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When is the Permafrost

Carbon Tipping Point?


Me

Lin Liu

Alessio
Gusmereli

Tim
Schaefer

Kevin Schaefer
National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado

Tingjun
Zhang

Permafrost Primer
Permafrost: Ground at or
below 0C for at least 2
consecutive years
Active Layer: A layer over
permafrost that freezes and
thaws annually
Permafrost Degradation: A
decrease in permafrost
extent; an increase in active
layer thickness.

Skiklomanov [2007]

Permafrost Classification

Permafrost Classification by Area


Continuous (>90% of area)
Discontinuous (50-90% of area)
Sporadic (10-50% of area)
Isolated (<10% of area)

Brown et al., 1998; Zhang et al., 1999

Permafrost Distribution by Country

Permafrost Profile
Vegetation

ActiveLayer

Permafrost

Permafrost Profile

Exposed permafrost by river, Siberia


[Davis, 2000]

Thermokarst, Alaska

Cryoturbation
Movement of soil or rock due to
repeated freezing and thawing

Vegetation
Active
Layer

Permafrost
Pleistocene Cryoturbation,France

Permafrost Features

FrostHeave,Yamal

StoneCircles,Svalbard

StoneCircles,NWTerritories

Stripes,GlacierNP

Ice Wedges and Polygons


1stWinter
ActiveLayer

Frozen

1stSpring

Frozen

Thawed

Permafrost
Soilcontracts
&cracks

Polygons, Yena

100thWinter

Crackfillswith
water&freezes

100thSpring
Thawed

Ice
Wedge

Polygons, Prudhoe Bay [Zhang, 2009]

Ice Lenses and Layers


Year1
ActiveLayer

Permafrost

Capillary
suctionof
waterto
permafrost
IceLens
Waterfreezes
&expands

IceLenses

Year
1,000

ActiveLayer

Permafrost

IceLayer

Permafrost is Like Concrete

Wickland

Schaefer

Thermokarst
Thermokarst: subsidence or collapse of ground
surface due to melting of ground ice

Slope Mountain, Alaska [Schaefer, 2012]

Impacts of Degradation
Foundation Settling
in Chersky

Alaska Road Heaves

Qinghai-Xizang Highway Bridge

Thermokarst in Yakutsk [Skiklomanov, 2005]

Impacts of Degradation

Coastal Erosion, Alaska

Drying lake, Tibet [Zhang, 2007]

Rockfall, Matterhorn [Gruber, 2003]

Ice-wedge thaw, Alaska [Davis, 2000]

Global Carbon Cycle


Atmosphere
750 Gt + 3 Gt yr-1

120

119

Vegetation 600 Gt
Soils 1400 Gt
Permafrost 1466 Gt

1.9

1.7

90

88

Ocean
38,000 Gt
Fossil Fuel
4000 Gt

Permafrost Carbon Burial


~1466 Gt C in permafrost [Tarnocai et al., 2009]
Deposition (loess, peat,
erosion, volcanic)
Soil
Depth
Active Layer
Permafrost
Horizon
Permafrost

Permafrost Carbon

Mammoth, Siberia

32,000 year old grass, Alaska

30,000 year old roots, Siberia


[Zimov et al., 2006]

15,000 year old moss, North Slope


[Schaefer , 2012]

Permafrost Carbon Feedback


Amplification of
warming due to release
of CO2 and CH4 from
thawing permafrost

Methane Release from Thawing Permafrost


Methane
emissio
emission
n

Peat
Thaw bulb
Permafrost

Methane
production

Thermokarst
Erosion

Dead
plant &
animal
remains

Burning methane over a


thermokarst lake in
Siberia (K. Walter)
K. Walter ftkmw1@uaf.edu

IPCC A1B Scenario


Atmospheric CO2 (ppm)

800
700
600
500
400
300
200
1960

2000

2040

2080

Date (year)

2120

2160

2200

Current Permafrost

Active Layer Thickness ALT (cm)

Projected Permafrost Degradation


HadCM3 (med)

Active Layer Thickness ALT (cm)

Projected Permafrost Loss


Increase in ALT by 2200 (cm)

CCSM3 (low)
29% loss

HadCM3 (med)
50% loss

MIROC3.2 (high)
59% loss

Cumulative NEE (Gt C)

Permafrost Carbon Tipping Point

PCF Tipping
Point 20234

Date (year)

Arctic switches from a sink to a source

Permafrost Carbon Flux (Gt C)

Cumulative Permafrost Carbon Flux

10437 Gt

19064
Gt

Date (year)

6523% of cumulative
landppm
sink (~160 Gt C)
Equivalentglobal
to 8729

Vostok Ice Core Records

80 ppm

CO2 lags behind temperature by 600400 yr

Paleo-Permafrost Carbon Feedback


Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM)

Orbit perturbations trigger Antarctic permafrost thaw


[DeConto et al. 2011, in review]

PCF and Fossil Fuel Emissions


Both inject old carbon into atmosphere
Both irreversible
A1B scenario: 700 ppm by 2100

1345 Gt C total emissions


190 Gt C permafrost carbon flux
1157 Gt C fossil fuel emissions

Must reduce fossil fuel emissions by additional


15% or overshoot target climate

Conclusions

PCF can explain past climate variability


PCF tipping point in mid 2020s
PCF is strong: 19064 Gt C by 2200
Emission reductions must account for PCF

Tellus B paper: Schaefer et al. [2011]

Backup Slides

The SiBCASA Model


Input
Weather

Boundary Layer
Canopy

NEE

Latent
Heat

Sensible
Heat

GPP
CO2

Temp
Humidity

Temperature

Soil

Moisture

Carbon

Snow

Permafrost Carbon in SiBCASA


Active Layer
Active Layer
Thickness (ALT)
Dmin = max ALT
during spinup

Permafrost
Carbon Pool

Dmax = 3 m
Permafrost

Active Layer

Thawed Carbon
Permafrost
Carbon Pool

Soil
Carbon
Pools

Permafrost

313 Gt C in permafrost carbon pool


91 Gt C in active layer
414 Gt C in top 3 m (575 Gt C estimated*)
*Tarnocai et al. [2009]

Experiment Setup

SiBCASA + ERA40 + A1B scenario


Continuous/discontinuous permafrost
1973-2001: spin up
2002-2200: random ERA40 + linear trend

MIROC3.2 (high)
HadCM3 (med)
CCSM3 (low)

Estimating Uncertainty
18 ensemble members

3 warming rates
3 permafrost carbon densities
2 sub-grid permafrost extents

Best estimate: ensemble mean


Uncertainty: ensemble standard deviation

IPCC A1B Arctic Temperatures


Air Temperature (C)

CCSM3 (low warming)


HadCM3 (medium warming)
MIRC3.2 (high warming)

Average air temperature for permafrost regions

Permafrost Area (%)

Permafrost Area Loss


16954 Gt C
20363 Gt C

Date (year)

21365 Gt C

Frozen Ground Extent


Permafrost
Seasonally Frozen Ground
Intermittently Frozen Ground
Snow Limit

Zhang et al., 2003. EICOP

Permafrost covers 24% of land


surface in Northern Hemisphere

What Drives Permafrost Formation?


Atmosphere

Vegetation

Buffer
Layer

Snow cover

Organic layer

Permafrost

Geothermal

Air Temp (C)

Observed Air
Temperature (C)
2003-4

Snow Depth (cm)

Observed Snow
Depth (cm)
2002-3

Soil Depth (m)

Observed Soil
Temperature (C)
1996-7
Month
Soil Temperature (C)

Barrow,
Alaska

Repeated Soil Freeze/Thaw Cycles Shape


Permafrost Landscape
Water expands ~9% when it freezes into ice
Frost Heave: rising of ground surface when
ground water Freezes
Thaw Settlement: settling of ground surface
when ground ice melts
Moisture Movement: soil moisture moves from
unfrozen zone to frozen front

Permafrost Features

FrostHeave,Yamal

StoneCircles,Svalbard

StoneCircles,NWTerritories

Stripes,GlacierNP

Permafrost Degradation [IPCC, 2007]


4 to 6 C increase in 20th Century
2 to 3 C in last 30 years

1 to 3 C increase
in past several
decades

>3 C increase
mid-1950s to 1990

0 to 1 C increase
since 1970s

Russian Permafrost Temperature Trends

Temperature Anomaly (C)

4
3
2

0.2 m; Trend = +0.78C/decade


0.4 m; Trend = +0.79C/decade
0.8 m; Trend = +0.65C/decade
1.6 m; Trend = +0.55C/decade
3.2 m; Trend = +0.66C/decade

1
0
-1
-2
Frauenfeld et al. [2004]
Zhang et al. [2005]

-3

-4
1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000

Year

Russian Active Layer Trends


Active Layer Depth Anomaly (m)

0.3

19601998 Change: +25 cm

0.2
0.1
0
-0.1
-0.2

Frauenfeld et al. [2004]


Zhang et al. [2005]

-0.3
1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000

Year

Talik Development
Talik: Unfrozen soil layer above permafrost, but
below seasonally frozen surface layer
Soil Temperature at 3.2 m in Central Siberia (C)
1.0

Talik

Permafrost

0.5
Soil Temperature (C)

Seasonally
frozen
ground

0.0
-0.5
-1.0
-1.5

Talik
Forms

-2.0
-2.5
-3.0
1950

1960

1970

Year

1980

1990

2000

Permafrost Carbon
1672 Gt C in permafrost
[Tarnocai et al., 2009]
750 Gt C in atmosphere
Roots, Siberia [Zimov et al., 2006]

Mammoth, Siberia

Humus, Siberia [Davis, 2000]

Projections of Permafrost Degradation


Source
Schaefer et al . [2010]
Zhang et al . [2008]
Saito et al . [2007]
Lawrence and Slater [2005]
Lawrence et al . [2008]

Reduction in
Increase in
Permafrost Area Active Layer
by 2100 (%) Thickness (cm)
4
16-19
60
90
90

19-28
30-80
100-300
500
500

General Pattern: lose area from the south,


increase active layer thickness everywhere

Feedbacks to Atmosphere
Energy balance

Snow Albedo Feedback


Vegetation Albedo Feedback
Sea Ice Loss and Arctic Amplification
Bowen ratio seasonality

Trace Gas Feedbacks

CO2 Fertilization
Permafrost Carbon Feedback

Net Ecosystem Exchange (NEE)


NEE = Respiration - Photosynthesis
Enhanced by
Permafrost
Carbon
Feedback

Enhanced
by CO2
Fertilization

NEE < 0 means net carbon uptake

5819 Gt C by 2200 is a lot of carbon


3.5% of permafrost carbon
269 ppm increase comparable
Vostok Ice Core (80 ppm)
13-27% of global land sink
41% of fossil fuel emissions
for 700 ppm target

Walking Points on Permafrost


Freeze/thaw cycles shape the landscape
Permafrost degradation has already started
Permafrost Carbon Feedback will impact
climate and fossil fuel reduction strategies

When is the Permafrost Carbon


Tipping Point?
Kevin Schaefer1, Tingjun Zhang1,
Lori Bruhwiler2, Andrew P. Barrett1
National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado
2
NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory

Observed Permafrost

Rock Circle Formation

Expand out in winter when frozen

Drop down in spring when thawed

Permafrost Area by Country

Permafrost Class by Country

Seasonally Frozen Ground

Variations of area extent of seasonally frozen


ground and snow in the Northern Hemisphere
during the winter of 1998/99.

Seasonally Frozen
Ground
Monthly maximum area
extent of seasonally frozen
ground
Seasonally frozen ground
is ~65 x 106 km2 or 68% of
the land area in the
Northern Hemisphere.

A Permafrost Model
Site-specific factors
(albedo, roughness,
slope, aspect, snow,
soil texture, etc.)

Climate/Weather

Soil moisture
conditions

Q* QH QLEQG = 0

Soil thermal
properties

Thermal diffusion
equation
Ground
temperature regime

Geothermal
heat flux

Modeling Permafrost
Atmosphere
k = ks( )

Snow

hs(t) = (x,t)

C= CFr(x,T)

Frozen
ground

Thawed
ground

k = kFr (x, T)

Boundary condition: Prescribed temperature, or


heat flux, or surface energy balance
Moving boundary: heat
conduction in deforming medium
Snow-soil interface: heat conduction with
or without phase change

C= CFr (x,T)
T(Zfr ) = Tf
k = kTh (x, T)

C = CTh(x,T)
T(Zth ) = T f

Permafrost or
unfrozen ground
Lower Boundary

Moving phase plane


Heat conduction
Moving phase plane: heat conduction
with or without phase change
Boundary condition: prescribed
temperature or heat flux

Permafrost classification
By area coverage

Continuous (>90% of area)


Discontinuous (50-90% of area)
Sporadic (10-50% of area)
Isolated (<10% of area)

By Location:

Terrestrial
Sub-ice
Sub-sea
Relic

By Coupling with climate:

Exposed (terrestrial)
Submerged (sub-ice, sub-sea, and relic)

Frozen Ground Data Products


http://nsidc.org/fgdc

Arctic EASE-Grid Freeze and Thaw Depths, 1901 - 2002


Arctic Soil Freeze/Thaw Status from SMMR and SSM/I,
Version 2
Circumpolar Active-Layer Permafrost System (CAPS)
Global Annual Freezing and Thawing Indices
Modeled Daily Thaw Depth and Frozen Ground Depth
Northern Hemisphere EASE-Grid Annual Freezing and
Thawing Indices, 1901 - 2002
Northern Hemisphere Seasonal and Intermittently Frozen
Ground Areas 1901-2001
Russian Historical Soil Temperature Data
Time Series of Active Layer Thickness in the Russian Arctic,
1915-1990
Circumpolar Active-Layer Permafrost System (CAPS)

Permafrost Monitoring

Permafrost Carbon in SiBCASA


Dactive

Dthreshold

Dactive

Soil Carbon Pools

Dthreshold

Thawed Carbon
Permafrost
Carbon Pool

Permafrost
Carbon Pool

Dactive = active layer depth


Dthreshold = 1973-2001 maximum active layer depth
permafrost carbon density is 2% by mass

Slow (80%)

Metabolic
(5%)
Structural
(15%)