• Arctic Tundra Landscape Evolution: Conceptualization and Initial Application of the Alaska Thermokarst Model
    • Bob Bolton
    • October 23, 2015

Thermokarst topography forms whenever ice-rich permafrost thaws and the ground subsides due to the volume loss when ground ice transitions to water. The Alaska Thermokarst Model (ATM) is a large-scale, state-and-transition model designed to simulate transitions between landscape units affected by thermokarst disturbance. The ATM uses a frame-based methodology to track transitions and proportion of cohorts within a 1-km2 grid cell. In the arctic tundra environment, the ATM tracks thermokarst-related transitions among wetland tundra, graminoid tundra, shrub tundra, and thermokarst lakes. In the boreal forest environment, the ATM will track transitions among forested permafrost plateau, thermokarst lakes, collapse scar fens and bogs.

The transition from one cohort to another due to thermokarst processes can take place if thaw reaches ice-rich ground layers either due to pulse disturbance (i.e. large precipitation event or fires), or due to gradual active layer deepening that eventually results in penetration of the protective layer. The protective layer buffers the ice-rich soils from the land surface and is critical to determine how susceptible an area is to thermokarst degradation. The rate of terrain transition in our model is determined by a set of rules that are based upon the ice-content of the soil, the drainage efficiency (or the ability of the landscape to store or transport water), the cumulative probability of thermokarst initiation, distance from rivers, lake dynamics (increasing, decreasing, or stable), and other factors.Tundra types are allowed to transition from one type to another (for example, wetland tundra to graminoid tundra) under favorable climatic conditions.

In this seminar, I will present he model conceptualization and initial simulation results from the ATM model for an 1792 km2 area on the Barrow Peninsula, Alaska. The area selected for simulation is located in a polygonal tundra landscape under varying degrees of thermokarst degradation. The ATM will eventually be incorporated into the Integrated Ecosystem Model (IEM) for Alaska and Northwest Canada for use in management decisions that are influenced by thermokarst dynamics.

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