Permafrost hydrology is an emerging discipline, attracting increasing attention as the Arctic region is undergoing rapid change. However, the research domain of this discipline had never been explicitly formulated. Both ‘permafrost’ and ‘hydrology’ yield differing meanings across languages and scientific domains; hence, ‘permafrost hydrology’ serves as an example of cognitive linguistic relativity. From this point of view, the English and Russian usages of this term are explained. The differing views of permafrost as either an ecosystem class or a geographical region, and hydrology as a discipline concerned with either landscapes or generic water bodies, maintain a language-specific touch of the research in this field. Responding to a current lack of a unified approach, we propose a universal process-based definition of permafrost hydrology, based on a specific process assemblage, specific to permafrost regions and including: (1) Unconfined groundwater surface dynamics related to the active layer development; (2) water migration in the soil matrix, driven by phase transitions in the freezing active layer; and (3) transient water storage in both surface and subsurface compartments, redistributing runoff on various time scales. This definition fills the gap in existing scientific vocabulary. Other definitions from the field are revisited and discussed. The future of permafrost hydrology research is discussed, where the most important results would emerge at the interface between permafrost hydrology, periglacial geomorphology, and geocryology.
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