Drivers and Estimates of Terrain Suitability for Active Layer Detachment Slides and Retrogressive Thaw Slumps in the Brooks Range and Foothills of Northwest Alaska, USA

Thursday, 17 December 2015: 14:10
2004 (Moscone West)
Andrew Balser, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN, United States, Jeremy Jones, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, United States and ARCSS-Thermokarst Team
Active layer detachment sliding and retrogressive thaw slumping are important modes of upland permafrost degradation and disturbance in permafrost regions, and have been linked with climate warming trends, ecosystem impacts, and permafrost carbon release. In the Brooks Range and foothills of northwest Alaska, these features are widespread, with distribution linked to multiple landscape properties. Inter-related and co-varying terrain properties, including surficial geology, topography, geomorphology, vegetation and hydrology, are generally considered key drivers of permafrost landscape characteristics and responses to climate perturbation. However, these inter-relationships as collective drivers of terrain suitability for active layer detachment and retrogressive thaw slump processes are poorly understood in this region. We empirically tested and refined a hypothetical model of terrain factors driving active layer detachment and retrogressive thaw slump terrain suitability, and used final model results to generate synoptic terrain suitability estimates across the study region. Spatial data for terrain properties were examined against locations of 2,492 observed active layer detachments and 805 observed retrogressive thaw slumps using structural equation modelling and integrated terrain unit analysis. Factors significant to achieving model fit were found to substantially hone and constrain region-wide terrain suitability estimates, suggesting that omission of relevant factors leads to broad overestimation of terrain suitability. Resulting probabilistic maps of terrain suitability, and a threshold-delineated mask of suitable terrain, were used to quantify and describe landscape settings typical of these features. 51% of the study region is estimated suitable terrain for retrogressive thaw slumps, compared with 35% for active layer detachment slides, while 29% of the study region is estimated suitable for both. Results improve current understanding of arctic landscape vulnerability and responses to climate change, and enhance the capability to estimate quantities of permafrost carbon and nitrogen potentially subject to release through these modes of permafrost degradation.