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Fairbanks, AK, United States

Jorgenson M.T.,Alaska Ecoscience | Romanovsky V.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | Harden J.,U.S. Geological Survey | Shur Y.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | And 4 more authors.
Canadian Journal of Forest Research | Year: 2010

The resilience and vulnerability of permafrost to climate change depends on complex interactions among topography, water, soil, vegetation, and snow, which allow permafrost to persist at mean annual air temperatures (MAATs) as high as +2 °C and degrade at MAATs as low as -20 °C. To assess these interactions, we compiled existing data and tested effects of varying conditions on mean annual surface temperatures (MASTs) and 2 m deep temperatures (MADTs) through modeling. Surface water had the largest effect, with water sediment temperatures being ~10 °C above MAAT. A 50% re duction in snow depth reduces MADT by 2 °C. Elevation changes between 200 and 800 m increases MAAT by up to 2.3°C and snow depths by ~40%. Aspect caused only a ~1 °C difference in MAST. Covarying vegetation structure, organic matter thickness, soil moisture, and snow depth of terrestrial ecosystems, ranging from barren silt to white spruce (Picea glauca (Moench) Voss) forest to tussock shrub, affect MASTs by ~6 °C and MADTs by ~7 °C. Groundwater at 2-7 °C greatly affects lateral and internal permafrost thawing. Analyses show that vegetation succession provides strong negative feedbacks that make permafrost resilient to even large increases in air temperatures. Surface water, which is affected by topography and ground ice, provides even stronger negative feedbacks that make permafrost vulnerable to thawing even under cold temperatures.

Jorgenson M.T.,Alaska Ecoscience | Marcot B.G.,U.S. Department of Agriculture | Swanson D.K.,National Park Service | Jorgenson J.C.,Arctic National Wildlife Refuge | DeGange A.R.,U.S. Geological Survey
Climatic Change | Year: 2015

Climate warming affects arctic and boreal ecosystems by interacting with numerous biophysical factors across heterogeneous landscapes. To assess potential effects of warming on diverse local-scale ecosystems (ecotypes) across northwest Alaska, we compiled data on historical areal changes over the last 25–50 years. Based on historical rates of change relative to time and temperature, we developed three state-transition models to project future changes in area for 60 ecotypes involving 243 potential transitions during three 30-year periods (ending 2040, 2070, 2100). The time model, assuming changes over the past 30 years continue at the same rate, projected a net change, or directional shift, of 6 % by 2100. The temperature model, using past rates of change relative to the past increase in regional mean annual air temperatures (1 °C/30 year), projected a net change of 17 % in response to expected warming of 2, 4, and 6 °C at the end of the three periods. A rate-adjusted temperature model, which adjusted transition rates (±50 %) based on assigned feedbacks associated with 23 biophysical drivers, estimated a net change of 13 %, with 33 ecotypes gaining and 23 ecotypes losing area. Major drivers included shrub and tree expansion, fire, succession, and thermokarst. Overall, projected changes will be modest over the next century even though climate warming increased transition rates up to 9 fold. The strength of this state-transition modeling is that it used a large dataset of past changes to provide a comprehensive assessment of likely future changes associated with numerous drivers affecting the full diversity of ecosystems across a broad region. © 2014, The Author(s).

Torre Jorgenson M.,Alaska Ecoscience | Harden J.,U.S. Geological Survey | Kanevskiy M.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | O'Donnell J.,National Park Service | And 7 more authors.
Environmental Research Letters | Year: 2013

The diversity of ecosystems across boreal landscapes, successional changes after disturbance and complicated permafrost histories, present enormous challenges for assessing how vegetation, water and soil carbon may respond to climate change in boreal regions. To address this complexity, we used a chronosequence approach to assess changes in vegetation composition, water storage and soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks along successional gradients within four landscapes: (1) rocky uplands on ice-poor hillside colluvium, (2) silty uplands on extremely ice-rich loess, (3) gravelly-sandy lowlands on ice-poor eolian sand and (4) peaty-silty lowlands on thick ice-rich peat deposits over reworked lowland loess. In rocky uplands, after fire permafrost thawed rapidly due to low ice contents, soils became well drained and SOC stocks decreased slightly. In silty uplands, after fire permafrost persisted, soils remained saturated and SOC decreased slightly. In gravelly-sandy lowlands where permafrost persisted in drier forest soils, loss of deeper permafrost around lakes has allowed recent widespread drainage of lakes that has exposed limnic material with high SOC to aerobic decomposition. In peaty-silty lowlands, 2-4 m of thaw settlement led to fragmented drainage patterns in isolated thermokarst bogs and flooding of soils, and surface soils accumulated new bog peat. We were not able to detect SOC changes in deeper soils, however, due to high variability. Complicated soil stratigraphy revealed that permafrost has repeatedly aggraded and degraded in all landscapes during the Holocene, although in silty uplands only the upper permafrost was affected. Overall, permafrost thaw has led to the reorganization of vegetation, water storage and flow paths, and patterns of SOC accumulation. However, changes have occurred over different timescales among landscapes: over decades in rocky uplands and gravelly-sandy lowlands in response to fire and lake drainage, over decades to centuries in peaty-silty lowlands with a legacy of complicated Holocene changes, and over centuries in silty uplands where ice-rich soil and ecological recovery protect permafrost. © 2013 IOP Publishing Ltd.

Nossov D.R.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | Torre Jorgenson M.,Alaska Ecoscience | Kielland K.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | Kanevskiy M.Z.,University of Alaska Fairbanks
Environmental Research Letters | Year: 2013

Discontinuous permafrost in the North American boreal forest is strongly influenced by the effects of ecological succession on the accumulation of surface organic matter, making permafrost vulnerable to degradation resulting from fire disturbance. To assess factors affecting permafrost degradation after wildfire, we compared vegetation composition and soil properties between recently burned and unburned sites across three soil landscapes (rocky uplands, silty uplands, and sandy lowlands) situated within the Yukon Flats and Yukon-Tanana Uplands in interior Alaska. Mean annual air temperatures at our study sites from 2011 to 2012 were relatively cold (-5.5 ° C) and favorable to permafrost formation. Burning of mature evergreen forests with thick moss covers caused replacement by colonizing species in severely burned areas and recovery of pre-fire understory vegetation in moderately burned areas. Surface organic layer thickness strongly affected thermal regimes and thaw depths. On average, fire caused a five-fold decrease in mean surface organic layer thickness, a doubling of water storage in the active layer, a doubling of thaw depth, an increase in soil temperature at the surface (-0.6 to +2.1 ° C) and at 1 m depth (-1.7 to +0.4 ° C), and a two-fold increase in net soil heat input. Degradation of the upper permafrost occurred at all burned sites, but differences in soil texture and moisture among soil landscapes allowed permafrost to persist beneath the active layer in the silty uplands, whereas a talik of unknown depth developed in the rocky uplands and a thin talik developed in the sandy lowlands. A changing climate and fire regime would undoubtedly influence permafrost in the boreal forest, but the patterns of degradation or stabilization would vary considerably across the discontinuous permafrost zone due to differences in microclimate, successional patterns, and soil characteristics. © 2013 IOP Publishing Ltd.

Joroenson J.C.,U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | Ver Hoef J.M.,National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Jorgenson M.T.,Alaska Ecoscience
Ecological Applications | Year: 2010

In response to the increasing global demand for energy, oil exploration and development are expanding into frontier areas of the Arctic, where slow-growing tundra vegetation and the underlying permafrost soils are very sensitive to disturbance. The creation of vehicle trails on the tundra from seismic exploration for oil has accelerated in the past decade, and the cumulative impact represents a geographic footprint that covers a greater extent of Alaska's North Slope tundra than all other direct human impacts combined. Seismic exploration for oil and gas was conducted on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, USA, in the winters of 1984 and 1985. This study documents recovery of vegetation and permafrost soils over a two-decade period after vehicle traffic on snow-covered tundra. Paired permanent vegetation plots (disturbed vs. reference) were monitored six times from. 1984 to 2002. Data were collected on percent vegetative cover by plant species and on soil and ground ice characteristics. We developed Bayesian hierarchical models, with temporally and spatially autocorrelated errors, to analyze the effects of vegetation type and initial disturbance levels on recovery patterns of the different plant growth forms as well as soil thaw depth. Plant community composition was altered on the trails by species-specific responses to initial disturbance and subsequent changes in substrate. Long-term, changes included increased cover of graminoids and decreased cover of evergreen shrubs and mosses. Trails with low levels of initial disturbance usually improved well over time, whereas those with medium to high levels of initial disturbance recovered slowly. Trails on ice-poor, gravel substrates of riparian areas recovered better than those on ice-rich loamy soils of the uplands, even after severe initial damage. Recovery to pre-disturbance communities was not possible where trail subsidence occurred due to thawing of ground ice. Previous studies of disturbance from winter seismic vehicles in the Arctic predicted short-term and mostly aesthetic impacts, but we found that severe impacts to tundra vegetation persisted for two decades after disturbance under some conditions. We recommend management approaches that should be used to prevent persistent tundra damage. © 2010 by the Ecological Society of America.

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