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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Short summary
How will widespread permafrost thaw and disappearance across the circumpolar subarctic region transform forests and other landcovers, ground surface energy balances and hydrological processes? In this study we explore the consequences of climate change-induced permafrost thaw across a 300 000 square-kilometre region of northwestern Canada's discontinuous permafrost zone by presenting the current trajectory of landcover change from forested peatlands to wetland-dominated terrain.
Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2020-411
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2020-411

  22 Sep 2020

22 Sep 2020

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

The trajectory of landcover change in peatland complexes with discontinuous permafrost, northwestern Canada

Olivia Carpino1, Kristine Haynes1, Ryan Connon2, James Craig3, Élise Devoie3, and William Quinton1 Olivia Carpino et al.
  • 1Cold Regions Research Centre, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 3C5, Canada
  • 2Environment and Natural Resources, Government of the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, X1A 2L9, Canada
  • 3Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 3G1, Canada

Abstract. The discontinuous permafrost zone is undergoing rapid transformation as a result of unprecedented permafrost thaw brought on by circumpolar climate warming. Rapid climate warming over recent decades has significantly decreased the area underlain by permafrost in peatland complexes. It has catalyzed extensive landscape transitions in the Taiga Plains of northwestern Canada, transforming forest-dominated landscapes to those that are wetland-dominated. The high rate and large spatial extent of this thaw-induced landcover transformation indicates that this region is particularly sensitive to warming temperatures and will continue to respond to climatic changes and landscape disturbances. This study explores the current trajectory of landcover change across a 300 000 km2 region of northwestern Canada's discontinuous permafrost zone by presenting a space-for-time substitution that capitalizes on the region's 600 km latitudinal span. To illustrate this trajectory of change we present the distribution of peatland-rich environments that govern permafrost coverage in this region of the discontinuous permafrost zone. We also establish that relatively undisturbed forested plateau-wetland complexes dominate the region's higher latitudes, forest-wetland patchworks are most prevalent at the medial latitudes, and forested peatlands are increasingly present across lower latitudes, indicating not only a climatic gradient but also a landscape in transition as local mean temperatures increase. This study combines extensive geomatics data with ground-based meteorological and hydrological measurements to inform a new conceptual model of landscape evolution that accounts for the observed patterns of permafrost thaw-induced landcover change, and provides a basis for predicting future changes.

Olivia Carpino et al.

 
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Olivia Carpino et al.

Olivia Carpino et al.

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Short summary
How will widespread permafrost thaw and disappearance across the circumpolar subarctic region transform forests and other landcovers, ground surface energy balances and hydrological processes? In this study we explore the consequences of climate change-induced permafrost thaw across a 300 000 square-kilometre region of northwestern Canada's discontinuous permafrost zone by presenting the current trajectory of landcover change from forested peatlands to wetland-dominated terrain.
Citation