Assessing the spatial and temporal dynamics of thermokarst, methane emissions, and related carbon cycling in Siberia and Alaska

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Project Personel

Main Contact: Dr. Guido Grosse
Scientific Personel: G. Grosse (GIPL), K. Walter (INE), V.E. Romanovsky (GIPL)

Graduate students: Ben Jones (PhD), Melanie Engram (MS), Meghan Tillapaugh (MS), Prajna Regmi (PhD)
Involved postdocs: Miriam Jones (INE), Mark Kessler (Dalhousie/UAF)
Collaborators: Lawrence Plug, Dalhousie University, Canada
Lutz Schirrmeister, AWI Potsdam, Germany
Amy Myrbo, LacCore, University of Minneapolis
Lee Slater, Rutgers University
Mary Edwards, University of Southampton, UK
Partner Organizations:

Project duration: 
2008-2012

Project Summary

Thermokarst landscape at one of our main study sites: The Kolyma lowland near Cherskii, Russia

Thermokarst depressions and thermokarst lakes (TKLs) dominate large areas of the arctic land surface and may expand as permafrost continues to warm and thaw, releasing large quantities of methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere. We propose to define the relationship of TKLs to global climate change by developing remote sensing methods to quantify thermokarst and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from TKLs in regions (>1 million km2) of organic-rich, icy permafrost and ice-poor permafrost in Siberia and Alaska. We will use fine and broad scale remote sensing and field validation to determine the role of thermokarst as both a source (GHG release) and sink (peat accumulation) for carbon (C), thereby improving understanding of the behavior of a major C pool (icy permafrost) previously poorly considered in global C cycle sciences. Specifically, we will use remote-sensing based land cover classification and change detection to derive information about thermokarst distribution, initiation, and related changes in land surface properties to improve C-cycle and ecosystem models for Northern Hemisphere permafrost regions. We will test new satellite-based techniques: SAR data will be evaluated for upscaling field-measurements of CH4 bubbling from lakes to regional estimates of lake CH4 emissions through the establishment of a Pan-Arctic Lake-Ice Methane Monitoring Network (PALIMMN). By integration of our remotely sensed spatial data, information derived from multi-temporal satellite data (50 years), radiocarbon dated TKL sediment records (up to ~15,000 years old), and available and predicted climatic data, we will inform the sophisticated 2-D and 3-D numerical permafrost models of our collaborators for prediction of spatial and temporal thermokarst dynamics and related GHG emissions in scenarios for up to 200 years into the future as permafrost warms and thaws under global warming.

Hypotheses

  • Thermokarst results in positive (GHG emissions) and negative (C sequestration) feedbacks to the C cycle, but the release of C from permafrost as GHG's dominates, making thermokarst in high northern latitudes a positive feedback to global climate change.
  • Permafrost degradation by thermokarst formation and expansion of TKLs during the next 100-200 years will release tens of gigatons of CH4 through lakes to the atmosphere, increasing the current atmospheric CH4 burden many-fold.
Research Goals: 

The proposed research has the following four overarching goals:

  1. Quantify the current and long-term distribution and dynamics of thermokarst in Siberia and Alaska
  2. Quantify GHG emissions from arctic lakes using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR)
  3. Assess past, present and future impacts of TKL development on the C cycle, including GHG release and C sinks
  4. Expand understanding of the role of arctic TKLs in global climate change to broad audiences

PALIMMN

Through international collaboration the proposed research will generate a pulse of activity during the IPY and establish a Pan-Arctic Lake-Ice Methane Monitoring Network (PALIMMN). We will repeat early-winter field surveys, which are simple and fast (~2 hrs/lake) of lake-ice bubbles during 3 years at intensive study sites in Cherskii, interior Alaska and Toolik, and only in one year at additional sites: Northern Seward Peninsula, and Barrow, Alaska. International colleagues with ongoing research at a variety of other arctic and sub-arctic sites have committed to conduct parallel lake-ice bubble surveys on 3-20 lakes during the IPY. The distribution of study sites in PALIMMN will capture variation in arctic and boreal lake types. Data generated through PALIMMN will be made available to the IPY meta-analysis effort of the AON in order to evaluate the significance of lake emissions for regional CH4 budgets. Data will be archived for public access through AON at the Arctic LTER database.

We welcome researchers and non-researchers that would like to join this effort. Please contact Dr. Dr. Katey Walter.

Study Sites: 

- Cape Espenberg Lowland, northern Seward Peninsula, Alaska

- Kolyma Lowland, Siberia

- Fairbanks, Barrow, several other sites around Alaska

Fieldwork: 

Our fieldwork broadly includes ground truthing of remote sensing data, thermokarst basin and lake DGPS surveys, geophysical surveys, fieldspectral measurements, lake ice methane bubble surveys, and sedimentological and biogeochemical studies. We cored lake sediments as well as drained thermokarst lake basins and upland sediments.

  • Seward Peninsula June 2008 (reconnaissance and meeting with Shishmaref locals)
  • Seward Peninsula August 2008 (DGPS surveys, field spectrometry, lake surveys, methane seep sampling, exposure sediment and ground ice sampling, data logger installation, geophysical surveys)
  • Seward Peninsula October 2008 (methane bubble and hotspot surveys with DGPS, ground truthing for SAR lake ice remote sensing, more data logger installation)
  • Seward Peninsula April 2009 (lake coring, permafrost coring of drained basins and uplands, DGPS surveys, installation of more data loggers and time lapse cameras, geophysical surveys)
  • Kolyma Lowland (Cherskii and East Siberian Sea coast) August 2009 (exposure sampling, ground truthing for remote sensing, thermokarst lake and basin surveys)
  • Seward Peninsula June 2010 (data logger and time lapse camera maintenance)
  • Seward Peninsula August 2010 (exposure sampling, lake sampling, geophysical surveys, data logger and time lapse camera maintenance)
  • Seward Peninsula June 2011 (data logger and time lapse camera maintenance)
Results: 

publications to add to database before they can be listed below:

Marchenko, S., V. Romanovsky, and G. Tipenko, Numerical Modeling of Spatial Permafrost Dynamics in Alaska, In Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Permafrost, June 29-July 3, Fairbanks, Alaska, 2008, Vol. 2, pp. 1125-1130, 2008.

Education and Outreach: 
  • We initiated a 2-year Remote Sensing Task Force within the International Permafrost Association (IPA) during the Ninth International Conference on Permafrost in June 2008.
  • Follow this extrernal link to the LA Times and read an article about our fieldwork and watch a fantastic video produced by staff journalists accompanying us during an expedition to the Seward Peninsula in October 2008 (article and video were published on 02-20-2009).
  • K. Walter & G. Grosse, June 2008: Public presentation of project goals on the Seward Peninsula to locals in Shishmaref
  • G. Grosse chaired a special session on remote sensing of changes in permafrost landscapes during NICOP - G. Grosse chaired a special session on remote sensing of permafrost during AGU Fall Meeting 2008
  • Walter held a formal workshop and trained 12 participants in the PALIMMN method in Fairbanks including National Park Service scientists, home and public school teachers, Anchorage museum education and outreach coordinators. We informally trained an additional 7 investigators during the Oct. 2008 field season on the Seward Peninsula. Additionally, PI Walter instructed 50 young researchers from 13 countries on the PALIMMN method at the November Permafrost Young Researchers Network training workshop in St. Petersburg, Russia. We developed a preliminary PALIMMN website (http://www.alaska.edu/uaf/cem/ine/walter/ongoing_projects.xml) and have posted ‘How-to...’ documents and protocols describing methods and background scientific information there.
  • G. Grosse continues to be US National Representative of the Permafrost Young Researchers Network (PYRN), an international organization active in attracting young students into a science or engineering career in permafrost-related sciences
  • G. Grosse, V. Romanovsky, and B. Jones were invited participants in the US Fish and Wildlife Service initiated meeting ‘Wildlife Response to Environmental Arctic Change (WildREACH): Predicting Future Habitats of Arctic Alaska’.
  • Grosse, Romanovsky, and Jones were invited experts in the discussion groups on environmental change effects on fish and birds. November 17-18, 2008.
  • V. Romanovsky, June 3, 2008: Lecture at the IARC Summer School 2008, Barrow, AK
  • V. Romanovsky, September 26, 2008: Presentation at the American Meteorological Society Seminar: Accelerating Atmospheric CO2 Growth from Economic Activity, Carbon Intensity, and Efficiency of Natural Carbon Sinks, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC
  • V. Romanovsky, April 26, 2008: Measuring and Modeling Permafrost in Alaska and Russia, Lecture to the ACMP teachers, Fairbanks, Alaska
  • V. Romanovsky, June 2, 2008: Filmed interview to San Francisco Exploratorium for the serial “Exploratorium in Barrow”
  • V. Romanovsky, June 18, 2008: Presentation and participation in discussion at the “Life from IPY” event “IPY Day: Land and Life”
  • V. Romanovsky, October 16, 2008: Participation in teleconference organized by NOAA in relation with the NOAA State of the Arctic Report release
Publications: 
Presentations: 
  1. Arp, C.D., Whitman, M., Jones, B.M., Grosse, G. (2009): Headwater stream morphology, evolution, and feedbacks in a lake-rich, permafrost landscape of the Alaskan Arctic Coastal Plain in a changing climate. Eos Trans. AGU, Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract U41C-0038.
  2. Brosius, L., Walter Anthony, K.M., Chanton, J. (2009): Determining Organic Matter Sources to CH4 Production and Bubbling from Alaskan Lakes using Stable Isotopes and Radiocarbon Ages. Eos Trans. AGU, Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract B41C-0327.
  3. Grosse G (2008): Changing Permafrost Landscapes in North Eurasia:Remote Sensing Observations and Challenges. ESA User Consultation Workshop, AWI Potsdam, Germany, 20-21 February 2008.
  4. Grosse G (2008): Monitoring thaw lake dynamics using high-resolution remote sensing Examples from the Cape Espenberg area (Seward Peninsula) and the Kolyma lowland (Siberia). Workshop on High-Resolution Imagery for Analysis of Environmental Change in Northern Alaska, 17 October 2008, National Park Service, Fairbanks, Alaska, USA. Invited
  5. Grosse G, Tillapaugh M, Romanovsky VE, Walter KM, Plug LJ (2008): Spatial dynamics of thermokarst and thermo-erosion at lakes and ponds in North Siberia and Northwest Alaska using highresolution remote sensing, Eos Trans. AGU, 89(53), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract C13B-05
  6. Grosse G, Walter K, Plug L, Romanovsky V, Edwards M, Slater L (2009): Thermokarst dynamics and related carbon cycling in ice-rich permafrost in NW Alaska. 2nd North American Carbon Program (NACP) All Investigator Meeting, 17-20 Feb 2009. San Diego, USA.
  7. Grosse, G., Walter Anthony, K.M., Romanovsky, V.E., Plug, L.J, Jones, B.M., Edwards, M.E. (2009). Negative climate feedbacks from surface permafrost degradation in the continuous permafrost zone – Thermokarst lakes on the run. Eos Trans. AGU, Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract U44A-07.
  8. Jones, B.M., Grosse, G. Walter Anthony, K.M., Plug, L.J. (2009): Thermokarst lake expansion and drainage in continuous permafrost, northern Seward Peninsula, Alaska, USA . Eos Trans. AGU, Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract U41C-0058.
  9. Kholodov, A., V. Romanovsky, D. Gilichinsky, M. Zheleznyak, V. Rusakov, and S. Davydov, Thermal State of Permafrost in the Northern Yakutia: Responce on the Modern Climate Changes, EGU General Assembly 2009, Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 11, EGU2009-6414, 2009.
  10. Kholodov, A., V.Romanovsky, D.Gilichinsky, E.Rivkina.: Permafrost Response on the Climate Changes in the Northern Yakutia: Modern State and Possible Hazards. NEESPI meeting, July 2009 Krasnoyarsk, Russia.
  11. Marchenko, S, V Romanovsky, J C Comiso, Permafrost and Active Layer Modeling in the Northern Hemisphere using AVHRR Long-Term Records, Eos Trans. AGU, 89(53), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract C13B-08, 2008.
  12. Marchenko, S, V Romanovsky, J C Comiso, Permafrost and Active Layer Modeling Across Alaska and Northern Eurasia using AVHRR Long-Term Records, Lessons from Continuity and Change in the Fourth International Polar Year Symposium, March 4 – 7, 2009, Fairbanks, Inland Northwest Research Alliance, p. 28-29.
  13. Marchenko, S., S. Hachem, V. Romanovsky, and C. Duguay, Permafrost and Active Layer Modeling in the Northern Eurasia using MODIS Land Surface Temperature as an input data, EGU General Assembly 2009, Geophysical Research Abstracts, Vol. 11, EGU2009- 11077, 2009.
  14. Marchenko, S. and V. Romanovsky, Observed and Projected Changes in Permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere, 2009 GSA Annual Meeting (18-21 October 2009), Session No. 269. Crisis in The Cryosphere: Impacts of Planetary Meltdown. Geological Society of America Abstracts, Vol. 41, No. 7, p. 693. Invited.
  15. Nolan J, Parsekian A, Slater L, Plug L, Grosse G, Walter K (2008): Characterization of ice Content in Permafrost Soils on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska Using Induced Polarization. Eos Trans. AGU, 89(53), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract NS12A-05
  16. Nolan, J.T., Slater, L.D., Parsekian, A., Plug, L.J., Grosse, G., Walter Anthony, K.M. (2009): Thaw bulb dimensions determined using electrical imaging across thermokarst lakes, Seward Peninsula, Alaska. Eos Trans. AGU, Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract NS23A-1123.
  17. Plug LJ, Walter K, Grosse G, Anthony P, Smith M (2008): Testing a numerical model for thermokarst lake expansion using morphologic measurements, N. Seward Peninsula, Alaska. Eos Trans. AGU, 89(53), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract: C22A-07.
  18. Romanovsky VE, Kholodov AL, Marchenko SS, Grosse G (2008): Changes in permafrost in Northern Eurasia. Eos Trans. AGU, 89(53), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract GC52A-04
  19. Romanovsky, V. and G. Grosse, Overview of changes in permafrost in Northern Hemisphere; link to Carbon Cycle, LCLUC, University of Maryland, May 1-2, 2008.
  20. Romanovsky, V., G. Grosse and S. Marchenko, Past, Present, and Future of Permafrost in a Changing World, Geological Society of America 2008 Joint Annual Meeting, October 2008, Houston, TX.
  21. Romanovsky, V., Past, Present and Future Changes in Permafrost and Implications for a Changing Carbon Budget, American Meteorological Society Seminar: Accelerating Atmospheric CO2 Growth from Economic Activity, Carbon Intensity, and Efficiency of Natural Carbon Sinks, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC, September 26, 2008.
  22. Romanovsky, V., Permafrost and Active Layer Dynamics, Wildlife Response to Environmental Arctic Change (WildREACH): Predicting Future Habitats of Arctic Alaska, 17-18 November, 2008, Fairbanks, Alaska.
  23. Romanovsky, V., State and Fate of Permafrost on a Changing Planet, Lecture at the seminar series “Arctic future under influence of summer ice free ocean” at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, May 22, 2008.
  24. Romanovsky, V., S. Marchenko, G. Grosse and A. Kholodov, State and Fate of Permafrost in a Changing World, 2009 Alaska Geological Society Technical Conference, April 24, 2009, Fairbanks, Alaska.
  25. Romanovsky, VE, Marchenko, SS, Yoshikawa, K, and M. Leach, Detecting changes in permafrost and attributing them to the changes in physical and biological parameters, Eos Trans. AGU, 90(54), Spring Meet. Suppl., B31A-02 INVITED, 2009.
  26. Romanovsky, V., A. Kholodov, S. Marchenko, and G. Grosse, Changes in Permafrost in Northern Eurasia and a New Concept of Permafrost Watch, NEESPI Conference, Krasnoyarsk, Russia, July 14-15, 2009.
  27. Romanovsky, V., State and fate of permafrost in the northern hemisphere, Nuuk Climate Days, Nuuk, Greenland, August 24-27, 2009.
  28. Romanovsky, V. and S. Marchenko, Thermal State of Permafrost (TSP) in Alaska, Cryo-Ex/IPY Cryospheric Science Meeting, University of Ottawa, October 16-19, 2009.
  29. Romanovsky, V., A. Kholodov, S. Marchenko and US-Russia TSP Project Team, Thermal State of Permafrost in Russia, Cryo-Ex/IPY Cryospheric Science Meeting, University of Ottawa, October 16-19, 2009.
  30. Romanovsky, V. and S. Marchenko, Changes to Permafrost in Alaska: Observations and Modeling, the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy webinar, Fairbanks, November 3, 2009.
  31. Romanovsky, V.E., Marchenko, S.S., Kholodov, A.L., Drozdov, D.S., Oberman, N.G., Grosse, G., Muskett, R.R. (2009): Recent and Future Changes in Eurasian Permafrost: Observations, Modeling, Possible Consequences. Eos Trans. AGU, Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract GC43B-06.
    Romanovsky, V.E., Nicolsky, D.J. (2009): How Fast Can Permafrost Thaw? Eos Trans. AGU, Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract C53A-01.
  32. Marchenko, S.S., Romanovsky, V.E., Rinke, A., Kuhry, P. (2009): Permafrost Dynamics Modeling in European Russian North using a High Spatial Resolution RCM. Eos Trans. AGU, Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract GC31A-0683.
  33. Schirrmeister L, Wetterich S, Grosse G, Siegert C, Overduin P, Hubberten H-W (2009): Organic Carbon in Ice Complex deposits - characteristics and origin of the Yedoma Suite in East Siberian Arctic lowlands. 2nd CAPP Workshop, Carbon Pools in Permafrost Regions, June 3-5, 2009, Stockholm, Sweden. Invited
  34. Walter KM, Vas D, Brosius L, Grosse G (2008): Methane from Arctic Lakes: Observations from 50 lakes in Alaska and Siberia. Eos Trans. AGU, 89(53), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract B24A-05.
  35. Walter KM, Grosse G, Finlay J, Chandra S, Michelle MC (2009): Disappearing permafrost and the response of Arctic lakes. Advancing the Science of Limnology and Oceanography Meeting, 25-30 January, 2009, Nice, France.
  36. Walter Anthony, K.M., Grosse, G., Jones, B.M. (2009): Positive and negative feedbacks to climate change associated with methane emissions from arctic permafrost systems. Eos Trans. AGU, Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract B43F-06.
  37. Walter Anthony, K.M., Zimov, S.A. (2009): Greenhouse gas release from arctic permafrost: positive feedback to climate warming. Eos Trans. AGU, Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract U44A-02.
  38. Chanton, J., Walter Anthony, K.M., Prater, J, Whiting, G. (2009): Contrasting natural abundance radiocarbon signatures of methane released upon permafrost decomposition. Eos Trans. AGU, Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract B44B-04.
  39. Regmi P, Grosse G, Jones MC, Jones B, Walter Anthony K (2011): Potential application of TerraSAR-X satellite data for discriminating age of drained thermokarst lake basins on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska. AGU Fall Meeting 2011, San Francisco. C41B-0397.
  40. Grosse G, Jones MC, Jones B, Walter Anthony K (2011): Peat accumulation in drained thermokarst lake basins in continuous, ice-rich permafrost, northern Seward Peninsula, Alaska. AGU Fall Meeting 2011, San Francisco. GC43C-0957.
  41. Jones M, Walter Anthony K, Grosse G, Jones B, Farquharson L (2011): Linking carbon dynamics in thermokarst lakes and drained basins to Holocene climate change. XVIII. International Quaternary Association Congress, Bern, Switzerland, 21-27 July 2011.
  42. Morgenstern A, Grosse G, Guenther F, Schirrmeister L (2011): Characteristics and evolution of thermokarst lakes and alasses in Ice Complex deposits of the Lena River Delta, Fourth Russian Conference on Geocryology, Moscow State University, June 7-9, 2011, Moscow, Abstract Volume 2, 122-124, ISBN 978-5-91304-183-8.
  43. Jones BM, Grosse G (2011): The role of thermokarst lakes in the mobilization of near-surface soil organic carbon in North American Arctic lowlands. NACP All Investigator Meeting, New Orleans, February 2011.
  44. Geai M-L, Walter Anthony KM, Grosse G (2010): Climate Change and Methane Emissions: Pan Arctic Lake Ice Methane Monitoring Network (PALIMMN). International Polar Year Conference, Oslo, Norway, 8-12 June, 2010.
  45. Tillapaugh AM, Grosse G (2010): Remote Sensing and GIS Analysis of Spatial and Morphological Changes of Thermokarst Lakes: Kolyma Lowlands, Northeast Siberia. Third European Conference on Permafrost, Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway, June 13-17, 2010.
  46. Jones BM, Grosse G (2010): Remote Sensing of Thermokarst Lake Dynamics and Implications for Carbon Fluxes, Northern Seward Peninsula, Alaska. Third European Conference on Permafrost, Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway, June 13-17, 2010.
  47. Grosse G, K Walter, B Jones, L Plug, V Romanovsky (2010): Thermokarst lake drainage in the continuous permafrost zone of NW Alaska and climate feedbacks. EGU General Assembly, 2-7 May 2010, Vienna, Austria.
  48. Parsekian A, Jones B, Grosse G, Slater L (2010): Geometry of Floating Vegetation Mats on the Margins of a Thermokarst Lake, Northern Seward Peninsula, AK. State of the Arctic Conference, Miami, Florida.
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