Reduced complexity modeling of Arctic delta dynamics

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 14:55
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How water and sediment are routed through deltas has important implications for our understanding of nutrient and sediment fluxes to the coastal ocean. These fluxes may be especially important in Arctic environments, because the Arctic ocean receives a disproportionately large amount of river discharge and high latitude regions are expected to be particularly vulnerable to climate change. The Arctic has some of the world’s largest but least studied deltas. This lack of data is due to remote and hazardous conditions, sparse human populations, and limited remote sensing resources. In the absence of data, complex models may be of limited scientific utility in understanding Arctic delta dynamics. To overcome this challenge, we adapt the reduced complexity delta-building model DeltaRCM for Arctic environments to explore the influence of sea ice and permafrost on delta morphology and dynamics. We represent permafrost by increasing the threshold for sediment erosion, as permafrost has been found to increase cohesion and reduce channel migration rates. The presence of permafrost in the model results in the creation of more elongate channels, fewer active channels, and a rougher shoreline. We consider several effects of sea ice, including introducing friction which increases flow resistance, constriction of flow by landfast ice, and changes in effective water surface elevation. Flow constriction and increased friction from ice results in a rougher shoreline, more frequent channel switching, decreased channel migration rates, and enhanced deposition offshore of channel mouths. The reduced complexity nature of the model is ideal for generating a basic understanding of which processes unique to Arctic environments may have important effects on delta evolution, and it allows us to explore a variety of rules for incorporating those processes into the model to inform future Arctic delta modelling efforts. Finally, we plan to use the modeling results to determine how the presence of permafrost and sea ice may influence delta morphology and the resulting large-scale patterns of water and sediment fluxes at the coast.

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