Linking water and permafrost dynamics

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University

Abstract: The extent and dynamics of permafrost are tightly linked to the distribution and movement of water in arctic landscapes. As the Arctic warms more rapidly than the global average, profound changes are expected in both permafrost and hydrology; however, much is still not known about the interactions between these two systems. The aim of this thesis is to provide new knowledge on the links between permafrost and hydrology under varying environmental conditions and across different scales. The objectives are to (i) determine how permafrost distributions and patterns in morphology are linked to hydrology, (ii) determine how groundwater flow influences ground temperature dynamics in permafrost landscapes, and (iii) explore the mechanisms that link permafrost to groundwater and streamflow dynamics. A range of methods have been applied within the four studies (papers I-IV) comprising the thesis: geophysical (ground penetrating radar and electrical resistivity tomography) and GIS techniques for mapping and analyzing permafrost distributions and related morphology; numerical modeling of coupled heat and water fluxes for mechanistic understanding permafrost-hydrological links; and statistical analyses for detecting trends in streamflow associated with permafrost thaw. Combining these various methods here allows for, and may be considered a prerequisite for, novel insights to processes. The thesis also presents statistical analyses of field observations of ground temperatures, ground- and surface water levels, as well as lake and shore morphological variables. Discontinuous permafrost peatlands are heterogeneous environments regarding permafrost distributions and thickness which is manifested in surface systems such as lake geometries. In these environments, lateral groundwater fluxes, which are not considered in most permafrost models, can significantly influence ground temperature dynamics, especially during high groundwater gradient conditions. River discharge data provide a potential for monitoring catchment-scale changes in permafrost, as the magnitude and seasonality of groundwater fluxes feeding into streams are affected by the distribution of permafrost. This thesis highlights the need to understand water and permafrost as an integrated system with potential internal feedback processes. For example, permafrost thaw can lead to increases in groundwater discharge which in turn can lead to increased heat transfer through the ground, resulting in further acceleration of permafrost thaw rates.