Subsurface Thermal Erosion Of Ice-Wedge Polygon Terrains: Implications For Arctic Geosystem In Transition

Monday, 15 December 2014: 5:30 PM
Daniel Fortier1,2, Etienne Godin1,2, Esther Lévesque2,3 and Audrey Veillette1,2, (1)University of Montreal, Montreal, QC, Canada, (2)Centre d'études nordiques, Québec, QC, Canada, (3)Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Trois-Rivières, QC, Canada
Subsurface thermal erosion is triggered by convective heat transfers between flowing water and permafrost. For inland ice-wedge polygon terrains, heat advection due to infiltration of run-off in the massive ice wedges and the ice-rich upper portion of permafrost creates sink holes and networks of interconnected tunnels in the permafrost. Mass movements such as collapse of tunnel’s roof, retrogressive thaw-slumping along exposed permafrost and active layer detachment slides lead to the development of extensive gully networks in the landscape. These gullies drastically change the hydrology of ice-wedge polygon terrains and the fluxes of heat, water, sediment and carbon within the permafrost geosystem. Exportation of sediments by fluvial processes within gullies are positive mechanical feed-back effects that keep gully channels active over decades. Along gully margins, drainage of disturbed polygons and ponds, slope drainage, soil consolidation, plant colonization of disturbed gully slopes and wet to mesic plant succession of drained polygons change the thermal properties of the active layer and create negative feedback effects that stabilize active erosion processes and promote permafrost recovery in gully slopes and adjacent disturbed polygons. On Bylot Island (Nunavut), over 40 gullies were mapped and monitored to characterize gully geomorphology, thermal and mechanical processes of gully erosion, rates of gully erosion over time within different sedimentary deposits, total volume of eroded permafrost at the landscape scale and gully hydrology. We conducted field and laboratory experiments to quantify heat convection processes and speed of ice wedge ablation in order to derive empirical equations to develop a numerical, fully-coupled, heat and mass (water) transfer model of ice-wedge thermal erosion. We used data collected over 10 years of geomorphological gully monitoring, regional climate scenarios, our physics-based numerical thermal erosion model and our field/laboratory-based empirical thermal erosion model to evaluate the potential response of ice-wedge polygon terrains to changes in snow, permafrost thermal regime and hydrological conditions over the coming decades and its implication for the short and long term dynamics of arctic permafrost geosystems.