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  1. Abstract

    Warming temperatures and increasing disturbance by wildfire and extreme weather events is driving permafrost change across northern latitudes. The state of permafrost varies widely in space and time, depending on landscape, climate, hydrologic, and ecological factors. Despite its importance, few approaches commonly measure and monitor the changes in deep (>1 m) permafrost conditions with high spatial resolution. Here, we use electrical resistivity tomography surveys along two transects in interior Alaska previously disturbed by wildfire and more recently by warming temperatures and extreme precipitation. Long‐term point observations of permafrost depth, temperature, and water content inform geophysical measurements which, in turn, are used to extrapolate interpretations over larger areas and with high spatial fidelity. We contrast gradual loss of recently formed permafrost driven by warmer temperatures and increased snowfall, with rapid permafrost loss driven by changes in air temperature, snow depth, and extreme summer precipitation in 2014.

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  2. Abstract

    Northern circumpolar permafrost thaw affects global carbon cycling, as large amounts of stored soil carbon becomes accessible to microbial breakdown under a warming climate. The magnitude of carbon release is linked to the extent of permafrost thaw, which is locally variable and controlled by soil thermodynamics. Soil thermodynamic properties, such as thermal diffusivity, govern the reactivity of the soil‐atmosphere thermal gradient, and are controlled by soil composition and drainage. In order to project permafrost thaw for an Alaskan tundra experimental site, we used seven years of site data to calibrate a soil thermodynamic model using a data assimilation technique. The model reproduced seasonal and interannual temperature dynamics for shallow (5–40 cm) and deep soil layers (2–4 m), and simulations of seasonal thaw depth closely matched observed data. The model was then used to project permafrost thaw at the site to the year 2100 using climate forcing data for three future climate scenarios (RCP 4.5, 6.0, and 8.5). Minimal permafrost thawing occurred until mean annual air temperatures rose above the freezing point, after which we measured over a 1 m increase in thaw depth for every 1 °C rise in mean annual air temperature. Under no projected warming scenario was permafrost remaining in the upper 3 m of soil by 2100. We demonstrated an effective data assimilation method that optimizes parameterization of a soil thermodynamic model. The sensitivity of local permafrost to climate warming illustrates the vulnerability of sub‐Arctic tundra ecosystems to significant and rapid soil thawing.

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  3. Abstract

    Permafrost, a key component of Arctic ecosystems, is currently affected by climate warming and anticipated to undergo further significant changes in this century. The most pronounced changes are expected to occur in the transition zone between the discontinuous and continuous types of permafrost. We apply a transient temperature dynamic model to investigate the spatiotemporal evolution of permafrost conditions on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska—a region currently characterized by continuous permafrost in its northern part and discontinuous permafrost in the south. We calibrate model parameters using a variational data assimilation technique exploiting historical ground temperature measurements collected across the study area. The model is then evaluated with a separate control set of the ground temperature data. Calibrated model parameters are distributed across the domain according to ecosystem types. The forcing applied to our model consists of historic monthly temperature and precipitation data and climate projections based on the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5 and 8.5 scenarios. Simulated near‐surface permafrost extent for the 2000–2010 decade agrees well with existing permafrost maps and previous Alaska‐wide modeling studies. Future projections suggest a significant increase (3.0°C under RCP 4.5 and 4.4°C under RCP 8.5 at the 2 m depth) in mean decadal ground temperature on average for the peninsula for the 2090–2100 decade when compared to the period of 2000–2010. Widespread degradation of the near‐surface permafrost is projected to reduce its extent at the end of the 21st century to only 43% of the peninsula's area under RCP 4.5 and 8% under RCP 8.5.

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  4. Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  5. Environmental impact assessments for new Arctic infrastructure do not adequately consider the likely long-term cumulative effects of climate change and infrastructure to landforms and vegetation in areas with ice-rich permafrost, due in part to lack of long-term environmental studies that monitor changes after the infrastructure is built. This case study examines long-term (1949–2020) climate- and road-related changes in a network of ice-wedge polygons, Prudhoe Bay Oilfield, Alaska. We studied four trajectories of change along a heavily traveled road and a relatively remote site. During 20 years prior to the oilfield development, the climate and landscapes changed very little. During 50 years after development, climate-related changes included increased numbers of thermokarst ponds, changes to ice-wedge-polygon morphology, snow distribution, thaw depths, dominant vegetation types, and shrub abundance. Road dust strongly affected plant-community structure and composition, particularly small forbs, mosses, and lichens. Flooding increased permafrost degradation, polygon center-trough elevation contrasts, and vegetation productivity. It was not possible to isolate infrastructure impacts from climate impacts, but the combined datasets provide unique insights into the rate and extent of ecological disturbances associated with infrastructure-affected landscapes under decades of climate warming. We conclude with recommendations for future cumulative impact assessments in areas with ice-rich permafrost. 
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  6. Food cellars, otherwise referred to as ice or meat cellars, (lednik in Russian, k’aetyran in Chukchi, siġļuaq in Iñupiaq, and siqlugaq in Yupik) are a natural form of refrigeration in permafrost or seasonally frozen ground used to preserve, age, and ferment foods harvested for subsistence, including marine mammals, birds, fish, and plants. Indigenous peoples throughout the Arctic have constructed cellars in frozen ground for millennia. This paper focuses on cellars in Russian and American coastal and island communities of the Bering Strait, the region otherwise known as Beringia. This area has a unique, culturally rich, and politically dynamic history. Many traditions associated with cellars are threatened in Chukchi communities in Russia because of the impacts of climate change, relocation, dietary changes, and industrial development. However, even with warmer temperatures, cellars still provide a means to age and ferment food stuffs following traditional methods. In cooperation with local stakeholders, we measured internal temperatures of 18 cellars in 13 communities throughout the Bering Strait region and northern Alaska. Though cellars are widely used in permafrost regions, their structure, usage, and maintenance methods differ and exhibit influences of local climates, traditions, and economic activities. Monitoring internal temperatures and recording structural descriptions of cellars is important in the face of climate change to better understand the variety and resilience of living adaptations in different cold regions. 
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  7. We studied processes of ice-wedge degradation and stabilization at three sites adjacent to road infrastructure in the Prudhoe Bay Oilfield, Alaska, USA. We examined climatic, environmental, and subsurface conditions and evaluated vulnerability of ice wedges to thermokarst in undisturbed and road-affected areas. Vulnerability of ice wedges strongly depends on the structure and thickness of soil layers above ice wedges, including the active, transient, and intermediate layers. In comparison with the undisturbed area, sites adjacent to the roads had smaller average thicknesses of the protective intermediate layer (4 cm vs. 9 cm), and this layer was absent above almost 60% of ice wedges (vs. ∼45% in undisturbed areas). Despite the strong influence of infrastructure, ice-wedge degradation is a reversible process. Deepening of troughs during ice-wedge degradation leads to a substantial increase in mean annual ground temperatures but not in thaw depths. Thus, stabilization of ice wedges in the areas of cold continuous permafrost can occur despite accumulation of snow and water in the troughs. Although thermokarst is usually more severe in flooded areas, higher plant productivity, more litter, and mineral material (including road dust) accumulating in the troughs contribute to formation of the intermediate layer, which protects ice wedges from further melting. 
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