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Assessing the role of differential frost heave in the origin of non-sorted circles

  • Rorik A. Peterson

A. L. Washburn famously proposed and reviewed 19 hypotheses for the origin of patterned ground in periglacial environments over 50 years ago (Washburn, 1956). Of these 19 mechanisms, only a few have been analyzed starting from a fundamental description of the physics to assess their potential contribution to the initiation of patterned ground. Here, differential frost heave (DFH) is investigated as the origin of non-sorted circles in periglacial landscapes. Model results indicating that DFH can spontaneously lead to patterned ground are compared to measurements of patterned ground in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The characteristic size of the predicted emerging pattern depends strongly on the maximum depth of freezing but is only weakly dependent on the soil composition. The predicted emerging patterns may also be dramatically different in size with a small change in active layer when a relatively thin (~ 10 cm) insulating snow covers the ground during freezing. The model predicted trends agree with field observations of pattern size and active layer depth at two distinct sites. Although two data points cannot conclusively indicate a trend, this correlation gives support for the possibility of determining some subsurface properties using remote sensing images of surface patterned ground.

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Quaternary Research
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