Photo of Professor Stephan Gruber

Professor Stephan Gruber

Permafrost and impacts of its thaw; Cold environments at high latitude or elevation; Combining field observation and computer simulation

Degrees:Ph.D. (UZH, Switzerland)
Phone:613-520-2600 x 2562
Office:B443A Loeb Building



Stephan joined Carleton University in 2013 as the Canada Research Chair in Climate Change Impacts/Adaptation in Northern Canada. Previously, he worked at the University of Zurich (Switzerland) and as a postdoctoral fellow at the Université de Savoie (France). Stephan was educated in Zurich, Switzerland (PhD in Natural Science, 2005); Giessen, Germany (MSc in Physical Geography, 2000); Enschede, the Netherlands (Special Programme in Environmental Systems Analysis and Monitoring, 1999) and Rovaniemi Finland (Diploma in Arctic Studies, 1997).

2019 – 2020 Courses

  • GEOG 3102 Geomorphology
  • GEOG 5303 Geocryology

Recent roles:

  • NSERC Permafrost Partnership Network for Canada (PermafrostNet), principal investigator, 2019-2024
  • IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, lead author, 2017 – 2019
  • Hindu Kush Himalayan Monitoring and Assessment Programme (HIMAP), lead author, 2016 – 2018
  • Carleton University Institute of Data Science, board member, 2015 – present
  • The Cryosphere, co-editor-in-chief, 2009 – 2017

Publications are listed on Google Scholar, ResearcherID and ORCID.


Stephan’s research focuses on permafrost and related phenomena in high-latitude and high-elevation environments. He aims to better anticipate and quantify the impacts that local human activity and global climate change have on geohazards and natural systems. His interest in novel predictive methods and tools is reflected in projects that bridge fundamental and applied research. He works with partners from diverse disciplines and sectors (academia, industry and government organisations).

Stephan’s current research program is focused on Quantifying Permafrost Thaw, i.e. the loss of ice in the subsurface, and the persistent changes in physical characteristics of ground materials that this causes. This program works on multiple scales and has three complementary components:

  • Field observations: Current field sites, operated jointly with local scientists, are in western and northern Canada as well as in Ladakh, India. Methods include terrestrial laser-scanning and surveying, continuous subsidence monitoring, temperature observations in boreholes and near the surface, measurements of liquid water content in boreholes, and geophysical techniques to quantify ice and water content in the subsurface.
  • Computer simulation and data analysis: The group develops and operates tools for simulating and analyzing the ground thermal regime as well as phase change and water transport. These can be driven with observations, atmospheric re-analyses or synthetic data and run on high-performance compute environments. A database for observations allows combining field data and simulations for a high number of locations, effectively. This is important for obtaining reliable measures of simulation quality for model development and for prediction in practical applications.
  • Laboratory experiments: The Geocryology laboratory has new equipment for temperature calibration, measurement and control. Instruments for measuring thermo-physical soil properties as well as for temperature-dependent dielectric spectroscopy of frozen soil are available. Equipment, procedures, and software for effective experimentation on small soil samples and on larger soil columns are being established.

Current Research Opportunities

PhD in quantifying the ice and water content of permafrost with dielectric methods

PhD in interpreting ground temperature and subsidence for improved quantification of permafrost change

PhD in permafrost change simulation and quantification of confidence in resulting data products

Student supervision and environment

Stephan’s research group usually has 10–15 people in a blend of undergraduates, interns, graduate students, postdocs and sometimes, academic guests – often from differing countries and academic backgrounds. Collaboration and peer learning complement coursework, individual research, and direct supervision. Nearly all projects supervised involve different research domains (field, lab, or simulation). Most research undertaken requires and builds skills in quantitative analysis, data handling, and software carpentry as well as field work with aspects of planning, safety culture, and the handling of instrumentation.

The general work environment supports multi-talented researchers. Group members have access to a large pool of new field and laboratory equipment (CFI project: Quantifying the Hidden Thaw) and use modern productivity tools for e.g., software revision control (GitHub), document and citation management (Mendeley), and online documentation of equipment and procedures (Atlassian Confluence). Cloud-based Linux servers, centrally-shared disks and databases, and the support of Carleton Research Compute Services provide an efficient work environment. Nearly all projects have significant partnership with government and industry, exposing students to differing professional settings and networks. This work environment trains skills that result in high employability in differing sectors.