GIS-based Maps and Area Estimates of Northern Hemisphere Permafrost Extent during the Last Glacial Maximum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This study presents GIS-based estimates of permafrost extent in the northern circumpolar region during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), based on a review of previously published maps and compilations of field evidence in the form of ice-wedge pseudomorphs and relict sand wedges. We focus on field evidence localities in areas thought to have been located along the past southern border of permafrost. We present different reconstructions of permafrost extent, with areal estimates of exposed sea shelf, ice sheets and glaciers, to assess areas of minimum, likely and maximum permafrost extents. The GIS-based mapping of these empirical reconstructions allows us to estimate the likely area of northern permafrost during the LGM as 34.5 million km2 (which includes 4.7 million km2 of permafrost on exposed coastal sea shelves). The minimum estimate is 32.7 million km2 and the maximum estimate is 35.3 million km2. The extent of LGM permafrost is estimated to have been between c. 9.1 to 11.7 million km2 larger than its current extent on land (23.6 million km2). However, 2.4 million km2 of the lost land area currently remains as subsea permafrost on the submerged coastal shelves. The LGM permafrost extent in the northern circumpolar region during the LGM was therefore about 33 percent larger than at present. The net loss of northern permafrost since the LGM is due to its disappearance in large parts of Eurasia, which is not compensated for by gains in North America in areas formerly covered by the Laurentide ice sheet.


External organisations
  • Stockholm University
  • Aarhus University
  • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Physical Geography


  • Area, GIS, LGM, Paleoenvironment, Permafrost
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-16
Number of pages11
JournalPermafrost and Periglacial Processes
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Jan 1
Publication categoryResearch