Steps of the cycle:
There are a number of ways that polygons, arctic lakes, and pingos form. Here's one way this
cycle works in the northern part of the Refuge:
A cut-away view of the tundra in summer. The
active layer is thawed.
Winter cold causes the soil to shrink, and cracks
to form. The active layer is frozen, so it acts just like the permafrost soils beneath it.
During warm spring days, water seeps into the
cracks. It freezes and expands when it is chilled by the still-frozen soil. The frozen water forms
wedges of ice in the soil.
In summer, the active layer and the tops of the ice
Each winter, cracks form again in the same
and each spring, additional water enters and
enlarges the ice wedges as the freezing water expands.
This cycle of crack, melt, and freeze continues to
enlarge the wedges year by year...
until the soil above the wedges is pushed up,
forming ridges. If you look down from above, these ridges create a blocky pattern on the ground,
If the ice is exposed, a wedge may begin to melt.
As more ice is exposed, the ice wedge and the
active layer melt lower...
until a pond begins to form.
The pond water holds heat from the summer
sun, so the active layer melts deeper beneath the water.
Seen from above, these lakes (called thermocarst
lakes) can become longer in one direction when prevailing winds blow waves against the
The lake side may break down, causing the lake
Without its insulating cover of water, the active
layer begins to refreeze.
In winter, the surface freezes over a thawed
remnant of the active layer.
The very wet soil continues to freeze within the
permafrost layer, even in summer.
As the unfrozen area continues to contract, the
unfrozen water is squeezed under great pressure.
Eventually, the water is under such pressure that
it pushes upward (the direction of least resistance)...
until the unfrozen water collects under the root
mat, and freezes, creating a pingo.
If the root mat cracks open enough to expose the
ice, the pingo top begins to melt.
As the ice core continues to melt, the pingo
Continued melting over many years removes
most traces of the pingo.
If conditions are right, the cycle will begin
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