Climatic Change

, Volume 30, Issue 1, pp 57–73 | Cite as

Disequilibrium response of permafrost in boreal continental western Canada to climate change

  • Linda A. Halsey
  • Dale H. Vitt
  • Stephen C. Zoltai


In the boreal forest of continental western Canada, permafrost is restricted toSphagnum-dominated peatlands on which air photo interpretation reveals the occurrence of five types of surface physiography. Concentrated in the northern part of the boreal forest, permafrost is present in peat plateaus with and without collapse scars. In the southern part of the boreal forest, continental bogs dominate, representing ombrotrophic peatlands that have never contained permafrost. In the midboreal zone, internal lawns are present in bogs and in fens. These internal lawns do not presently contain permafrost but did in the recent past, representing degradation of permafrost since the Little Ice Age. Evaluation of the distribution of these peat landforms indicates that today 30% of bogs contain permafrost at the −0.4 °C isotherm and 50% of bogs contain permafrost at the −1.2 °C isotherm, whereas in the past, 30% of bogs contained permafrost at the −1.4 °C isotherm and 50% of bogs contained permafrost at the −2.3 °C isotherm. Although spatial degradation has occurred with a shifting of permafrost northwards in response to warming since the Little Ice Age, permafrost cover has increased in any given area where present-day temperatures are between 0.5 and −3.5 °C.


Climate Change Boreal Forest Recent Past Photo Interpretation Ombrotrophic Peatlands 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Allard, M. and Seguin, M. K.: 1987, ‘Le Pergélisol au Québec Nordique: Bilan et Perspectives’,Géogr. Physiq. Quatern. 41, 141–152.Google Scholar
  2. Anisimov, O. A.: 1989, ‘Changing Climate and Permafrost Distribution in the Soviet Arctic’,Phys. Geogr. 10, 285–293.Google Scholar
  3. Box, G. E. P. and Jenkins, G. M.: 1976,Time Series Analysis: Forecasting and Control, Holden-Day Inc., 575 pp.Google Scholar
  4. Brown, R. J. E.: 1966, ‘The Relationship between Mean Annual Air and Ground Temperatures in the Permafrost Regions of Canada’, Proceedings of the International Permafrost Conference, National Research Council Publication1287, 241–246.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, R. J. E.: 1967, ‘Permafrost in Canada’, Geological Survey of Canada Map 1246A.Google Scholar
  6. Brown, R. J. E.: 1969, ‘Jointing, Aspect and the Orientation of Scarp-Face Dry Valleys, near Ivinghoe, Buckinghamshire’,Transact. Instit. Brit. Geogr. 48, 61–73.Google Scholar
  7. Budyko, M. I., Yefimova, N. A., and Lokshina, I. Y.: 1990, ‘Anticipated Modifications of Global Climate’, Izvestiya Akademii Nauk U.S.S.R., Seriya Geograficheskaya1989, 45–55 (in Russian; English translation appears inSoviet Geography 31, 11–24).Google Scholar
  8. Burn, C. R., Michel, F. A., and Smith, M. W.: 1986, ‘Stratigraphic, Isotopic, and Mineralogical Evidence for an Early Holocene Thaw Unconformity at Mayo, Yukon Territory’,Canad. J. Earth Sci. 23, 794–803.Google Scholar
  9. Campbell, I. D. and McAndrews, J. H.: 1994, ‘Forest Disequilibrium Caused by Rapid Little Ice Age Cooling’,Nature 366, 336–338.Google Scholar
  10. Cermack, V.: 1973, ‘Paleoclimatic Significance of Measuring Temperature of Permafrost’, inPermafrost, U.S.S.R. Contribution, Second International Conference 1973, National Academy of Sciences, Washington D.C., pp. 112–113.Google Scholar
  11. Dionne, J.-C. and Seguin, M. K.: 1992, ‘Recherches sur le Pergélisol dans la Région de Blanc-Sablon, Québec’, Geological Survey of Canada Paper92-1, 59–65.Google Scholar
  12. French, H. M.: 1970, ‘Soil Temperature in the Active Layer’, Beaufort Plain’,Arctic 23, 229–239.Google Scholar
  13. Gorham, E.: 1991, ‘Northern Peatlands: Role in the Carbon Cycle and Probable Responses to Climatic Warming’,Ecolog. Applic. 1, 182–195.Google Scholar
  14. Grove, J. M.: 1988,The Little Ice Age, Meuthen, New York, 498 pp.Google Scholar
  15. Halsey, L. A., Vitt, D. H., and Zoltai, S. C.: 1993, ‘Distribution of Past and Present Ombrotrophic and Permafrost Landform Features’, Province of Alberta Maps, Edmonton (1 : 1,000,000 map).Google Scholar
  16. Harris, S. A.: 1986, ‘Permafrost Distribution, Zonation and Stability along the Eastern Ranges of the Cordillera of North America’,Arctic 39, 29–38.Google Scholar
  17. Heginbottom, J. A.: ‘The Mapping of Permafrost’,Canad. Geogr. 28, 78–83.Google Scholar
  18. Hopkins, D. M.: 1959, ‘Some Characteristics of the Climate in Forest and Tundra Regions of Alaska’,Arctic 12, 215–220.Google Scholar
  19. Johnston, G. H.: 1981,Permafrost: Engineering Design and Construction, John Wiley and Sons, Toronto.Google Scholar
  20. Jacoby, G. C. and D'Arrigo, R.: 1992, ‘Spatial Patterns of Tree-Growth Anomalies from the North American Boreal Treeline in the Early 1800s, Including the Year 1816’, in Harrington, C. R. (ed.),The Year without a Summer? World Climate in 1816, Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, pp. 255–265.Google Scholar
  21. Kudryavtsev, V. A., Kondrat'eva, K. A., and Romanovskii, N. N.: 1980, ‘Zonal and Regional Patterns of the Permafrost Region in the U.S.S.R.’, in Proceedings of the Third International Conference of Permafrost, English Translation, Part 1, National Research Council of Canada, pp. 37–389.Google Scholar
  22. Kwong, Y.T.J., and Gan, T.Y.: 1994, Northward Migration of Permafrost along the Mackenzie Highway and Climatic Warming,Clim. Change 26, 399–419.Google Scholar
  23. Lagarec, D.: 1982, ‘Cryogenetic Mounds as Indicators of Permafrost Conditions, Northern Quebec’, in Proceedings of the Fourth Canadian Permafrost Conference, pp. 43–48.Google Scholar
  24. Lough, J. M.: 1992, ‘Climate in 1816 and 1811-20 as Reconstructed from Western North American Tree-Ring Chronologies’, in Harrington, C. R. (ed.),The Year without a Summer? World Climate in 1816, Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, pp. 97–114.Google Scholar
  25. Luckman, B. H., Holdsworth, G., and Osborn, G. D.: 1993, ‘Neoglacial Glacier Fluctuations in the Canadian Rockies’,Quatern. Res. 39, 144–153.Google Scholar
  26. Mackay, J. R.: 1975, ‘Relict Ice Wedges, Pelly Island, N.W.T.’,Geological Survey of Canada Paper75-1A, 469–470.Google Scholar
  27. Mollard, J. D. and Janes, J. R.: 1984,Airphoto Interpretation and the Canadian Landscape, Canada Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, Ottawa, 416 pp.Google Scholar
  28. Nelson, F. E.: 1986, ‘Permafrost Distribution in Central Canada: Applications of a Climate-Based Predictive Model’,Annals Assoc. Amer. Geogr. 76, 550–569.Google Scholar
  29. Nelson, F. E.: 1989, ‘Permafrost Zonation in Eastern Canada: A Review of Published Maps’,Phys. Geogr. 10, 233–248.Google Scholar
  30. Nicholson, B. J. and Vitt, D. H.: 1990, ‘The Paleoecology of a Peatland Complex in Continental Western Canada’,Canad. J. Botany 68, 121–138.Google Scholar
  31. Nicholson, F. H.: 1978, ‘Permafrost Distribution and Characteristics near Schefferville, Quebec’, Proceedings of the Third International Permafrost Conference, Edmonton, Alberta, National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, pp. 427–433.Google Scholar
  32. Orlóci, L. and Kenkel, N. C.: 1985,Introduction to Data Analysis with Examples from Populations and Community Ecology, International Co-operative Publishing House, Fairland, 339 pp.Google Scholar
  33. Péwé, T. L.: 1983, ‘Alpine Permafrost in the Contiguous United States: A Review’,Arctic Alpine Res. 15, 145–156.Google Scholar
  34. Rockware, Inc.: 1991,MacGridzo, Rockware Inc., Wheat Ridge, 254 pp.Google Scholar
  35. Schweingruber, F. H., Briffa, K. R., and Jones, P. D.: 1991, ‘Yearly Maps of Summer Temperatures in Western Europe from A.D. 1750 to 1975 and Western North America from 1600–1982’,Vegetatio 92, 5–71.Google Scholar
  36. Schweger, C. E. and Hickman, M.: 1989, ‘Holocene Paleohydrology of Central Alberta: Testing the General-Circulation-Model Climate Simulations’,Canad. J. Earth Sci. 26, 1826–1833.Google Scholar
  37. Sjörs, H.: 1959, ‘Bogs and Fens in the Hudson Bay Lowlands’,Arctic 12, 3–19.Google Scholar
  38. Tarnocai, C.: 1972, ‘The Use of Remote Sensing Techniques to Study Peatland and Vegetation Types, Organic Soils and Permafrost in the Boreal Region of Manitoba’, Proceedings of the First Canadian Symposium on Remote Sensing, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, Ottawa, pp. 323–335.Google Scholar
  39. Tedrow, J. C. F. and Harris, H.: 1960, ‘Tundra Soils in Relation to Vegetation, Permafrost, and Glaciation’,Oikos 11, 237–249.Google Scholar
  40. Thie, J.: 1974, ‘Distribution and Thawing of Permafrost in the Southern Part of the Discontinuous Permafrost Zone in Manitoba’,Arctic 27, 189–200.Google Scholar
  41. Tyrtikov, A. P.: 1964, ‘Principles of Geocryology’, Academy of Science of the U.S.S.R., Moscow, National Research Council Tech. Translation 1163, pp. 399–421.Google Scholar
  42. Viereck, L. A.: 1973, ‘Ecological Effects of River Flooding and Forest Firest on Permafrost in the Taiga of Alaska’, Permafrost; North American Contribution, Second International Permafrost Conference, Yakutsk, U.S.S.R., National Academy of Science Publication2115, 60–67.Google Scholar
  43. Vitt, D. H. (Project Leader): 1992, ‘The Peatlands of Alberta: A 1: 1,000,000 Summary Map’, Nicholson, B. J. and Halsey, L. A. (eds.), Alberta Forestry, Lands and Wildlife and Maps Alberta, Edmonton.Google Scholar
  44. Vitt, D. H., Halsey, L. A. and Zoltai, S. C.: 1994a, ‘The Bog Landforms of Continental Western Canada Relative to Climate and Permafrost Patterns’,Arctic Alpine Res. 26, 1–13.Google Scholar
  45. Vitt, D. H., Bayley, S. E., and Jin, T.-L.: 1994b, ‘Seasonal Variation in Water Chemistry over a Bog-Rich Fen Gradient in Continental Western Canada’,Canad. J. Fish. Aquatic Sci. (in press).Google Scholar
  46. Woo, M., Lewkowicz, A. G., and Rouse, W. R.: 1992, ‘Response of the Canadian Permafrost Environment to Climatic Change’,Phys. Geogr. 13, 287–317.Google Scholar
  47. Zoltai, S. C.: 1971, ‘Southern Limit of Permafrost Features in Peat Landforms, Manitoba and Saskatchewan’, Geological Association of Canada, Special Paper9, 305–310.Google Scholar
  48. Zoltai, S. C.: 1972, ‘Palsas and Peat Plateaus in Central Manitoba and Saskatchewan’,Canad. J. Forest Res. 2, 291–302.Google Scholar
  49. Zoltai, S. C.: 1993, ‘Cyclic Development of Permafrost in the Peatlands in the Western Arctic and Subarctic of Canada’,Canad. J. Earth Sci. 12, 28–43.Google Scholar
  50. Zoltai, S. C., Taylor, S., Jeglum, J. K., Mills, G. G., and Johnson, J. D.: 1988, ‘Wetlands of Boreal Canada’, in Rubec, C. D. A. (Co-ordinator),Wetlands of Canada, Polyscience Publications Inc., Montreal, pp. 97–154.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linda A. Halsey
    • 1
  • Dale H. Vitt
    • 1
  • Stephen C. Zoltai
    • 2
  1. 1.Devonian Botanic Garden and Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of AlbertaEdmonton, AlbertaCanada
  2. 2.Canadian Forest ServiceNorthern Forestry CentreEdmonton, AlbertaCanada

Personalised recommendations