Wayne Pollard

Permafrost and periglacial geomorphology

Professor Emeritus in the Department of Geography

Office: Burnside Hall Room 618
Tel.: (514) 398-4454
Fax.: (514) 398-7437

wayne.pollard [at] mcgill.ca (E-mail)


Ph.D. 1983 University of Ottawa, Department of Geography.
M.Sc. 1979 University of Guelph, Geography Department and the Centre for Resources Development.
B.Sc. Honours 1975 University of Guelph, Geography and Geology.




2010 - pres Professor, Department of Geography, McGill University
1993-2009 Associate Professor, Geography, McGill University
2000-pres Associate Member of the McGill School of the Environment
2003-2005 Director,  McGill  Centre for Climate and Global Change Research (C2GCR) FCAR funded research centre
1990-pres. Research Director of both the McGill Subarctic Research Station (MSARS) in Schefferville, Quebec and the McGill High Arctic Research Stations (MARS) on Axel Heiberg Island, Nunavut
1988-1993 Assistant Professor, Geography, McGill University
1986-1988 Assistant Professor, Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland
1984-1986 NSERC Post Doctoral Fellow- Visiting Scientist in a Canadian Government Laboratory Program, Earth Physics Branch, Energy, Mines and Resources, Ottawa


In 2020 I was awarded the Northern Science Award and Centenary Medal, by Polar Knowledge Canada, also my appointment as the Canadian delegate to IASC was extended to 2024, and was conferred the status of Professor Emeritus by McGill University. In 2019 I was awarded the Weston Family Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Northern Science as well as The RCGS Bergmann Medal for achievement and leadership in Arctic Science. In 2015 I was recognized by the Royal Canadian Geographic Society as one of Canada’s 100 Greatest Modern Day Explorers. In 2010 a co-recipient of the RCGS Gold Medal (as a member of Canada’s National IPY Committee). And In 2002 was part of the McGill University team awarded the Alan Blizzard Award by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

I am author or co-author on 163+ refereed publications, an h-index of 42 and 6000+ citations.



The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.” Albert Einstein

Extreme environments like the Arctic and Antarctic are important scientific frontiers that help define the limits of Earth’s physical and biological processes. In particular extreme cold temperatures and the general lack of liquid water create a system where mechanical processes predominate and biological and chemical processes are confined to niche environments or are limited to brief periods when small amounts of water are available.  The limiting nature of these environments reduce biophysical complexity thereby readily allowing the integrated investigation of climatic, geologic/geomorphic and biologic systems in a true Earth System Science framework. Arctic and Antarctic environments have many physical similarities, including seasonal patterns of daylight and temperature, the pervasive occurrence of glaciers, ice sheets and permafrost, and the strong environmental control on biological systems. However, the geographic position of the Antarctic continent, the vast extent of the East and West Antarctic Ice Sheets and the small isolated nature of ice-free areas (<2% of the landscape) tend to amplify many of the environmental extremes. The extreme cold and hyper-arid conditions of Antarctica and the high Arctic provide insight into conditions that may have existed on Mars 2-3 billion years ago (and to a lesser degree today) and thus are useful analogues in our search for evidence of Martian life.
        My research centers upon the field investigation of water and ice in cold polar desert environments. My long-term goals are to understand and explain the hydrological and physical processes that shape and define cold dry landscapes and to identify niche environments in permafrost that are capable of harboring microbial life at or near the limit of its habitability.  My research ranges from the field observation and measurement of natural processes at the landform and landscape scales to the microscopic examination of soil pores, ice crystals and intra crystalline brine films. My work incorporates a combination of traditional geologic, hydrogeologic, geomorphic and stratigraphic field approaches together with precision instrumentation to measure and map climatologic, hydrologic and geomorphic processes and patterns and microbial habitats.  Laboratory and statistical analyses together with numerical modeling are undertaken to test and verify hypotheses.
        Central to my research are: (a) the investigation of the dynamic interaction between water and cryotic ground, (b) the formation and degradation of surface and subsurface ice and (c) the interpretation of the environmental significance of landforms related to permafrost, ground ice and ground water. Over the last 6-7 years my science has evolved by focusing on progressively more complex questions and looking at progressively more extreme environments (the Arctic, Antarctica and Mars). The following are the projects in which I am currently active


My research group is currently involved in a series of projects focusing on various biophysical aspects of geocryology, including:

1) Ground ice in a changing climates

This research looks at the nature and distribution of ground ice and its role in landscape development. Initially this work looked at the Holocene evolution of high Arctic permafrost and ground ice (including its palaeoenvironmental significance) and the role of ground ice in contemporary landform development. My early research pioneered the application of petrographic techniques to the identification ground ice origin. Recently the focus of this research has expanded to include the potential impact of climate change on ice-rich landscapes. Climate change will present enormous challenges in polar regions. Assuming that global change has begun and GCM predictions are realistic, then the following questions pertaining to polar landscapes need to be addressed. First, “How sensitive are polar landscapes to climate change and how will ice-rich permafrost systems respond as climates warm?” and second “are polar landscapes already displaying the affects of climate change and how do we distinguish them from normal variation?” With these questions in mind, the primary focus of my research is the detection and analysis of climate change impacts on (1) high latitude polar desert systems with an emphasis on permafrost dynamics and surface hydrology (study area Ellesmere Island) and (2) ice-rich coastal landscapes of the southern Beaufort Sea. The overarching goal of the proposed study is to determine how high Arctic permafrost will respond to climate change.
I began research on massive ground ice in the McMurdo Dry Valley area of Antarctica in 1997 and includes 2 field seasons in the McMurdo Dry Valleys. The first season I worked with the US Antarctic Program based at the LTER site on Lake Hoare in the Taylor Valley. Using ground penetrating radar I began mapping ground ice conditions in several of the dry valleys. In 2000 and 2003 I was part of the New Zealand Antarctic Program involved in a permafrost drilling project in the Allan Hills area. In addition to characterising ground ice type and distribution, I have also been investigating sublimation/desiccation processes in areas underlain by massive ice.

2) Groundwater permafrost interactions

There is limited information on saturated groundwater flow in permafrost, particularly in the High Arctic. It is generally assumed that thick permafrost, common in the Arctic Islands, provides an effective aquitard preventing groundwater discharge and resulting in the separation of groundwater into sub-, intra-, and suprapermafrost systems. Accordingly perennial springs are generally thought to be absent in this environment.  I have confirmed 8 groups of highly mineralized, cold, perennial springs on Axel Heiberg Island in the Canadian High Arctic. The occurrence of perennial spring activity together with discharge-related phenomena like travertines, salt tuffas, fresh and brine icings, and frost mounds raise a number of interesting questions about the unique nature of the geologic, geocryologic, hydrologic, and biologic conditions of this area. For example, What is the geologic setting of these springs? How do they interact with the deep permafrost known to exist in the High Arctic? How does the cold climate affect surface hydrologic processes? How does the year-round availability of water affect the surrounding polar desert system? These questions form the basis of my research. In recent years several themes have emerged, including: (1) the study of high Arctic spring hydrogeology and geochemistry to assess the origin and age of groundwater, (2) the study of surface flow and metastable mineralization under extreme cold temperatures, (3) the physical and chemical dynamics of icing and frost mound formation, (4) and high Arctic springs as analogues for ancient groundwater systems on Mars.

3) Polar environments as planetary analogues

Through collaborations with NASA and CSA an important part of our research is the application of various permafrost and hydrologic systems as analogues for similar systems on Mars and the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. The Canadian Space Agency has funded the construction of a Canadian Analogue Research Network (CARN) site at the McGill Arctic Research Station (MARS) on Axel Heiberg Island. In this regard systems like the perennial springs, ice wedge polygons, massive ground ice, crytoendoliths …. are being studied under CSA’s CARN program to assess their relevance to space exploration and astrobiology.


4) Life in extreme environments

Since 2003 I have been working in collaboration with Dr. Lyle Whyte (Department of Renewable Resources) on the microbial ecology of permafrost and ground ice. This research involves the characterization of microbial communities and the limits of their occurrence in permafrost samples and cores. This research also involves the use of fluorescent microspheres to assess patters of sample contamination during coring and sample handling. A second component of this theme involves collaboration with Dr. Chris Omelon  (University of Texas) and Dr. Grant Ferris (University of Toronto) to analyse crytoendoliths in sandstones in the high Arctic. My role in this research is to characterize the microhabitat of both permafrost soils and porous sandstones


5) Permafrost analysis – Technology

This research involves the application and development of subsurface exploration technologies to assess the nature and distribution of ground ice and groundwater in permafrost. At the heart of this research are various complementary geophysical techniques, including ground penetrating radar and capacitively coupled resistivity as well as permafrost coring.  Initially developed as part of  projects 1 & 2 above, this research has taken on a strong space exploration orientation and is now closely linked to project 3. We are currently involved in several “proof of concept” projects concerned with both geophysical mapping and coring on Mars.


163. Lacelle, D., Fisher, D., Marjolaine, V. and Pollard, W.H. (2022). Improved predication of the vertical distribution of ground ice in Arctic-Antarctic permafrost sediments. Nature Communications: Earth and Environment. 3:31 https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-022-00367-z

162. Marinova, M., McKay, C, Heldmann, J., Goordial, J., Lacelle, D., Pollard, W.H., Davila, A. (2022) Climate and energy balance of the surface and ground ice in University Valley, Antarctica. Antarctic Science. https://doi:10.1017/S0954102022000025

161. Ward-Jones, M and Pollard, W.H. (2021). Daily field observations of retrogressive thaw slump dynamics in the Canadian high Arctic. Arctic, 74, 3. 339 – 354. https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic73377

160. Campbell-Heaton, L., Lacelle, D., Fisher, D. & Pollard, W.H. (2021) Holocene ice wedge formation in the Eureka Sound Lowlands, high Arctic Canada. Quaternary Research. Doi:10.1017/qua.2020.126

159. Fisher, D., Lacelle, D., Pollard, W.H. and Faucher B. (2020) A model for stable isotopes of residual liquid water and ground ice in permafrost soils using arbitrary water chemistries and soil-specific empirical residual water functions. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes. doi: 10.1002/ppp.2079

158 *Chisholm, C.,*Becker, M & Pollard, W.H. (2020). The importance of incorporating landscape change for predictions of climate-induced plant phenological shifts: Landscape change and phenology. Frontiers in Plant Science: Functional Plant Ecology. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2020.00759

157. Fisher, D, Lacelle, D. & Pollard, W.H. (2020). Unfrozen water content and its transport in icy permafrost soils: effect on ground ice content and permafrost stability. Permafrost Periglacial Processes, 31, 184-199

156 *Ward, M., Pollard, W. H., & Amyot, F. (2020). Impacts of degrading ice wedges on ground temperatures in a high Arctic polar dessert system. Journal Geophysical Research Earth Surface. doi:10.1029/2019JF005173

155. *Ward. M., Pollard, W. H., & Jones, B. (2019). Rapid initialization of retrogressive thaw slumps in the Canadian high Arctic and their response to climate and terrain factors. Environmental Research Letters. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab12fd

154 *Cray, H. & Pollard, W.H. (2018) Utilization of stabilized thaw slumps by Arctic Birds and Mammals: Evidence from Herschel Island, Yukon. Canadian Field Naturalist. 132, 3. 279-284 http://dx.doi.org/10.22621/cfn.v132i3.1988

153. *Bernard-Grand’Maison, C. and Pollard, W.H. (2018). An Estimate of Ice Wedge Volume for a High Arctic Polar Desert Environment, Fosheim Peninsula, Ellesmere Island. The Cryosphere

152. *Ward, M. & Pollard, W.H. (2018). A hydrohalite spring deposit in the Canadian high Arctic: a potential Mars analogue. Earth & Planetary Science Letters 504, 126-138.

151. Couture, N., Irrgang, A., Pollard, W.H., Lantuit, H., and Fritz, M. (2018). Coastal Erosion of Permafrost Soils Along the Yukon Coastal Plain and Fluxes of Organic Carbon to the Canadian Beaufort Sea. Journal of Geophysical Research, Biogeosciences, 123, 406-422 https://doi.org/10.1002/2017JG004166 (Cover & EOS Research spotlight https://eos.org/research-spotlights/carbon-release-from-permafrost-erosion-along-the-yukon-coast )

150. Pollard,W.H. (2017) Periglacial processes in glacial environments. Ch 15. In: Menzies, J. and Japp, V.: Past Glacial Environments, 2nd ed. Elsevier. 585 p. dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-100524-8.00016-6

149.Couture, N. and Pollard, W.H. (2017) A Model for Quantifying Ground-Ice Volume, Yukon Coast, Western Arctic Canada. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 28, 3, 534-542. doi:10.1002/ppp.1952.

148.Faucher, B., Lacelle, D., Davila, A., Pollard, W., Fisher, D., & McKay, C. P. (2017). Physicochemical and biological controls on carbon and nitrogen in permafrost from an ultraxerous environment, McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 122. doi. 10.1002/2017JG004006 (EOS Research spotlight https://eos.org/research-spotlights/searching-for-organic-carbon-in-the-dry-valleys-of-antarctica)

147. Lapalme, C., Lacelle, D., Pollard, W., Fisher, D., Davila, A., & McKay, C. P. (2017). Distribution and origin of ground ice in University Valley, McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. Antarctic Science, 29, 183–198. doi.org/10.1017/S0954102016000572

146..Lapalme, C., Lacelle, D., Pollard, W., Fortier, D., Davila, A. F., & McKay, C. P. (2017). Cryostratigraphy and the sublimation unconformity inpermafrost from an ultraxerous environment, University Valley, McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes, https://doi.org/10.1002/ppp.1948

145. Samson, C., Mah, J., Haltigin, T., Holladay, S., Ralchenko, M., Pollard, W.H. & Santos, F (2017). Combined electromagnetic geophysical mapping at Arctic perennial saline springs: possible applications for the detection of water in the shallow subsurface of Mars. Advances in Space Research, 59, 2325-2334. doi.org/10.1016/j.asr.2017.02.016

144. Fisher, D., Lacelle, D., Pollard, W.H., Davilla, A., and McKay C. (2016) Ground surface temperature, humidity and ground temperature cycles set the ice table depth, University Valley, McMurdo Dry Valleys Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research Earth Surface doi:10.1002/2016JF004054

142. Jackson, A., Davila, A., Böhlke, J., Sturchio, N., Sevanthi, R., Estrada, N., Brundrette, M., Lacelle, D., McKay, C., Poghosyan, C., Marinova, M., Pollard, W., Zacny. C. (2016) Deposition, accumulation, and alteration of Cl-, NO3-, ClO4- and ClO3- salts in a hyper-arid polar environment: Mass balance and isotopic constraints. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 182, 197-215.

142. *Goordial, J., Davila, A., Lacelle, D., Pollard, W.H., Marinova, M., Greer, C., DiRuggiero, J., McKay, C. and Whyte, L., (2016) The cold-arid limits of microbial life in permafrost of an upper dry valley, Antarctica. The ISME Journal, 10, 1613–1624.

141. *Obu, J., Lantuit, H., Fritz, M., Pollard, W.H., Sachs, T., and Günther, F., (2016). Relation between planimetric and volumetric erosion of permafrost coasts: a case study from Herschel Island, western Canadian Arctic. Polar Research, 35, 30313,

140. *Becker, M.S.and Pollard, W.H. (2016) Sixty-year legacy of human impacts on a high Arctic

ecosystem. Journal of Applied Ecology, 53, 876-884.

139. *Becker, M.S., Davies, T.J., and Pollard, W.H. (2016) Ground ice melt in the high Arctic leads to greater ecological heterogeneity. Journal of Ecology. 104 (1), 114 - 124.

138. *Hoque, M.D. and Pollard, W.H. (2016) Stability of Permafrost Dominated Coastal Cliffs in the Arctic. Polar Science 10, 79-88.

137. *Radosavljevic, B., Lantuit, H., Pollard, W., Overduin, P., Couture, N., Sachs, T., Helm, V. and Fritz, M., 2016. Erratum to: Erosion and Flooding-Threats to Coastal Infrastructure in the Arctic: A Case Study from Herschel Island, Yukon Territory, Canada. Estuaries and Coasts, pp.1-2.

136. Pollard, W.H., *Ward, M and *Becker, M. (2015) The Eureka Sound Lowlands; an ice-rich landscape in transition. Proceedings of GeoQuebec. Paper 402:

135. Lacelle D., Lapalme C., Davila A., Pollard W., Marinova M., Heldmann J., McKay C. (2015) Climate-permafrost relations in the cold and hyper-arid Quartermain Mountains, McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 27. 163–176

134. * Radosavljevic, B., Lantuit, H., Pollard, W., Overduin, P., Couture, N., Sachs, T., Helm, V. and Fritz, M., 2015. Erosion and Flooding—Threats to Coastal Infrastructure in the Arctic: A Case Study from Herschel Island, Yukon Territory, Canada. Estuaries and Coasts, 39, 900-915

133. Lau, M., Stackhouse, B., Layton, A., Chauhan,A. , Vishnivetskaya, T., Chourey, K., Ronholm, J., Mykytczuk, N., Bennett, B., Lamarche-Gagnon, G., Burton, N., Pollard, W. , Omelon, C., Medvigy, D., Hettich, R., Pfiffner, S., Whyte, L., and Onstott, T. (2015). An active atmospheric methane sink in high Arctic mineral cryosols. The ISME Journal, 9, 1880-1891.

132. *Cray, H. A. And Pollard, W.H. (2015) Vegetation recovery patterns following permafrost disturbance in a Low Arctic setting: case study of Herschel Island, Yukon, Canada. Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research, 47, 99-113.

131. *Cray, H. and Pollard, W.H. (2015) Succession in tundra landscapes and its implications for restoration efforts: case study of Herschel Island. Proceedings of GeoQuebec. Paper 663

130. Couture, N. and Pollard, W.H. (2015) Ground ice determinations along the Yukon Coast using a morphological model. Proceedings of GeoQuebec. Paper 453

129. *Lapalme, C., Lacelle, D., Dalvila, A., Pollard, W.H. and McKay, C (2015) Cryostratigraphy of near-surface permafrost in University Valley, McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. Proceedings of GeoQuebec Paper 352

  1. 128. *Ward, M. and Pollard, W.H. (2015) Hyper-saline spring dynamics and salt deposits on Axel Heiberg Island, Nunavut. Proceedings of GeoQuebec. Paper 331


  • “The nature and stability of ground ice: a bipolar comparison”. (Invited talk) IPY 2012: From Knowledge to Action. Session 1.2.4 - Permafrost on a Warming Planet. 04/12
  • “Mars on Earth: Polar environments as planetary analogues” (Invited talk) McGill Space Day 03/12,
  • “Exploring Mars on Earth: The Arctic as an analogue for Mars. McGill Mini Science Lecture Series: To Infinity and Beyond: Space Stars and the Universe. 05/09
  • Frozen fascination: adventures in permafrost. Polar Continental Shelf 50th Anniversary Celebration. Museum of Man, Ottawa. 05/08.
  • *The effects of climate change on polar landscapes.  SCAR-IASC Science Conference St. Petersburg, Russia. Invited Keynote lecture. 07/08
  • Permafrost investigations in the Canadian Arctic. Alfred Wegener Institute Invited speaker series. 11/08.
  • “Vulnerability of ice-rich coasts”. Yukon North Slope Conference, Whitehorse,01/07
  • “Block failure along permafrost coasts”, AGU Annual Fall Meeting, San Francisco, 12/04
  • “Icing processes associated with high arctic perennial springs, Axel Heiberg Island” Special Session for H.M. French, Canadian Geomorphology Research Group and l’Association Québécoise pour l’Étude du Quaternaire, Laval University, St. Foy, Quebec. 08/04
  • “Canadian Antarctic research activities” Canadian National CliC Workshop – Victoria, 12/02
  • “Hydrological research in the Antarctic” IPA Southern Hemisphere Working Group. International Conference on Permafrost, Southern Hemisphere Working Group, Zurich, 06/03
  • “Polar regions as analogues for Mars” McGill Astrobiology Public Lecture, 02/01


International and National Committees

Member, Joint IASC/SCAR Bipolar Action Group (BipAG) 2007-2011
Chair, Canadian (National) Committee for Antarctic Research, 2001-2009.
Member, Canadian Committee for Antarctic Research, 1998 – 2009.
Canadian Representative on SCAR Geoscience Standing Science Group, 1998-2011.
Chair, SCAR GSSG Permafrost Action Group from 2002-2005
Chair, Polar Continental Shelf Program (PCSP)  advisory committee 2003 – 2007.
Memeber, Polar Continental Shelf Program (PCSP) advisory committee 2011-pres
Chair, Polar Continental Shelf Program (PCSP), Science Screening Committee, 1999-2004
Member, Minister's National Advisory Board on Earth Sciences 2003 - 2007
Member, National IPY Committee 2004–06, re-appointed until 2008
Member, Canadian IPY Subcommittee on Logistics, Infrastructure and Emergency Preparedness (2005-2008)
Member, International Conference on Arctic Research Planning (ICAPII) Coastal Erosion Working Group 2004-2009.
Member, Canadian Space Agency’s Space Exploration Advisory Committee, 2001-06
Member, International Permafrost Association Astrobiology Working Group 2003-pres
Elected Fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America (2001)
Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies (ACUNS), Board of Directors 1998-2003

McGill University

Scientific Director- McGill’s Northern Field Stations (Schefferville/Axel Heiberg) 1992- pres
Director - McGill Centre for Climate and Global Change Research (C2GCR) 2002-2005
Member of the Global Environmental and Climate Change Centre (GEC3) 2005-pres
Chairman - McGill University Northern Scientific Training Program Committee, 1991-2003.
Member Department of Geography Graduate Affairs Committee, 2003-2006
Member Department of Geography Chair’s Advisory Committee , 2002-2005
Member Department of Geography Space and materials Committee 2003-pres.
Chair Department of Geography Undergraduate Affairs Committee 1993-1997
Geography Member of Faculty of Science Academic Affairs Committee 1993-1997

Recent Media Activities

“Quirks and Quarks” CBC Radio – State of Arctic Coasts
“The National” CBC Television – Interview on Antarctic Science
“The Current” CBC Radio Interview on Arctic climate change
“Discovery Channel” program on life in extreme environments
“Zone Science “– TV5 – interview on “Extreme Environments”
“White Frontier” French documentary on Arctic science
“Cross Canada” CBC Interview on Climate Change
”CBC North Radio – Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Iqaluit” 10+ Interviews concerning Arctic climate change, Permafrost and Arctic coasts”
Washington Post Interview – “Climate change impact on Inuit burial sites”
Ottawa Citizen Interview on Mars analogue research
Nunatsiaq News 3 Interviews on melting permafrost and climate change



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