Role of vegetation and climate in permafrost active layer depth in arctic tundra of northern Alaska and Canada

Abstract

The active layer is the top layer of permafrost soils that thaws during the summer season due to increased ambient temperatures and solar radiation inputs. This layer is important because almost all biological activity takes place there during the summer. The depth of active layer thaw is influenced by climatic conditions. Vegetation has also been found to have a strong impact on active layer thaw, because it can intercept incoming radiation, thereby insulating the soil from ambient conditions. In order to look at the role of vegetation and climate on active layer thaw, we measured thaw depth and the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI; a proxy for total plant biomass) along a latitudinal temperature gradient in arctic Alaska and Canada. At each site several measurements of thaw and NDVI were taken in areas with high amounts of vegetation and areas with little to no vegetation. Results show that the warmest regions, which had the greatest levels of NDVI, had relatively shallow thaw depths, and the coldest regions, which had the lowest levels of NDVI, also had relatively shallow thaw depths. The intermediate regions, which had moderate levels of NDVI and air temperature, had the greatest depth of thaw. These results indicate that temperature and vegetation interact to control the depth of the active layer across a range of arctic ecosystems. By developing a relationship to explain thaw depth through NDVI and temperature, the possibility exists to extrapolate thaw depth over large scales via remote sensing applications.

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Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Kelley2004RoleOV, title={Role of vegetation and climate in permafrost active layer depth in arctic tundra of northern Alaska and Canada}, author={Alexia M. Kelley and Howard E. Epstein and Donald and Ashley Walker}, year={2004} }