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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 07 Nov 2018

Research article | 07 Nov 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal The Cryosphere (TC).

Pathways of ice-wedge degradation in polygonal tundra under different hydrological conditions

Jan Nitzbon1,2,3, Moritz Langer1,2, Sebastian Westermann3, Léo Martin3, Kjetil Schanke Aas3, and Julia Boike1,2 Jan Nitzbon et al.
  • 1Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Telegrafenberg A45, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
  • 2Humboldt University of Berlin, Geography Department, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin, Germany
  • 3University of Oslo, Department of Geosciences, Sem Sælands vei 1, 0316 Oslo, Norway

Abstract. Ice-wedge polygons are common features of lowland tundra in the continuous permafrost zone and prone to rapid degradation through melting of ground ice. There are many inter-related processes involved in ice-wedge thermokarst and it is a major challenge to quantify their influence on the stability of the permafrost underlying the landscape. In this study we used a numerical modelling approach to investigate the degradation of ice-wedges with a focus on the influence of hydrological conditions. Our study area was Samoylov Island in the Lena River delta of Northern Siberia, for which we had in-situ measurements to evaluate the model. The tailored version of the CryoGrid3 Land Surface Model was capable of simulating the changing micro-topography of polygonal tundra and also regarded lateral fluxes of heat, water, and snow. We demonstrated that the approach is capable of simulating ice-wedge degradation and the associated transition from a low-centred to a high-centred polygonal micro-topography. The model simulations showed ice-wedge degradation under recent climatic conditions of the study area, irrespective of hydrological conditions. However, we found that wetter conditions lead to an earlier onset of degradation and cause more rapid ground subsidence. We set our findings in correspondence to observed types of ice-wedge polygons in the study area and hypothesized on remaining discrepancies between modelled and observed ice-wedge thermokarst activity. Our quantitative approach provides a valuable complement to previous, more qualitative and conceptual, descriptions of the possible pathways of ice-wedge polygon evolution. We concluded that our study is a blueprint for investigating thermokarst landforms and marks a step forward in understanding the complex interrelationships between various processes shaping ice-rich permafrost landscapes.

Jan Nitzbon et al.
Interactive discussion
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Status: final response (author comments only)
AC: Author comment | RC: Referee comment | SC: Short comment | EC: Editor comment
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Jan Nitzbon et al.
Data sets

Measurements in soil and air at Samoylov Station (2002-2017) J. Boike, J. Nitzbon, K. Anders, M. N. Grigoriev, D. Y. Bolshiyanov, M. Langer, S. Lange, N. Bornemann, A. Morgenstern, P. Schreiber, C. Wille, S. Chadburn, I. Gouttevin, and L. Kutzbach

Jan Nitzbon et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
We studied the stability of ice-wedges (massive bodies of ground ice in permafrost) under recent climatic conditions in the Lena River delta of Northern Siberia. For this we used a novel modelling approach that takes into account lateral transport of heat, water, and snow, and the subsidence of the ground surface due to melting of ground ice. We found that wetter conditions have a destabilizing effect on the ice-wedges and associated our simulation results with observations from the study area.
We studied the stability of ice-wedges (massive bodies of ground ice in permafrost) under recent...