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UNH Gets Grant To Study Effects Of Climate Change On Soil Freezing, Frost Heaves

Tink Taylor

Researchers at UNH will use a new federal grant to study the frost cycle of soil, which is changing with the climate and drives the frost heaves that affect roadways.

The $1.2-million project will involve in-ground sensor systems, drones and ground-penetrating radar. The systems will measure the winter conditions that affect soil frost, and look at the effects of that changing frost on ecosystems.

“Seasonal soil freezing… can destabilize roads and building, cause flooding by enhancing overland flow, and can impact the health of plants — including perennial crops — as well as forest tree species by damaging root systems,” says research assistant professor Alix Contosta in a press release.

UNH says the findings will be important as climate change drives winter warming with periodic extreme cold snaps. It means more freeze-thaw events that have a range of effects on plants and the built environment.

The UNH scientists behind the project have focused on those freeze-thaw cycles, as well as the changing snow and winter weather patterns of climate change and their impacts on infrastructure and agriculture, in past studies.

They say this will be the first research anywhere to study soil frost directly with automated sensors, instead of in an artificial or modeled setting.

The funding for the project comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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