An Integrated Observational and Model Synthesis Approach to Examine Dominant Environmental Controls on Active Layer Thickness

Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Adam Lee Atchley1, Ethan Coon1, Scott L Painter2, Dylan R Harp1 and Cathy Jean Wilson1, (1)Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, United States, (2)Oak Ridge National Lab, Oak Ridge, TN, United States
The active layer thickness (ALT) – the annual maximum depth of soil with above 0°C temperatures – in part determines the volume of carbon-rich stores available for decomposition and therefore potential greenhouse gas release into the atmosphere from Arctic tundra. However, understanding and predicting ALT in polygonal tundra landscapes is difficult due to the complex nature of hydrothermal atmospheric-surface-subsurface interactions in freezing/thawing soil. Simply deconvolving effects of single environmental controls on ALT is not possible with measurements alone as processes act in concert to drive thaw depth formation. Process-rich models of thermal hydrological dynamics, conversely, are a valuable tool for understanding the dominant controls and uncertainties in predicting permafrost conditions. By integrating observational data with known physical relationships to form process-rich models, synthetic experiments can then be used to explore a breadth of environmental conditions encountered and the effect of each environmental attribute may be assessed. Here a process rich thermal hydrology model, The Advanced Terrestrial Simulator, has been created and calibrated using observed data from Barrow, AK. An ensemble of 1D thermal hydrologic models were simulated that span a range of three environmental factors 1) thickness of organic rich soil, 2) snow depth, and 3) soil moisture content, to investigate the role of each factor on ALT. Results show that organic layer thickness acts as a strong insulator and is the dominant control of ALT, but the strength of the effect of organic layer thickness is also dependent on the saturation state. Using the ensemble results, the effect of peat thickness on ALT was then examined on a 2D domain. This work was supported by LANL Laboratory Directed Research and Development Project LDRD201200068DR and by the The Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE Arctic) project. NGEE-Arctic is supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the DOE Office of Science.