Modeling thermal dynamics of active layer soils and near-surface permafrost using a fully coupled water and heat transport model

Journal of Geophysical Research D: Atmospheres
By: , and 

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Abstract

Thawing and freezing processes are key components in permafrost dynamics, and these processes play an important role in regulating the hydrological and carbon cycles in the northern high latitudes. In the present study, we apply a well-developed soil thermal model that fully couples heat and water transport, to simulate the thawing and freezing processes at daily time steps across multiple sites that vary with vegetation cover, disturbance history, and climate. The model performance was evaluated by comparing modeled and measured soil temperatures at different depths. We use the model to explore the influence of climate, fire disturbance, and topography (north- and south-facing slopes) on soil thermal dynamics. Modeled soil temperatures agree well with measured values for both boreal forest and tundra ecosystems at the site level. Combustion of organic-soil horizons during wildfire alters the surface energy balance and increases the downward heat flux through the soil profile, resulting in the warming and thawing of near-surface permafrost. A projection of 21st century permafrost dynamics indicates that as the climate warms, active layer thickness will likely increase to more than 3 meters in the boreal forest site and deeper than one meter in the tundra site. Results from this coupled heat-water modeling approach represent faster thaw rates than previously simulated in other studies. We conclude that the discussed soil thermal model is able to well simulate the permafrost dynamics and could be used as a tool to analyze the influence of climate change and wildfire disturbance on permafrost thawing.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Modeling thermal dynamics of active layer soils and near-surface permafrost using a fully coupled water and heat transport model
Series title Journal of Geophysical Research D: Atmospheres
DOI 10.1029/2012JD017512
Volume 117
Year Published 2012
Language English
Contributing office(s) National Research Program - Central Branch
Description D11110: 15 p.