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Welcome to SYNGEN Consulting Services home page.  We're glad you stopped in.

SYNGEN Consulting Services offers guidance in the areas of building site investigation services and foundation planning and design for residents of the Golden Heart City and beyond to the global circumpolar north. 

About SYNGEN:

 

SYNGEN Consulting Services began as an Alaskan cold regions geotechnical consulting firm, offering classical and cold regions geotechnical foundation engineering consulting services for Interior and Northern Alaska.  

 

Since its inception in 2004, SYNGEN's cold regions geotechnical experience base has expanded to the international north circumpolar community.  SYNGEN's diverse geotechnical experience base also includes temperate climates in many US States as well tropical climates in the Western Pacific.

 

Today, SYNGEN is proud to continue to offer practical geotechnical guidance and foundation solutions to Alaskans and to residents of the Interior and the Golden Heart City.

What's in a name?


Permafrost is a word used to describe any soil (or rock) that remains frozen indefinitely.  As an aside, it's not a very good word because it suggests that the frozen soil is permanently frozen (and may inadvertently convey a sense that it is not subject to thawing).  Permafrost in Fairbanks is only a few tenths of a degree below freezing.  Not only can it thaw, but it can be said that Fairbanks permafrost is downright hot and it wants to thaw.  

In practical terms, permafrost comes in two basic flavors.  One flavor is called "epigenetic" and the other, "syngenetic."  Epigenetic permafrost is soil that was already pretty much in-place when it froze.  Think of a thick deposit of sand freezing from the top down over many thousands (or millions) of years.  The sand was frozen after it was already deposited.  The other kind of permafrost froze as it was being deposited, layer by layer.  The soil (and sometimes other things like sticks and twigs and the occasional unfortunate Ice Age animal) froze along with water that washed it into place, which then became ground ice. 


The name "SYNGEN" (pronounced "sin-JEN") is a shortened version of the word "syngenetic," which, as implied above is a term used by permafrost enthusiasts (who probably should get out more), to describe a very special kind of permafrost notorious for its unusually high frozen water content and for the large deposits of clear ground ice it often conceals.   

 

Syngenetic permafrost is also infamous to many Interior Alaskan homeowners as well as Alaskan placer gold miners for the hazards it poses to building constuctin and excavation stability.  It is also famous to many University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum-goers for the frozen remains of now-extinct Ice Age animals it sometimes preserves (seriously . . . think 10,000 year old Steppe Bison stew).

 

To paraquote a famous permafrost engineering pioneer (thanks again Eb, your memory lives on):

 

". . . when it comes to permafrost, there's bad permafrost and then there's really bad permafrost."

 

With regard to construction, syngenetic permafrost is usually really bad permafrost and if present at a building site, especially at shallow depth it is best identified early, before construction activities have begun.  Heat introduced to the ground by construction activities (e.g. by ground clearing) or heat introduced into the ground by transfer from a warm building foundation will eventually thaw the permafrost.  If the permafrost is sufficiently rich in ground ice (syngenetic permafrost usually is), it becomes unstable upon thaw (non-thaw stable) and subsides.  The subsidence results from the volume change (loss) as melting ice changes to water and drains away.  The excess meltwater may also saturate the surrounding soil and reduce its strength, as water cannot resist shear forces imposed by a load (save for one or two instances reported in the New Testament). Such thawing permafrost is dubbed "non-thaw stable." 

 

To cope with non-thaw stable frozen soils, specialized construction practices and foundation systems are required. 


The purpose of this website is to advance the current state of practice of arctic geotechnical engineering by promoting public awareness of the frozen ground related hazards associated with foundation construction in cold regions, and to enhance public understanding of the practical solutions that are available to mitigate these hazards.


The information contained on this site is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in lieu of a site-specific professional consultation.