September 21, 2017

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Electrical and Seismic Response of Saline Permafrost Soil During Freeze-Thaw Transition

Differential electrical resistivity signal presents challenges for unfrozen water content estimation based on Archie's law.

The Science

This study demonstrated the mechanical and electrical responses of Arctic saline permafrost during freeze-thaw processes, and suggested large uncertainty when estimating the unfrozen water content using electrical resistivity data.

The Impact

Electrical and seismic signals during freeze-thaw cycles of saline permafrost show characteristic changes with differential hysteresis behaviors. The uncertainty associated with unfrozen water content estimation based on electrical resistivity could be large.


This study revealed low electrical resistivity and elastic moduli at temperatures down to approximately –10°C, indicating the presence of a significant amount of unfrozen saline water under the current field conditions. The spectral induced polarization signal showed a systematic shift during the freezing process, affected by concurrent changes of temperature, salinity, and ice formation. An anomalous induced polarization response was first observed during the transient period of supercooling and the onset of ice nucleation. Seismic measurements showed a characteristic maximal attenuation at the temperatures immediately below the freezing point, followed by a decrease with decreasing temperature. The calculated elastic moduli showed a nonhysteric response during the freeze-thaw cycle, which was different from the concurrently measured electrical resistivity response where a differential resistivity signal is observed depending on whether the soil is experiencing freezing or thawing. The differential electrical resistivity signal presents challenges for unfrozen water content estimation based on Archie’s law.

Principal Investigator

Yuxin Wu
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
[email protected]

Program Manager

Daniel Stover
U.S. Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research (SC-33)
Environmental System Science
[email protected]


The Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE)–Arctic project is supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research within the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. This research is supported through Contract No. DE-AC0205CH11231 to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.


Wu, Y., S. Nakagawa, T. J. Kneafsey, and B. Dafflon, et al. "Electrical and seismic response of saline permafrost during freeze-thaw transition." Journal of Applied Geophysics 146 16–26  (2017).