A retrospective analysis of pan Arctic permafrost using the JULES land surface model
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- Burke, E.J., Dankers, R., Jones, C.D. et al. Clim Dyn (2013) 41: 1025. doi:10.1007/s00382-012-1648-x
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There is mounting evidence that permafrost degradation has occurred over the past century. However, the amount of permafrost lost is uncertain because permafrost is not readily observable over long time periods and large scales. This paper uses JULES, the land surface component of the Hadley Centre global climate model, driven by different realisations of twentieth century meteorology to estimate the pan-arctic changes in near-surface permafrost. Model simulations of permafrost are strongly dependent on the amount of snow both in the driving meteorology and the way it is treated once it reaches the ground. The multi-layer snow scheme recently adopted by JULES significantly improves its estimates of soil temperatures and permafrost extent. Therefore JULES, despite still having a small cold bias in soil temperatures, can now simulate a near-surface permafrost extent which is comparable to that observed. Changes in snow cover have been shown to contribute to changes in permafrost and JULES simulates a significant decrease in late twentieth century pan-Arctic spring snow cover extent. In addition, large-scale modelled changes in the active layer are comparable with those observed over northern Russia. Simulations over the period 1967–2000 show a significant loss of near-surface permafrost—between 0.55 and 0.81 million km2 per decade with this spread caused by differences in the driving meteorology. These runs also show that, for the grid cells where the active layer has increased significantly, the mean increase is ~10 cm per decade. The permafrost degradation discussed here is mainly caused by an increase in the active layer thickness driven by changes in the large scale atmospheric forcing. However, other processes such as thermokarst development and river and coastal erosion may also occur enhancing permafrost loss.