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Modelling climate change effects on the spatial distribution of mountain permafrost at three sites in northwest Canada

Modelling climate change effects on the spatial distribution of mountain permafrost at three sites in northwest Canada,10.1007/s10584-010-9818-5,Clima

Modelling climate change effects on the spatial distribution of mountain permafrost at three sites in northwest Canada  
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Spatial models of present-day mountain permafrost probability were perturbed to examine potential climate change impacts. Mean annual air temperature (MAAT) changes were simulated by adjusting elevation in the models, and cloud cover changes were examined by altering the partitioning of direct beam and diffuse radiation within the calculation for potential incoming solar radiation (PISR). The effects of changes in MAAT on equilibrium permafrost distribution proved to be more important than those due to cloud cover. Under a −2 K scenario (approximating Little Ice Age conditions), permafrost expanded into an additional 22–43% of the study areas as zonal boundaries descended by 155–290 m K − 1. Under warming scenarios, permafrost probabilities progressively declined and zonal boundaries rose in elevation. A MAAT change of +5 K, caused two of the areas to become essentially permafrost-free. The absolute values of these predictions were affected up to ±10% when lapse rates were altered by ±1.5 K km − 1 but patterns and trends were maintained. A higher proportion of diffuse radiation (greater cloud cover) produced increases in permafrost extent of only 2–4% while decreases in the diffuse radiation fraction had an equal but opposite effect. Notwithstanding the small change in overall extent, permafrost probabilities on steep south-facing slopes were significantly impacted by the altered partitioning. Combined temperature and PISR partitioning scenarios produced essentially additive results, but the impact of changes in the latter declined as MAAT increased. The modelling illustrated that mountain permafrost in the discontinuous zone is sensitive spatially to long-term climate change and identified those areas where changes may already be underway following recent atmospheric warming.
Journal: Climatic Change , vol. 105, no. 1, pp. 293-312, 2011
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