Towards NOAA Forecasts of Permafrost Active Layer Thickness

Friday, 19 December 2014
Rachael Grace Jonassen1, Fiona M.C. Horsfall2, Elchin E Jafarov3, Marina M Livezey2 and Kevin M Schaefer4, (1)George Washington University, Washington, DC, United States, (2)NOAA Washington DC, Washington, DC, United States, (3)National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO, United States, (4)University of Colorado, National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO, United States
NOAA’s implementation of its 2014 Arctic Action Plan (AAP) lacks services related to permafrost change yet the Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska noted that warming permafrost challenges land-based development and calls for agencies to provide focused information needed by decision-makers.

To address this we propose to link NOAA’s existing seasonal forecasts of temperature and precipitation with a high-resolution model of the thermal state of permafrost (Jafarov et al., 2012) to provide near-term (one year ahead) forecasts of active layer thickness (ALT). Such forecasts would be an official NOAA statement of the expected thermal state of permafrost ALT in Alaska and would require: (1) long-term climate outlooks, (2) a permafrost model, (3) detailed specification of local spatial and vertical controls upon soil thermal state, (4) high-resolution vertical measurements of that thermal state, and (5) demonstration of forecast skill in pilot studies.

Pilot efforts should focus on oil pipelines where the cost can be justified. With skillful forecasts, engineers could reduce costs of monitoring and repair as well as ecosystem damage by positioning equipment to more rapidly respond to predicted disruptions.