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Spatial and temporal variations of thaw layer thickness and its controlling factors identified using time-lapse electrical resistivity tomography and hydro-thermal modeling

  • Author(s): Tran, AP
  • Dafflon, B
  • Bisht, G
  • Hubbard, SS
  • et al.
Abstract

© 2018 Quantitative understanding of controls on thaw layer thickness (TLT) dynamics in the Arctic peninsula is essential for predictive understanding of permafrost degradation feedbacks to global warming and hydrobiochemical processes. This study jointly interprets electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) measurements and hydro-thermal numerical simulation results to assess spatiotemporal variations of TLT and to determine its controlling factors in Barrow, Alaska. Time-lapse ERT measurements along a 35-m transect were autonomously collected from 2013 to 2015 and inverted to obtain soil electrical resistivity. Based on several probe-based TLT measurements and co-located soil electrical resistivity, we estimated the electrical resistivity thresholds associated with the boundary between the thaw layer and permafrost using a grid search optimization algorithm. Then, we used the obtained thresholds to derive the TLT from all soil electrical resistivity images. The spatiotemporal analysis of the ERT-derived TLT shows that the TLT at high-centered polygons (HCPs) is smaller than that at low-centered polygons (LCPs), and that both thawing and freezing occur earlier at the HCPs compared to the LCPs. In order to provide a physical explanation for dynamics in the thaw layer, we performed 1-D hydro-thermal simulations using the community land model (CLM). Simulation results showed that air temperature and precipitation jointly govern the temporal variations of TLT, while the topsoil organic content (SOC) and polygon morphology are responsible for its spatial variations. When the topsoil SOC and its thickness increase, TLT decreases. Meanwhile, at LCPs, a thicker snow layer and saturated soil contribute to a thicker TLT and extend the time needed for TLT to freeze and thaw. This research highlights the importance of combination of measurements and numerical modeling to improve our understanding spatiotemporal variations and key controls of TLT in cold regions.

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