08 Jul 2022
08 Jul 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ESurf.

Simulating the effect of subsurface drainage on the thermal regime and ground ice in blocky terrain, Norway

Cas Renette1, Kristoffer Aalstad1, Juditha Aga1, Robin Benjamin Zweigel1,2, Bernd Etzelmüller1, Karianne Staalesen Lilleøren1, Ketil Isaksen3, and Sebastian Westermann1 Cas Renette et al.
  • 1Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
  • 2Centre for Biogeochemistry of the Anthropocene, UiO, Oslo
  • 3Norwegian Meteorological Institute, Oslo, Norway

Abstract. Ground temperatures in coarse, blocky deposits such as mountain blockfields and rock glaciers have long been observed to be lower in comparison with other (sub)surface material. One of the reasons for this negative temperature anomaly is the lower soil moisture content in blocky terrain, which decreases the duration of the zero curtain in autumn. Here we used the CryoGrid community model to simulate the effect of drainage in blocky terrain permafrost at two sites in Norway. The model setup features a surface energy balance, heat conduction and advection, as well as a bucket water scheme with adjustable lateral drainage. We used three idealized subsurface stratigraphies, denoted blocks only, blocks with sediment and sediment only and are either drained or undrained of water, resulting in six ‘scenarios’. The main difference between the three stratigraphies is their ability to retain water against drainage: while the blocks only stratigraphy can only hold small amounts of water, much more water is retained within the sediment phase of the two other stratigraphies, which critically modifies the freeze-thaw behaviour.

The simulation results show markedly lower ground temperatures in the blocks only, drained scenario compared to other scenarios, with negative thermal anomaly of up to 1.8–2.2 °C. For this scenario, the model can in particular simulate the time evolution of ground ice, with build-up during and after snow melt and spring and gradual lowering of the ice table in the course of the summer season. We simulate stable permafrost conditions at the location of a rock glacier in northern Norway with a mean annual ground surface temperature of 2.0–2.5 °C in the blocks only, drained simulations. Finally, transient simulations at the rock glacier site showed a complete or partial lowering of the ground ice table since 1951 for all simulations except the blocks only, drained run.

The interplay between the subsurface water/ice balance and ground freezing/thawing driven by heat conduction can at least partly explain the occurrence of permafrost in coarse blocky terrain below the assumed elevational limit of permafrost. It is thus important to consider this effect in future efforts on permafrost distribution mapping in mountainous areas. Furthermore, an accurate prediction of the evolution of the ground ice table in a future climate can have implications for slope stability, as well as water resources in arid environments.

Cas Renette et al.

Status: open (until 13 Sep 2022)

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Cas Renette et al.

Data sets

Parameter files and code for simulations in "Simulating the effect of subsurface drainage on the thermal regime and ground ice in blocky terrain, Norway" Cas Renette

Cas Renette et al.


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Short summary
One of the reasons for lower ground temperatures in coarse, blocky terrain is a low or varying soil moisture content, which most permafrost modelling studies did not take into account. We used the CryoGrid community model to successfully simulate this effect and found markedly lower temperatures in well drained, blocky deposits compared to other setups. The inclusion of this drainage effect is another step towards a better model representation of blocky mountain terrain in permafrost regions.