Distribution and morphology of pingos, western Canadian Arctic, Northwest Territories, Canada

Ibyuk Pingo (foreground) and Spilt Pingo along the Beaufort Sea coast, west of Tuktoyktuk (NWT)

Pingos are perennially-frozen ice-cored hills, formed primarily by progressive injection and freezing of water within aggrading permafrost. Pingos of the western Canadian Arctic (WCA) coastal plain are among the most abundant and well-studied in the northern hemisphere, with earlier studies by J. Ross Mackay placing the number of pingos in the region at about 1500. However, the abundance and morphometric variation of these pingos has not been quantitatively examined due to limitations in mapping and topographic precision. Using the High Resolution Digital Elevation Model, derived from the ArticDEM using DigitalGlobe satellite imagery, Wolfe et al. identified and precisely located some 2363 pingos with relief ranging from a few 10s of centimetres to 46.7 m for Ibyuk Pingo.

Pingos of the WCA are, on average, taller than other lowland pingos in the Arctic and are about 10% larger in radius than pingos in Northern Alaska. Pingos are mostly found within ~45 m asl, which appears to be the extent of the pre-glacial, Pleistocene braidplains of the paleo-Peel and Anderson rivers.

Example of pingo mapping results using a) HRDEM and b) satellite imagery in the vicinity of the Pingo Canadian Landmark area, about 5 km west of Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories. White triangles denote location of pingos, with named pingos labelled.

The effects of climate change and coastal erosion are having profound impacts on the ice-rich permafrost landscape of the western Canadian Arctic. Pingos represent a sentinel component of this complex and sensitive landscape, which is undergoing transition at a rapid rate. The results of Wolfe et. al provide the first accurate baseline of pingo morphometry and distribution, to which future studies can compare their distribution, growth and decay.

Acknowledgments. This study is a contribution to the Geological Survey of Canada’s Climate Change Geoscience Program.

Citation: Wolfe, S.A., Morse, P.D., Parker, R., and Phillips, M. (2023). Distribution and morphology of pingos, western Canadian Arctic, Northwest Territories, Canada Geomorphology.

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