Introduction and historical background

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For historical reasons, research on glaciers and permafrost has primarily evolved along separate lines. Permafrost science has its main roots in glacier-free sub-Arctic and Arctic lowlands, whereas the science of glaciers originated in high mountains where permafrost is not easily recognized. Today, diverging scientific cultures exist in the two fields with physicists largely influencing glacier research and geoscientists/ engineers leading permafrost science. Corresponding terminological discrimination and confusion in various countries mirrors this unfortunate situation (e.g., 'geocryology' or 'cryope-dology' vs 'glaciology', with the latter term being incorrectly used for glacier research only). In fact, this dichotomy within the snow-and-ice community limits its credibility with respect to other domains and requires special coordinating efforts in order to avoid linear thinking and omission of fundamental aspects. Considerable shortcomings have developed, especially in the progress of snow and ice research in high-mountain areas, where relationships and interactions between snow, glaciers and permafrost have hardly been investigated outside Europe. The lack of mutual knowledge and interest between the subdisciplines may lead to serious misconceptions and, especially in relation to environment problems or natural hazards, outcomes may have devastating effects. Such shortcomings, on the other hand, also represent major opportunities for innovative research connecting knowledge and understanding from all sides.

Modern efforts concerning serious challenges, such as global climate change, global environment-related observation, radioactive waste disposal in formerly glaciated or frozen terrain and hazard mitigation in cold regions, increasingly call for integrated views of the cryosphere components and related processes within the earth system. However, integrated glacier/ permafrost concepts have been developed by only a few scientists. Outstanding examples are Shumskii (1964), with his textbook Principles of Structural Glaciology on ice formation in glacial and periglacial areas, or Liest0l (1989) with his extensive experience of Svalbard concerning thermal and hydraulic conditions in coal mining areas beneath polythermal glaciers with sub-glacial permafrost. These authors provided the basis for our understanding that regional occurrences of temperate/polythermal/ cold glaciers and sub-/peri- glacial permafrost are largely a function of topography and continentality of the climate (Fig. 1). Recent research on the interactions between glacial and permafrost domains is providing new insights, and some examples may illustrate the benefits of, and challenges for, this long-neglected aspect of high mountain glaciology and geomor-phology. Selected examples are presented below concerning landforms, materials, processes, and environments in relation to natural hazards in mixed glacier/permafrost areas.

From: Harris, C. & Murton, J. B. (eds) 2005. Cryospheric Systems: Glaciers and Permafrost. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 242, 29-37. 0305-8719/05/$ 15.00 © The Geological Society of London 2005.

Fig. 1. Cryosphere model that illustrates the spatial relations between glaciers and permafrost as a function of mean annual air temperature and annual precipitation (from Haeberli & Burn 2002)

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