Surface effects of sea‐level rise (SLR) in permafrost regions are obvious where increasingly iceless seas erode and inundate coastlines. SLR also drives saltwater intrusion, but subsurface impacts on permafrost‐bound coastlines are unseen and unclear due to limited field data and the absence of models that include salinity‐dependent groundwater flow with solute exclusion and freeze‐thaw dynamics. Here, we develop a numerical model with the aforementioned processes to investigate climate change impacts on coastal permafrost. We find that SLR drives lateral permafrost thaw due to depressed freezing temperatures from saltwater intrusion, whereas warming drives top‐down thaw. Under high SLR and low warming scenarios, thaw driven by SLR exceeds warming‐driven thaw when normalized to the influenced surface area. Results highlight an overlooked feedback mechanism between SLR and permafrost thaw with potential implications for coastal infrastructure, ocean‐aquifer interactions, and carbon mobilization.
Groundwater discharge is an important mechanism through which fresh water and associated solutes are delivered to the ocean. Permafrost environments have traditionally been considered hydrogeologically inactive, yet with accelerated climate change and permafrost thaw, groundwater flow paths are activating and opening subsurface connections to the coastal zone. While warming has the potential to increase land-sea connectivity, sea-level change has the potential to alter land-sea hydraulic gradients and enhance coastal permafrost thaw, resulting in a complex interplay that will govern future groundwater discharge dynamics along Arctic coastlines. Here, we use a recently developed permafrost hydrological model that simulates variable-density groundwater flow and salinity-dependent freeze-thaw to investigate the impacts of sea-level change and land and ocean warming on the magnitude, spatial distribution, and salinity of coastal groundwater discharge. Results project both an increase and decrease in discharge with climate change depending on the rate of warming and sea-level change. Under high warming and low sea-level rise scenarios, results show up to a 58% increase in coastal groundwater discharge by 2100 due to the formation of a supra-permafrost aquifer that enhances freshwater delivery to the coastal zone. With higher rates of sea-level rise, the increase in discharge due to warming is reduced to 21% as sea-level rise decreased land-sea hydraulic gradients. Under lower warming scenarios for which supra-permafrost groundwater flow was not established, discharge decreased by up to 26% between 1980 and 2100 for high sea-level rise scenarios and increased only 8% under low sea-level rise scenarios. Thus, regions with higher warming rates and lower rates of sea-level change (e.g. northern Nunavut, Canada) will experience a greater increase in discharge than regions with lower warming rates and higher rates of sea-level change. The magnitude, location and salinity of discharge have important implications for ecosystem function, water quality, and carbon dynamics in coastal zones.more » « less
- Award ID(s):
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Publisher / Repository:
- IOP Publishing
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- Environmental Research Letters
- Page Range / eLocation ID:
- Article No. 045027
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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