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Schaefer K.,University of Colorado at Boulder | Lantuit H.,Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research | Lantuit H.,University of Potsdam | Romanovsky V.E.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | And 3 more authors.
Environmental Research Letters

Degrading permafrost can alter ecosystems, damage infrastructure, and release enough carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) to influence global climate. The permafrost carbon feedback (PCF) is the amplification of surface warming due to CO2 and CH4 emissions from thawing permafrost. An analysis of available estimates PCF strength and timing indicate 120α85 Gt of carbon emissions from thawing permafrost by 2100. This is equivalent to 5.7α4.0% of total anthropogenic emissions for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) representative concentration pathway (RCP) 8.5 scenario and would increase global temperatures by 0.29α0.21 °C or 7.8α5.7%. For RCP4.5, the scenario closest to the 2 °C warming target for the climate change treaty, the range of cumulative emissions in 2100 from thawing permafrost decreases to between 27 and 100 Gt C with temperature increases between 0.05 and 0.15 °C, but the relative fraction of permafrost to total emissions increases to between 3% and 11%. Any substantial warming results in a committed, long-term carbon release from thawing permafrost with 60% of emissions occurring after 2100, indicating that not accounting for permafrost emissions risks overshooting the 2 °C warming target. Climate projections in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), and any emissions targets based on those projections, do not adequately account for emissions from thawing permafrost and the effects of the PCF on global climate. We recommend the IPCC commission a special assessment focusing on the PCF and its impact on global climate to supplement the AR5 in support of treaty negotiation. © 2014 IOP Publishing Ltd. Source

Rinke A.,Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research | Matthes H.,Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research | Christensen J.H.,Danish Meteorological Institute | Christensen J.H.,Greenland Institute of Natural Resources | And 4 more authors.
Global and Planetary Change

A regional climate model with high horizontal resolution (25. km) is used to downscale 20-year-long time slices of present-day (1980-1999) and future (2046-2065, 2080-2099) Arctic climate, as simulated by the ECHAM5/MPI-OM general circulation model under the A1B emission scenario. Changes in simulated air temperature and derived indices at the end of the century indicate that significant impacts on permafrost conditions should be expected. But the magnitude of the change is regionally conditioned beyond what is obvious: Warm permafrost in the sporadic to discontinuous zone is threatened and may degrade or even complete thaw before the end of the century. A decrease in freezing and increase in thawing degree-days is interpreted as potential decrease in seasonal freeze depth and increase in active layer thickness (ALT). We show that for some regions increasing maximum summer temperature is associated with an increase of interannual temperature variability in summer, while in other regions decreased maximum summer temperatures are related to decreased variability. The occurrence of warm/cold summers and spells changes significantly in the future time slices using the present-day criteria for classification. Taken together this implies a regionally varying exposure to significant change in permafrost conditions. In addition to these aspects of the general warming trend that would promote an increase in ALT and a northward shift of the southern permafrost boundary, an analysis of the occurrence of warm summers and spells highlight some particularly vulnerable regions for permafrost degradation (e.g. West Siberian Plain, Laptev Sea coast, Canadian Archipelago), but also some less vulnerable regions (e.g. Mackenzie Mountains). © 2011 Elsevier B.V. Source

Saito K.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | Saito K.,Japan Agency for Marine - Earth Science and Technology | Zhang T.,Lanzhou University | Zhang T.,University of Colorado at Boulder | And 6 more authors.
Ecological Applications

This synthesis paper provides a summary of the major components of the physical terrestrial Arctic and the influences of their changes upon the larger eco-climate system. Foci here are snow cover, permafrost, and land hydrology. During the last century, snow cover duration has shortened in a large portion of the circum-Arctic, mainly because of its early northward retreat in spring due to warming. Winter precipitation has generally increased, resulting in an increase in maximum snow depth over large areas. This is consistent with the increase in river discharge over large Russian watersheds. Soil temperature has also increased, and the active layer has deepened in most of the permafrost regions, whereas thinning of the seasonally frozen layer has been observed in areas not underlain by permafrost. These active components are mutually interrelated, conditioned by ambient micro- to landscape-level topography and local surface and subsurface conditions, and they are closely related with vegetation and ecology, as evidenced by evolution in the late Quaternary. Further, we provide examples and arguments for discussions on the pathways through which changes in the Arctic terrestrial system can affect or propagate to remote areas beyond the Arctic, reaching to the extratropics in the larger climate system. These considerations include dynamical and thermodynamical responses and feedbacks, modification of hemisphere-scale atmospheric circulation associated with troposphere-stratosphere couplings, and moisture intrusion at a continental scale.© 2013 by the Ecological Society of America. Source

Liljedahl A.K.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | Boike J.,Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research | Daanen R.P.,354 College Road | Fedorov A.N.,Melnikov Permafrost Institute | And 17 more authors.
Nature Geoscience

Ice wedges are common features of the subsurface in permafrost regions. They develop by repeated frost cracking and ice vein growth over hundreds to thousands of years. Ice-wedge formation causes the archetypal polygonal patterns seen in tundra across the Arctic landscape. Here we use field and remote sensing observations to document polygon succession due to ice-wedge degradation and trough development in ten Arctic localities over sub-decadal timescales. Initial thaw drains polygon centres and forms disconnected troughs that hold isolated ponds. Continued ice-wedge melting leads to increased trough connectivity and an overall draining of the landscape. We find that melting at the tops of ice wedges over recent decades and subsequent decimetre-scale ground subsidence is a widespread Arctic phenomenon. Although permafrost temperatures have been increasing gradually, we find that ice-wedge degradation is occurring on sub-decadal timescales. Our hydrological model simulations show that advanced ice-wedge degradation can significantly alter the water balance of lowland tundra by reducing inundation and increasing runoff, in particular due to changes in snow distribution as troughs form. We predict that ice-wedge degradation and the hydrological changes associated with the resulting differential ground subsidence will expand and amplify in rapidly warming permafrost regions. © 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved. Source

Jafarov E.E.,University of Colorado at Boulder | Jafarov E.E.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | Romanovsky V.E.,University of Alaska Fairbanks | Romanovsky V.E.,Earth Cryosphere Institute | And 3 more authors.
Environmental Research Letters

Fire is an important factor controlling the composition and thickness of the organic layer in the black spruce forest ecosystems of interior Alaska. Fire that burns the organic layer can trigger dramatic changes in the underlying permafrost, leading to accelerated ground thawing within a relatively short time. In this study, we addressed the following questions. (1) Which factors determine post-fire ground temperature dynamics in lowland and upland black spruce forests? (2) What levels of burn severity will cause irreversible permafrost degradation in these ecosystems? We evaluated these questions in a transient modeling-sensitivity analysis framework to assess the sensitivity of permafrost to climate, burn severity, soil organic layer thickness, and soil moisture content in lowland (with thick organic layers, ∼80 cm) and upland (with thin organic layers, ∼30 cm) black spruce ecosystems. The results indicate that climate warming accompanied by fire disturbance could significantly accelerate permafrost degradation. In upland black spruce forest, permafrost could completely degrade in an 18 m soil column within 120 years of a severe fire in an unchanging climate. In contrast, in a lowland black spruce forest, permafrost is more resilient to disturbance and can persist under a combination of moderate burn severity and climate warming. © 2013 IOP Publishing Ltd. Source

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