Biological and Environmental Research - Earth and Environmental System Sciences
Earth and Environmental System Modeling

Improving Representations of Near-Surface Permafrost and Soil Temperature Profiles in the Regional Arctic System Model (RASM)

Monday, December 11, 2017 - 13:40
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Permafrost and seasonally frozen soils are a key characteristic of the terrestrial Arctic, and the fate of near-surface permafrost as a result of climate change is projected to have strong impacts on terrestrial biogeochemistry. The active layer thickness (ALT) is the layer of soil that freezes and thaws annually, and shifts in the depth of the ALT are projected to occur over large areas of the Arctic that are characterized by discontinuous permafrost. Faithful representation of permafrost in land models in climate models is a product of both soil dynamics and the coupling of air and soil temperatures. A common problem is a large bias in simulated ALT due to a model depth that is too shallow. Similarly, soil temperatures often show systematic biases, which lead to biases in air temperature due to poorly modeled air-soil temperature feedbacks in a coupled environment. In this study, we use the Regional Arctic System Model (RASM), a fully-coupled regional earth system model that is run at a 50-km land/atmosphere resolution over a pan-Arctic domain and uses the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) model as its land model. To understand what modeling decisions are necessary to accurately represent near-surface permafrost and soil temperature profiles, we perform a large number of RASM simulations with prescribed atmospheric forcings (e.g. VIC in standalone mode in RASM) while varying the model soil depth, thickness of soil moisture layers, number of soil layers and the distribution of soil nodes. We compare modeled soil temperatures and ALT to observations from the Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring (CALM) network. CALM observations include annual ALT observations as well as daily soil temperature measurements at three soil depths for three sites in Alaska. In the future, we will use our results to inform our modeling of permafrost dynamics in fully-coupled RASM simulations.

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