Modeling Past and Future Alpine Permafrost Distribution In the Colorado Front Range

Document Type


Publication Date



Geography and Geology


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


Rock glaciers, a feature associated with at least discontinuous permafrost, provide important topoclimatic information. Active and inactive rock glaciers can be used to model current permafrost distribution. Relict rock glacier locations provide paleoclimatic information to infer past conditions. Future warmer climates could cause permafrost zones to shrink and initiate slope instability hazards such as debris flows or rockslides, thus modeling change remains imperative. This research examines potential past and future permafrost distribution in the Colorado Front Range by calibrating an existing permafrost model using a standard adiabatic rate for mountains (0·5 °C per 100 m) for a 4 °C range of cooler and warmer temperatures. According to the model, permafrost currently covers about 12 per cent (326·1 km2) of the entire study area (2721·5 km2). In a 4 °C cooler climate 73·7 per cent (2004·4 km2) of the study area could be covered by permafrost, whereas in a 4°C warmer climate almost no permafrost would be found. Permafrost would be reduced severely by 93·9 per cent (a loss of 306·2 km2) in a 2·0 °C warmer climate; however, permafrost will likely respond slowly to change. Relict rock glacier distribution indicates that mean annual air temperature (MAAT) was once at least some 3·0 to 4·0 °C cooler during the Pleistocene, with permafrost extending some 600–700 m lower than today. The model is effective at identifying temperature sensitive areas for future monitoring; however, other feedback mechanisms such as precipitation are neglected. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Publication Title

Earth Surface Processes and Landforms





First Page


Last Page


Find in your library