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TitlePermafrost thaw and northern development
AuthorO'Neill, H BORCID logo; Burn, C RORCID logo; Allard, M; Arenson, L U; Bunn, M I; Connon, R F; Kokelj, S A; Kokelj, S V; LeBlanc, A -MORCID logo; Morse, P DORCID logo; Smith, S LORCID logo
SourceNature Climate Change vol. 10, issue 8, 2020 p. 722-723,
Alt SeriesNatural Resources Canada, Contribution Series 20190500
PublisherSpringer Nature
Mediaon-line; digital
File formatpdf; html
ProvinceNewfoundland and Labrador; Northwest Territories; Nunavut; Quebec; Yukon
NTS15; 16; 25; 26; 27; 29; 35; 36; 37; 38; 39; 45; 46; 47; 48; 49; 55; 56; 57; 58; 59; 65; 66; 67; 68; 69; 75; 76; 77; 78; 79; 85; 86; 87; 88; 89; 95; 96; 97; 98; 99; 105; 106; 107; 115; 116; 117; 120; 340; 560
Lat/Long WENS-141.0000 -60.0000 90.0000 60.0000
Subjectssurficial geology/geomorphology; environmental geology; Nature and Environment; Science and Technology; permafrost; ground ice; climate; temperature; hydrologic environment; hydraulic analyses; models; permafrost thaw; Northern development; Northern Canada; Climate change
ProgramClimate Change Geoscience Permafrost
Released2020 07 29
Increases in air temperature have resulted in warming and thawing of permafrost with effects on infrastructure, mass movements, and carbon stores. Further changes to hydrology, ecology, and human activities are anticipated in the Circumpolar North given projected changes in air temperature and precipitation. Simulations examining effects of permafrost thaw are critical tools for developing adaptation and mitigation strategies. The practical utility of such simulations depends on valid representation of key earth surface processes. Teufel and Sushama project abrupt soil drainage and drying in permafrost regions on the basis of an arbitrary assumption that invokes drainage of soil water as soon as permafrost in the uppermost 5 m of the ground is thawed, regardless of whether the underlying ground is frozen. This assumption is not valid. The novel findings claimed by the authors are a direct result of inadequate process representation in the land surface scheme. There is no field or historical evidence to support results from the model that abrupt, broad-scale transitions of the soil environment above permafrost due to thawing have already occurred. In addition, the assertion that drying of the soil will provoke sudden deleterious consequences for infrastructure or northern development is unfounded.
Summary(Plain Language Summary, not published)
This letter is a critical response to an article published in Nature Climate Change of model predictions that permafrost thaw will cause abrupt changes in soil moisture conditions. The article indicates that an abrupt drainage following thaw of upper permafrost will have a number of consequences for northern development. In this response we argue that the model setup is inappropriate and that the effects described are an artifact of the simulation. We caution the applicability of the results for the purposes of policy planning in northern regions.

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