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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Coincident aboveground and belowground autonomous monitoring to quantify covariability in permafrost, soil, and vegetation properties in Arctic tundra

  • Author(s): Dafflon, B
  • Oktem, R
  • Peterson, J
  • Ulrich, C
  • Tran, AP
  • Romanovsky, V
  • Hubbard, SS
  • et al.

©2017. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved. Coincident monitoring of the spatiotemporal distribution of and interactions between land, soil, and permafrost properties is important for advancing our understanding of ecosystem dynamics. In this study, a novel monitoring strategy was developed to quantify complex Arctic ecosystem responses to the seasonal freeze-thaw-growing season conditions. The strategy exploited autonomous measurements obtained through electrical resistivity tomography to monitor soil properties, pole-mounted optical cameras to monitor vegetation dynamics, point probes to measure soil temperature, and periodic manual measurements of thaw layer thickness, snow thickness, and soil dielectric permittivity. The spatially and temporally dense monitoring data sets revealed several insights about tundra system behavior at a site located near Barrow, AK. In the active layer, the soil electrical conductivity (a proxy for soil water content) indicated an increasing positive correlation with the green chromatic coordinate (a proxy for vegetation vigor) over the growing season, with the strongest correlation (R = 0.89) near the typical peak of the growing season. Soil conductivity and green chromatic coordinate also showed significant positive correlations with thaw depth, which is influenced by soil and surface properties. In the permafrost, soil electrical conductivity revealed annual variations in solute concentration and unfrozen water content, even at temperatures well below 0°C in saline permafrost. These conditions may contribute to an acceleration of long-term thaw in Coastal permafrost regions. Demonstration of this first aboveground and belowground geophysical monitoring approach within an Arctic ecosystem illustrates its significant potential to remotely “visualize” permafrost, soil, and vegetation ecosystem codynamics in high resolution over field relevant scales.

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