Simulations of permafrost and water interactions


SNIC 2016/2-35


SNAC Small

Principal Investigator:

Ylva Sjöberg


Stockholms universitet

Start Date:


End Date:


Primary Classification:

10503: Multidisciplinär geovetenskap




Arctic environments are expected to undergo substantial changes following predicted warming of 2.2 ? 8.3 °C within this century, according to the IPCC. Most dramatic for ecosystems and society will likely be the loss of permafrost and associated changes in the freshwater system. Permafrost inhibits groundwater movement and thereby controls the distribution and flow pathways of water. Moreover, the landscape distribution of water is an important control of permafrost, as it influences thermal properties of the ground and is a potential conveyor of heat. Permafrost and hydrology is thus best understood as a coupled system. In this project field experiments are combined with numerical modelling for coupling thermal and water fluxes for understanding future changes in this system. Specifically, the project will target the effects from groundwater on permafrost thaw rates, and future changes in groundwater and stream temperatures. The objectives of the project are: 1) To quantify the role of different heat transfer processes under various environmental conditions in terms of permafrost distribution, climate, terrain, and soil types. Specifically, the importance of groundwater as a transferor of heat will be studied, as these associated processes are not represented in traditional permafrost models. 2) To investigate the influence from permafrost dynamics, mainly seasonal and long-term thawing, on groundwater and river temperatures. 3) To quantify influence from different environmental and climatic drivers for future changes in permafrost distributions. The main tool for the numerical modelling experiments within this project will be the Arctic Terrestrial Simulator (ATS), which is a parallel code allowing for large-scale simulations. The ATS is a physically-based approach to model permafrost and seasonal frozen ground dynamics using a three-phase model of thermal hydrology, including conducted and advected heat fluxes. Future changes in hydrology and permafrost have the potential to critically impact fire and erosion regimes, and to alter habitat for fish and migratory birds. Arctic communities are dependent on freshwater and permafrost for livelihoods, through fishing and drinking water, and infrastructure, such as roads, buildings, and food storage. Moreover, future changes in these systems are of interest for the global community as they have potential impacts on the carbon cycle which have potential feedback to the global climate. The outcome of this project could therefore be of value for planning mitigation and adaptation strategies to future changes in the Arctic.