• Dynamic Modeling Of The Hydrologic Processes In Areas Of Discontinuous Permafrost

      Bolton, William Robert; Hinzman, Larry (2006)
      The overarching hypothesis of this dissertation is "in the sub-arctic environment, the presence or absence of permafrost is dominant influence on hydrologic processes." The presence or absence of permafrost is the defining hydrologic characteristic in the sub-arctic environment. Discontinuous permafrost introduces very distinct changes in soil hydraulic properties, which introduce sharp discontinuities in hydrologic processes and ecosystem characteristics. Hydraulic properties vary over short and long time scales as the active layer thaws over the course of a summer or with changes in permafrost extent. The influence of permafrost distribution, active layer thaw depth, and wildfire on the soil moisture regime and stream flow were explored through a combination of field-based observations and computer simulations. Ice-rich conditions at the permafrost table do not allow significant percolation of surface waters, which result in saturated soils near the ground surface and limited subsurface storage capacity, compared to well-drained non-permafrost sites. The removal of vegetation by wildfire results in short-term (<10 years) increases in moisture content through reduced evapotranspiration. Long-term (>10 years) drying of soils in moderate to severe wildfire sites is the result of an increased active layer depth and storage capacity. A spatially-distributed, process-based hydrologic model, TopoFlow, was modified to allow spatial and temporal variation in the hydraulic conductivity and porosity of soils. By continual variation of the hydraulic conductivity (proxy for permafrost distribution and active layer thaw depth) and porosity (proxy for storage capacity), the dynamic soil properties found in the sub-arctic environment are adequately represented. The sensitivity of TopoFlow to changes in permafrost condition, vegetation regime, and evapotranspiration is analyzed. The net result of the field observations and computer simulations conducted in this research suggest the presence or absence of permafrost is the dominant influence on soil moisture dynamics and has an important, but secondary role in the stream flow processes.