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Title: An intermediate-scale model for thermal hydrology in low-relief permafrost-affected landscapes

Abstract

Integrated surface/subsurface models for simulating the thermal hydrology of permafrost-affected regions in a warming climate have recently become available, but computational demands of those new process-rich simu- lation tools have thus far limited their applications to one-dimensional or small two-dimensional simulations. We present a mixed-dimensional model structure for efficiently simulating surface/subsurface thermal hydrology in low-relief permafrost regions at watershed scales. The approach replaces a full three-dimensional system with a two-dimensional overland thermal hydrology system and a family of one-dimensional vertical columns, where each column represents a fully coupled surface/subsurface thermal hydrology system without lateral flow. The system is then operator split, sequentially updating the overland flow system without sources and the one-dimensional columns without lateral flows. We show that the app- roach is highly scalable, supports subcycling of different processes, and compares well with the corresponding fully three-dimensional representation at significantly less computational cost. Those advances enable recently developed representations of freezing soil physics to be coupled with thermal overland flow and surface energy balance at scales of 100s of meters. Furthermore developed and demonstrated for permafrost thermal hydrology, the mixed-dimensional model structure is applicable to integrated surface/subsurface thermal hydrology in general.

Authors:
ORCiD logo [1];  [2];  [1];  [3];  [3]
  1. Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
  2. Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States); Los Alamos National Lab. (LANL), Los Alamos, NM (United States)
  3. Los Alamos National Lab. (LANL), Los Alamos, NM (United States)
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE
OSTI Identifier:
1376362
Grant/Contract Number:
AC05-00OR22725
Resource Type:
Journal Article: Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Computational Geosciences
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 22; Journal Issue: 1; Journal ID: ISSN 1420-0597
Publisher:
Springer
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; 58 GEOSCIENCES; Multiscale models; Permafrost thermal hydrology; Integrated surface/subsurface flow modeling; Arctic

Citation Formats

Jan, Ahmad, Coon, Ethan T., Painter, Scott L., Garimella, Rao, and Moulton, J. David. An intermediate-scale model for thermal hydrology in low-relief permafrost-affected landscapes. United States: N. p., 2017. Web. doi:10.1007/s10596-017-9679-3.
Jan, Ahmad, Coon, Ethan T., Painter, Scott L., Garimella, Rao, & Moulton, J. David. An intermediate-scale model for thermal hydrology in low-relief permafrost-affected landscapes. United States. doi:10.1007/s10596-017-9679-3.
Jan, Ahmad, Coon, Ethan T., Painter, Scott L., Garimella, Rao, and Moulton, J. David. Mon . "An intermediate-scale model for thermal hydrology in low-relief permafrost-affected landscapes". United States. doi:10.1007/s10596-017-9679-3.
@article{osti_1376362,
title = {An intermediate-scale model for thermal hydrology in low-relief permafrost-affected landscapes},
author = {Jan, Ahmad and Coon, Ethan T. and Painter, Scott L. and Garimella, Rao and Moulton, J. David},
abstractNote = {Integrated surface/subsurface models for simulating the thermal hydrology of permafrost-affected regions in a warming climate have recently become available, but computational demands of those new process-rich simu- lation tools have thus far limited their applications to one-dimensional or small two-dimensional simulations. We present a mixed-dimensional model structure for efficiently simulating surface/subsurface thermal hydrology in low-relief permafrost regions at watershed scales. The approach replaces a full three-dimensional system with a two-dimensional overland thermal hydrology system and a family of one-dimensional vertical columns, where each column represents a fully coupled surface/subsurface thermal hydrology system without lateral flow. The system is then operator split, sequentially updating the overland flow system without sources and the one-dimensional columns without lateral flows. We show that the app- roach is highly scalable, supports subcycling of different processes, and compares well with the corresponding fully three-dimensional representation at significantly less computational cost. Those advances enable recently developed representations of freezing soil physics to be coupled with thermal overland flow and surface energy balance at scales of 100s of meters. Furthermore developed and demonstrated for permafrost thermal hydrology, the mixed-dimensional model structure is applicable to integrated surface/subsurface thermal hydrology in general.},
doi = {10.1007/s10596-017-9679-3},
journal = {Computational Geosciences},
number = 1,
volume = 22,
place = {United States},
year = {Mon Jul 10 00:00:00 EDT 2017},
month = {Mon Jul 10 00:00:00 EDT 2017}
}

Journal Article:
Free Publicly Available Full Text
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  • The need to understand potential climate impacts and feedbacks in Arctic regions has prompted recent interest in modeling of permafrost dynamics in a warming climate. A new fine-scale integrated surface/subsurface thermal hydrology modeling capability is described and demonstrated in proof-of-concept simulations. The new modeling capability combines a surface energy balance model with recently developed three-dimensional subsurface thermal hydrology models and new models for nonisothermal surface water flows and snow distribution in the microtopography. Surface water flows are modeled using the diffusion wave equation extended to include energy transport and phase change of ponded water. Variation of snow depth in themore » microtopography, physically the result of wind scour, is also modeled heuristically with a diffusion wave equation. The multiple surface and subsurface processes are implemented by leveraging highly parallel community software. Fully integrated thermal hydrology simulations on the tilted open book catchment, an important test case for integrated surface/subsurface flow modeling, are presented. Fine-scale 100-year projections of the integrated permafrost thermal hydrological system on an ice wedge polygon at Barrow Alaska in a warming climate are also presented. Finally, these simulations demonstrate the feasibility of microtopography-resolving, process-rich simulations as a tool to help understand possible future evolution of the carbon-rich Arctic tundra in a warming climate.« less
  • Climate change is profoundly transforming the carbon-rich Arctic tundra landscape, potentially moving it from a carbon sink to a carbon source by increasing the thickness of soil that thaws on a seasonal basis. However, the modeling capability and precise parameterizations of the physical characteristics needed to estimate projected active layer thickness (ALT) are limited in Earth System Models (ESMs). In particular, discrepancies in spatial scale between field measurements and Earth System Models challenge validation and parameterization of hydrothermal models. A recently developed surface/subsurface model for permafrost thermal hydrology, the Advanced Terrestrial Simulator (ATS), is used in combination with field measurementsmore » to calibrate and identify fine scale controls of ALT in ice wedge polygon tundra in Barrow, Alaska. An iterative model refinement procedure that cycles between borehole temperature and snow cover measurements and simulations functions to evaluate and parameterize different model processes necessary to simulate freeze/thaw processes and ALT formation. After model refinement and calibration, reasonable matches between simulated and measured soil temperatures are obtained, with the largest errors occurring during early summer above ice wedges (e.g. troughs). The results suggest that properly constructed and calibrated one-dimensional thermal hydrology models have the potential to provide reasonable representation of the subsurface thermal response and can be used to infer model input parameters and process representations. The models for soil thermal conductivity and snow distribution were found to be the most sensitive process representations. However, information on lateral flow and snowpack evolution might be needed to constrain model representations of surface hydrology and snow depth.« less
  • Climate change is profoundly transforming the carbon-rich Arctic tundra landscape, potentially moving it from a carbon sink to a carbon source by increasing the thickness of soil that thaws on a seasonal basis. Thus, the modeling capability and precise parameterizations of the physical characteristics needed to estimate projected active layer thickness (ALT) are limited in Earth system models (ESMs). In particular, discrepancies in spatial scale between field measurements and Earth system models challenge validation and parameterization of hydrothermal models. A recently developed surface–subsurface model for permafrost thermal hydrology, the Advanced Terrestrial Simulator (ATS), is used in combination with field measurementsmore » to achieve the goals of constructing a process-rich model based on plausible parameters and to identify fine-scale controls of ALT in ice-wedge polygon tundra in Barrow, Alaska. An iterative model refinement procedure that cycles between borehole temperature and snow cover measurements and simulations functions to evaluate and parameterize different model processes necessary to simulate freeze–thaw processes and ALT formation. After model refinement and calibration, reasonable matches between simulated and measured soil temperatures are obtained, with the largest errors occurring during early summer above ice wedges (e.g., troughs). The results suggest that properly constructed and calibrated one-dimensional thermal hydrology models have the potential to provide reasonable representation of the subsurface thermal response and can be used to infer model input parameters and process representations. The models for soil thermal conductivity and snow distribution were found to be the most sensitive process representations. However, information on lateral flow and snowpack evolution might be needed to constrain model representations of surface hydrology and snow depth.« less
  • Climate change is profoundly transforming the carbon-rich Arctic tundra landscape, potentially moving it from a carbon sink to a carbon source by increasing the thickness of soil that thaws on a seasonal basis. However, the modeling capability and precise parameterizations of the physical characteristics needed to estimate projected active layer thickness (ALT) are limited in Earth system models (ESMs). In particular, discrepancies in spatial scale between field measurements and Earth system models challenge validation and parameterization of hydrothermal models. In this paper, a recently developed surface–subsurface model for permafrost thermal hydrology, the Advanced Terrestrial Simulator (ATS), is used in combinationmore » with field measurements to achieve the goals of constructing a process-rich model based on plausible parameters and to identify fine-scale controls of ALT in ice-wedge polygon tundra in Barrow, Alaska. An iterative model refinement procedure that cycles between borehole temperature and snow cover measurements and simulations functions to evaluate and parameterize different model processes necessary to simulate freeze–thaw processes and ALT formation. After model refinement and calibration, reasonable matches between simulated and measured soil temperatures are obtained, with the largest errors occurring during early summer above ice wedges (e.g., troughs). The results suggest that properly constructed and calibrated one-dimensional thermal hydrology models have the potential to provide reasonable representation of the subsurface thermal response and can be used to infer model input parameters and process representations. The models for soil thermal conductivity and snow distribution were found to be the most sensitive process representations. Finally, however, information on lateral flow and snowpack evolution might be needed to constrain model representations of surface hydrology and snow depth.« less
  • A two-dimensional model of a sediment column, with Darcy fluid flow, biological and thermal methane production, and permafrost and methane hydrate formation, is subjected to glacial–interglacial cycles in sea level, alternately exposing the continental shelf to the cold atmosphere during glacial times and immersing it in the ocean in interglacial times. The glacial cycles are followed by a "long-tail" 100 kyr warming due to fossil fuel combustion. The salinity of the sediment column in the interior of the shelf can be decreased by hydrological forcing to depths well below sea level when the sediment is exposed to the atmosphere. Theremore » is no analogous advective seawater-injecting mechanism upon resubmergence, only slower diffusive mechanisms. This hydrological ratchet is consistent with the existence of freshwater beneath the sea floor on continental shelves around the world, left over from the last glacial period. The salt content of the sediment column affects the relative proportions of the solid and fluid H 2O-containing phases, but in the permafrost zone the salinity in the pore fluid brine is a function of temperature only, controlled by equilibrium with ice. Ice can tolerate a higher salinity in the pore fluid than methane hydrate can at low pressure and temperature, excluding methane hydrate from thermodynamic stability in the permafrost zone. The implication is that any methane hydrate existing today will be insulated from anthropogenic climate change by hundreds of meters of sediment, resulting in a response time of thousands of years. The strongest impact of the glacial–interglacial cycles on the atmospheric methane flux is due to bubbles dissolving in the ocean when sea level is high. When sea level is low and the sediment surface is exposed to the atmosphere, the atmospheric flux is sensitive to whether permafrost inhibits bubble migration in the model. If it does, the atmospheric flux is highest during the glaciating, sea level regression (soil-freezing) part of the cycle rather than during deglacial transgression (warming and thawing). The atmospheric flux response to a warming climate is small, relative to the rest of the methane sources to the atmosphere in the global budget, because of the ongoing flooding of the continental shelf. The increased methane flux due to ocean warming could be completely counteracted by a sea level rise of tens of meters on millennial timescales due to the loss of ice sheets, decreasing the efficiency of bubble transit through the water column. The model results give no indication of a mechanism by which methane emissions from the Siberian continental shelf could have a significant impact on the near-term evolution of Earth's climate, but on millennial timescales the release of carbon from hydrate and permafrost could contribute significantly to the fossil fuel carbon burden in the atmosphere–ocean–terrestrial carbon cycle.« less
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