0.29 m with a range from 0.81 to 2.1 m in Eboling Mountain. In Yeniu Gou, mean ALT was 2.72 ± 0.88 m and varied from 1.07 m on the north-facing slope to 4.86 m around the area near the lower boundary of permafrost. ALT in peat decreased with increasing elevation at rates of −1.31 m/km (Eboling Mountain) and −2.1 m/km (Yeniu Gou), and in mineral soil in Yeniu Gou, the rate changed to −4.18 m/km. At the same elevation, ALT on the south-facing slope was about 0.8 m thicker than that on the north-facing slopes, while the difference was only 0.18 m in peat-covered area. Within a 100 m2 area with a local elevation difference of 0.8 m, ALT varied from 0.68 m to 1.25 m. Both field monitoring and modeling studies on spatial ALT variations require rethinking of the current strategy and comprehensive design.

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Keywords active layer thickness, ground-penetrating radar, Heihe River Basin, permafrost, Qilian Mountains
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Journal Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Cao, B. (Bin), Gruber, S, Zhang, T. (Tingjun), Li, L. (Lili), Peng, X. (Xiaoqing), Wang, K. (Kang), … Guo, H. (Hong). (2017). Spatial variability of active layer thickness detected by ground-penetrating radar in the Qilian Mountains, Western China. Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, 122(3), 574–591. doi:10.1002/2016JF004018