Alaska Ecoscience

Fairbanks, AK, United States

Alaska Ecoscience

Fairbanks, AK, United States
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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).


Pastick N.J.,Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies Inc. | Jorgenson M.T.,Alaska Ecoscience | Wylie B.K.,U.S. Geological Survey | Rose J.R.,Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge | And 2 more authors.
Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences | Year: 2014

The distribution of permafrost is important to understand because of permafrost's influence on high-latitude ecosystem structure and functions. Moreover, near-surface (defined here as within 1-m of the Earth's surface) permafrost is particularly susceptible to a warming climate and is generally poorly mapped at regional scales. Subsequently, our objectives were to (1) develop the first-known binary and probabilistic maps of near-surface permafrost distributions at a 30 m resolution in the Alaskan Yukon River Basin by employing decision tree models, field measurements, and remotely sensed and mapped biophysical data; (2) evaluate the relative contribution of 39 biophysical variables used in the models; and (3) assess the landscape-scale factors controlling spatial variations in permafrost extent. Areas estimated to be present and absent of near-surface permafrost occupy approximately 46% and 45% of the Alaskan Yukon River Basin, respectively; masked areas (e.g., water and developed) account for the remaining 9% of the landscape. Strong predictors of near-surface permafrost include climatic indices, land cover, topography, and Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus spectral information. Our quantitative modeling approach enabled us to generate regional near-surface permafrost maps and provide essential information for resource managers and modelers to better understand near-surface permafrost distribution and how it relates to environmental factors and conditions. ©2014. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


Grosse G.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | Romanovsky V.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | Jorgenson T.,Alaska Ecoscience | Anthony K.W.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | Overduin P.P.,Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research
Eos | Year: 2011

The effects of permafrost degradation on terrestrial and offshore environments in polar regions and on the Earth's atmosphere are significant. Field-based observations, remote sensing, and modeling document regional warming and thawing of permafrost. However, major research questions regarding vulnerability of permafrost to thawing, the projected decline in permafrost extent during coming decades, resulting ecosystem feedbacks, and the possibly global consequences to climate change due to remobilization of carbon pools from thawing permafrost still require answers.


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.


Harden J.W.,U.S. Geological Survey | Koven C.D.,Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | Ping C.-L.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | Hugelius G.,University of Stockholm | And 10 more authors.
Geophysical Research Letters | Year: 2012

Deep soil profiles containing permafrost (Gelisols) were characterized for organic carbon (C) and total nitrogen (N) stocks to 3m depths. Using the Community Climate System Model (CCSM4) we calculate cumulative distributions of active layer thickness (ALT) under current and future climates. The difference in cumulative ALT distributions over time was multiplied by C and N contents of soil horizons in Gelisol suborders to calculate newly thawed C and N. Thawing ranged from 147 PgC with 10 PgN by 2050 (representative concentration pathway RCP scenario 4.5) to 436 PgC with 29 PgN by 2100 (RCP 8.5). Organic horizons that thaw are vulnerable to combustion, and all horizon types are vulnerable to shifts in hydrology and decomposition. The rates and extent of such losses are unknown and can be further constrained by linking field and modelling approaches. These changes have the potential for strong additional loading to our atmosphere, water resources, and ecosystems. © 2012. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


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.


Kokelj S.V.,Northwest Territories Geoscience Office | Jorgenson M.T.,Alaska Ecoscience
Permafrost and Periglacial Processes | Year: 2013

The term thermokarst describes the processes and landforms that involve collapse of the land surface as a result of the melting of ground ice. We review the literature that has contributed to our understanding of patterns, processes and feedbacks, and the environmental consequences of thermokarst, focusing on hillslope, thaw lake and wetland processes. Advances in remote sensing techniques, and their application in a broad suite of change detection studies, indicate recent increases in the rates and magnitude of thermokarst including retrogressive thaw slumping, lake expansion and the transformation of frozen peatlands to collapsed wetlands. Field-based studies and modelling have enhanced the knowledge of processes and feedbacks associated with warming permafrost, changes in talik geometry and accelerated thaw slump activity, and thaw lake expansion. Hydrological processes can strongly influence the rates of thaw lake and gully development, and the degradation of frozen peatlands. Field studies and calibrated modelling efforts that investigate the drivers of thermokarst and test conceptual ideas of landscape evolution will be critical to further advance the prediction of landscape and ecosystem change. Thermokarst research provides an important context for studying the environmental implications of permafrost degradation. Hillslope thermokarst can alter the water quality of lakes and streams with implications for aquatic ecosystems. Investigation of the interactions between thermokarst and hydrologic and ecological processes has improved knowledge of the feedbacks that accelerate change or lead to stabilisation in terrestrial and thaw lake environments. Finally, the influence of permafrost thaw on soil carbon dynamics will be an important focus of thermokarst research because of feedbacks with the global climate system. © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada 2013.


O'Donnell J.A.,U.S. Geological Survey | Jorgenson M.T.,Alaska Ecoscience | Harden J.W.,U.S. Geological Survey | McGuire A.D.,U.S. Geological Survey | And 2 more authors.
Ecosystems | Year: 2012

Recent warming at high-latitudes has accelerated permafrost thaw in northern peatlands, and thaw can have profound effects on local hydrology and ecosystem carbon balance. To assess the impact of permafrost thaw on soil organic carbon (OC) dynamics, we measured soil hydrologic and thermal dynamics and soil OC stocks across a collapse-scar bog chronosequence in interior Alaska. We observed dramatic changes in the distribution of soil water associated with thawing of ice-rich frozen peat. The impoundment of warm water in collapse-scar bogs initiated talik formation and the lateral expansion of bogs over time. On average, Permafrost Plateaus stored 137 ± 37 kg C m -2, whereas OC storage in Young Bogs and Old Bogs averaged 84 ± 13 kg C m -2. Based on our reconstructions, the accumulation of OC in near-surface bog peat continued for nearly 1,000 years following permafrost thaw, at which point accumulation rates slowed. Rapid decomposition of thawed forest peat reduced deep OC stocks by nearly half during the first 100 years following thaw. Using a simple mass-balance model, we show that accumulation rates at the bog surface were not sufficient to balance deep OC losses, resulting in a net loss of OC from the entire peat column. An uncertainty analysis also revealed that the magnitude and timing of soil OC loss from thawed forest peat depends substantially on variation in OC input rates to bog peat and variation in decay constants for shallow and deep OC stocks. These findings suggest that permafrost thaw and the subsequent release of OC from thawed peat will likely reduce the strength of northern permafrost-affected peatlands as a carbon dioxide sink, and consequently, will likely accelerate rates of atmospheric warming. © 2011 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC (outside the USA).


O'Donnell J.A.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | Harden J.W.,U.S. Geological Survey | Mcguire A.D.,U.S. Geological Survey | Kanevskiy M.Z.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | And 2 more authors.
Global Change Biology | Year: 2011

High-latitude regions store large amounts of organic carbon (OC) in active-layer soils and permafrost, accounting for nearly half of the global belowground OC pool. In the boreal region, recent warming has promoted changes in the fire regime, which may exacerbate rates of permafrost thaw and alter soil OC dynamics in both organic and mineral soil. We examined how interactions between fire and permafrost govern rates of soil OC accumulation in organic horizons, mineral soil of the active layer, and near-surface permafrost in a black spruce ecosystem of interior Alaska. To estimate OC accumulation rates, we used chronosequence, radiocarbon, and modeling approaches. We also developed a simple model to track long-term changes in soil OC stocks over past fire cycles and to evaluate the response of OC stocks to future changes in the fire regime. Our chronosequence and radiocarbon data indicate that OC turnover varies with soil depth, with fastest turnover occurring in shallow organic horizons (~60 years) and slowest turnover in near-surface permafrost (>3000 years). Modeling analysis indicates that OC accumulation in organic horizons was strongly governed by carbon losses via combustion and burial of charred remains in deep organic horizons. OC accumulation in mineral soil was influenced by active layer depth, which determined the proportion of mineral OC in a thawed or frozen state and thus, determined loss rates via decomposition. Our model results suggest that future changes in fire regime will result in substantial reductions in OC stocks, largely from the deep organic horizon. Additional OC losses will result from fire-induced thawing of near-surface permafrost. From these findings, we conclude that the vulnerability of deep OC stocks to future warming is closely linked to the sensitivity of permafrost to wildfire disturbance. © 2010 Blackwell 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.

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