, Volume 49, Issue 1-2, pp 41-76

An Amplified Signal of Climatic Change in Soil Temperatures during the Last Century at Irkutsk, Russia

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Abstract

Climatic changes at the Earth's surface propagate slowly downward into theground and modify the ambient ground thermal regime. However, causes of soiltemperature changes in the upper few meters are not well documented. One majorobstacle to understanding the linkage between the soil thermal regime andclimatic change is the lack of long-term observations of soil temperatures andrelated climatic variables. Such measurements were made throughout the formerSoviet Union with some records beginning at the end of the 19th century. Inthis paper, we use records from Irkutsk, Russia, to demonstrate how the soiltemperature responded to climatic changes over the last century. Both airtemperature and precipitation at Irkutsk increased from the late 1890s to the1990s. Changes in air temperature mainly occurred in winter, while changes inprecipitation happened mainly during summer. There was an anti-correlationbetween mean annual air temperature and annual total precipitation, i.e., more(less) precipitation during cold (warm) years. There were no significanttrends of changes in the first day of snow on the ground in autumn, but snowsteadily disappeared earlier in spring, resulting in a reduction of the snowcover duration. A grass-covered soil experiences seasonal freezing for morethan nine months each year and the long-term average maximum depth ofseasonally frozen soils was about 177 cm with a range from 91 cm to 260 cm.The relatively lower soil temperature at shallow depths appears to representthe so-called `thermal offset' in seasonally frozen soils. Changes in meanannual air temperature and soil temperature at 40 cm depth were about the samemagnitude (2.0 °C to 2.5 °C) over the common period of record, but thepatterns of change were substantially different. Mean annual air temperatureincreased slightly until the 1960s, while mean annual soil temperatureincreased steadily throughout the entire period. This leads to the conclusionthat changes in air temperature alone cannot explain the changes in soiltemperatures at this station. Soil temperature actually decreased duringsummer months by up to 4 °C, while air temperature increased slightly.This cooling in the soil may be explained by changes in rainfall and hencesoil moisture during summer due to the effect of a soil moisture feedbackmechanism. While air temperature increased about 4 °C to 6 °C duringwinter, soil temperature increased by up to 9 °C. An increase in snowfallduring early winter (October and November) and early snowmelt in spring mayplay a major role in the increase of soil temperatures through the effects ofinsulation and albedo changes. Due to its relatively higher thermalconductivity compared to unfrozen soils, seasonally frozen ground may enhancethe soil cooling, especially in autumn and winter when thermal gradient isnegative.