Permafrost thaw modeling and prediction in the Taiga Plains, NWT




Project keywords: Permafrost thaw, modelling, hydrology

Name of project lead: W. Quinton

Project team/partners: For each collaborator please specify: Team member name, role, organization and contact information
W. Quinton (Laurier); P. Marsh (NWRI); S. Kokelj (INAC); J. Baltzer (Laurier); S. Endrizzi (Zurich); T. Lakusta (ENR).

Status: In progress

Location: Inuvialuit Settlement Region (Havikpak and TrailValley), Decho (Scotty).

Year and month project started: 2010

Anticipated completion year of project? 2014

Executive year of project (example, year 1 or 2 or 3…) 3

Brief project description: (objectives and rationale)
Recent studies have documented ongoing changes in climate, hydrology, ice rich permafrost and ecology throughout the arctic. Our understanding of the complex interactions among these ecosystem factors, and our ability to model them, is very poor. This project examines: 1) the expansion of tall (or upright) shrubs into tundra areas in the western Canadian Arctic, 2) the impact of these changes in vegetation on snow and soil temperatures, 3) the factors controlling thaw of the active layer and the upper permafrost, and 4) the potential impact of these changes on eco-hydrology. In order to help answer these questions, we will utilize 20 years of data from the Trail Valley Creek research basin located approximately 50 km NE of Inuvik, NWT, Canada. This area is characterized by rolling upland tundra underlain by continuous permafrost, with a mix of tundra, shrub tundra, and forest patches. Preliminary analysis demonstrates: 1) shrub cover has increased by approximately 15 to 20% in the study basin over the last 32 years; 2) shrubs result in warmer winter soil temperature, cooler summer soil temperatures, and a slightly warmer annual average soil temperature, and deeper active layer; 3) active layer melt is controlled by a complex interaction of vegetation, snow, soil moisture, and lateral flux of active layer water. The GEOtop hydrological model will be used to further investigate the complex interactions between climate, vegetation, permafrost and hydrology. On-going permafrost thaw studies at Havikpak Creek and Scotty provide a broad perspective to ecosystem change throughout the Taiga Plains eco-region.

Significance of the results (rationale): / project linkages

Decision makers will benefit from 1) improved science-based understanding of responses to warming of representative and widely-occurring ecosystem types throughout the Taiga Plains eco-region; and 2) improved predictive capacity in the form of new modelling tools that will the theoretical foundation provided by the former. The main project milestone is to provide community-based users workshops in which interactive training on the new modelling tools is provided to government, industry, communities and other stakeholders. The new models will use the GEOtop and Cold Regions Hydrological Model frameworks

Key deliverables and reporting: Link to needs of NWT

Understanding integrated Earth System behaviour in the context of permafrost loss is a major challenge. To meet this challenge, this project will provide critical new knowledge of subarctic ecosystems before, during and after loss of permafrost, and their vulnerability to state changes associated with permafrost thaw. This knowledge will be gained through interdisciplinary teams working in representative sites, which will then be used to improve the NWT’s predictive and adaptive capacity for subarctic ecosystems in transition. The major scientific deliverables are: 1) New fundamental and integrative knowledge of subarctic ecosystems by examining the mechanisms and the ecosystem and watershed responses to changes in permafrost regime. 2) Develop and test a new suite of eco-hydrological and Earth System predictive tools for simulating the responses of subarctic ecosystems with permafrost to permafrost-free endpoints. 3) Apply integrated models of eco- hydrological Earth Systems to predict terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem responses to permafrost degradation, removal and climate warming extending to the year 2050.

Engagement, training and capacity building

Permafrost thaw in the southern NWT very often results in the disappearance of permafrost from the land because in this region it is relatively thin and warm, and as such is highly susceptible to degradation and loss. Permafrost loss often results in transformation of forests to wetlands, which also has implications to water and wildlife. The best way to predict the permafrost thaw-induced changes to water, forest and wildlife resources is through a physically-based understanding of key processes derived from field studies, and from predictive computer models based on the field studies. Our field studies proceed with guidance and direct involvement of Dehcho First Nations (DFN) communities. We are also working with the DFN on the co-development of predictive tools that meet their water management issues related to permafrost thaw.

Links to WSIPlan and NWT Science Agenda

– 1.1; 2.1 – informally; 2.1B, C, D, F, G, H, I.

Key project tasks for next year (work plan pieces – research)

Key project tasks for next year (work plan pieces – engagement, training and capacity building)
Hire local LKFN band members, meet with LKFN, Jean-Marie FN and Trout Lake FN band leaders, continue to attempt to raise funds for knowledge mobilisation and application at the local level.

Published Papers 3 papers