Implementing a building project in permafrost presents technical as well as logistical challenges. Permafrost can be defined as frozen soil that has negative temperatures all year round. This frozen soil can make building conditions extremely difficult, since the structure of soil and its geotechnical properties can change.
In high altitudes every project has its own unique problems that call for special practical solutions, e. g. installation of anchoring systems to reduce heat conduction to the ground below or the use of special building materials. Besides the direct influences that building activities and the structure itself exert on the underlying soil, also the effects of climate change have to be considered at the planning stage, since the ground conditions can change during the lifetime of a building.
Marcia Phillips, head of the project “Building in Permafrost” at the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Davos, outlined in her lecture the problems associated with permafrost in connection with climate change. Illustrated with practical examples, she presented possible technical solutions for building, maintenance and monitoring of structures at high altitudes. Typical structures built on permafrost in the Alps are e.g. train stations, masts, restaurants, mountain shelters, water pipelines, avalanche barriers, telecommunications plants, tunnels or railway tracks.
Dr. Marcia Phillips has headed the research group “Permafrost and Snow Climatology” at the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF in Davos since 2006. The results of her research are contained in the reference work in German “Bauen im Permafrost: ein Leitfaden für die Praxis”, a practical aid for project planning, realization, use and maintenance as well as for the demolition of buildings in mountain permafrost areas (www.slf.ch). As a geographer, Marcia Phillips works on research topics such as long-term permafrost monitoring in the Swiss Alps, building in permafrost, snow in permafrost rock faces and permafrost dynamics.