Developing a numerical model of ice wedge degradation and trough formation

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Viacheslav Garayshin, Dmitry Nicolsky and Vladimir E Romanovsky, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, United States
The research was initiated as a part of the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE) in the Arctic and also as a part of the Integrated Ecosystem Model for Alaska. The presented project explores influence of climate (mean annual and summer temperatures, and snow cover depth and density) and physical properties, soil textures and moisture content on thawing and destabilization of ice wedges on the North Slope of Alaska.

Recall that ice wedges formed many years ago, when ground cracked and the cracks were filled by water. The infiltrated water then became frozen and turned into ice. When the annual and summer air temperatures become higher, the depth of the active layer increases. Deeper seasonal thawing may cause melting of the ice wedges from their tops. Consequently, the ground starts to settle and a trough form above the ice wedge. Once the trough is formed, the winter snow cover becomes deeper above it and provides a potential feedback mechanism to the further degradation of permafrost.

The work deals with analysis of temperature regimes and moisture distribution and dynamics during seasonal cycles of freezing and thawing. The research focuses on the development of a computational approach to the study of seasonal temperature dynamics of the active layer, ice wedge and surrounding it permafrost. A thermo-mechanical model of the ice wedge based on principles of macroscopic thermodynamics and continuum mechanics is presented. The model includes the energy and mass conservation equations, a visco-poroelastic rheology for ground deformation, and an empirical formula which relates unfrozen water content to temperature. The complete system is reduced to a computationally convenient set of coupled equations for the temperature, pore water pressure, ground velocities and porosity in a two-dimensional domain. A finite element method and an implicit scheme in time were utilized to construct a non-linear system of equations, which was solved iteratively. The model employs temperature and moisture content data collected from a field experiment at the NGEE sites in Barrow, Alaska. The model describes seasonal dynamics of temperature, water and ground motion near ice wedges and helps to explain destabilization of the ice wedges north of the Alaska's Brook Range.