The thawing of ice-rich soils in permafrost landscapes, a process known as thermokarst, can result in profound impacts on the energy and water balance, carbon fluxes, wildlife habitat, and existing infrastructure in the local area. The Alaska Thermokarst Model is a “state-and-transition" model being developed to simulate landscape evolution in polygonal tundra landscapes commonly found on the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska. This study will focus on the second step of the landscape evolution process – initiation of the thermokarst process through the concept of “climate priming” of the landscape. “Climate priming” occurs when there is high early and total winter snow precipitation, above normal winter temperatures, and above average summer temperatures. These conditions can cause the ground to not completely refreeze during the winter period, potentially “priming” the landscape for thermokarst initiation. While the Alaska Thermokarst Model development activities have thus far been primarily focused on the Arctic Coastal Plain, this study will extend the “climate priming” analysis to the entire state of Alaska.
This project will first identify historical regions that have been “climatically primed” to thermokarst initiation. The researchers will next perform an analysis to uncover the importance of “climate priming”. Areas identified as being both climatically and physically predisposed to thermokarst will be compared to areas that have already undergone the thermokarst process to determine if these sites were also “climatically primed.” Lastly, the team will extend their analysis through the year 2100 to identify future regions that are susceptible to thermokarst initiation due to “climate priming”.
This research will produce high-resolution “climate-priming” maps for the State of Alaska, for each year in the period of 1901-2100. High-resolution decadal ‘histogram’ maps indicating the number of years each Alaska Thermokarst Model shows below average, average, or above average “climate priming” conditions will also be produced. Results and maps from this work will be imported into an online web tool and all data products will be incorporated into the Arctic Data Collaborative at the Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning housed at the International Arctic Research Center.
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“Permafrost in Alaska. Credit: Brandt Meixell, USGS. Public Domain”