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Volume 12, issue 6 | Copyright
The Cryosphere, 12, 1957-1968, 2018
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-12-1957-2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 11 Jun 2018

Research article | 11 Jun 2018

Microtopographic control on the ground thermal regime in ice wedge polygons

Charles J. Abolt1,2, Michael H. Young2, Adam L. Atchley3, and Dylan R. Harp3 Charles J. Abolt et al.
  • 1Department of Geological Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA
  • 2Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA
  • 3Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, USA

Abstract. The goal of this research is to constrain the influence of ice wedge polygon microtopography on near-surface ground temperatures. Ice wedge polygon microtopography is prone to rapid deformation in a changing climate, and cracking in the ice wedge depends on thermal conditions at the top of the permafrost; therefore, feedbacks between microtopography and ground temperature can shed light on the potential for future ice wedge cracking in the Arctic. We first report on a year of sub-daily ground temperature observations at 5 depths and 9 locations throughout a cluster of low-centered polygons near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and demonstrate that the rims become the coldest zone of the polygon during winter, due to thinner snowpack. We then calibrate a polygon-scale numerical model of coupled thermal and hydrologic processes against this dataset, achieving an RMSE of less than 1.1°C between observed and simulated ground temperature. Finally, we conduct a sensitivity analysis of the model by systematically manipulating the height of the rims and the depth of the troughs and tracking the effects on ice wedge temperature. The results indicate that winter temperatures in the ice wedge are sensitive to both rim height and trough depth, but more sensitive to rim height. Rims act as preferential outlets of subsurface heat; increasing rim size decreases winter temperatures in the ice wedge. Deeper troughs lead to increased snow entrapment, promoting insulation of the ice wedge. The potential for ice wedge cracking is therefore reduced if rims are destroyed or if troughs subside, due to warmer conditions in the ice wedge. These findings can help explain the origins of secondary ice wedges in modern and ancient polygons. The findings also imply that the potential for re-establishing rims in modern thermokarst-affected terrain will be limited by reduced cracking activity in the ice wedges, even if regional air temperatures stabilize.

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We investigate the relationship between ice wedge polygon topography and near-surface ground temperature using a combination of field work and numerical modeling. We analyze a year-long record of ground temperature across a low-centered polygon, then demonstrate that lower rims and deeper troughs promote warmer conditions in the ice wedge in winter. This finding implies that ice wedge cracking and growth, which are driven by cold conditions, can be impeded by rim erosion or trough subsidence.
We investigate the relationship between ice wedge polygon topography and near-surface ground...
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