University of Oulu

Olli Karjalainen et al 2020 Environ. Res. Lett. 15, 104065,

High potential for loss of permafrost landforms in a changing climate

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Author: Karjalainen, Olli1; Luoto, Miska2; Aalto, Juha2,3;
Organizations: 1Geography Research Unit, University of Oulu, P.O. Box 3000, Oulu 90014, Finland
2Department of Geosciences and Geography, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 64, Helsinki 00014, Finland
3Finnish Meteorological Institute, P.O. Box 503, Helsinki 00101, Finland
4Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1047, Oslo 0316, Norway
5Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Potsdam 14773, Germany
6University of Potsdam, Institute of Geosciences, Potsdam 14776, Germany
7Institute of Northern Engineering, University of Alaska Fairbanks, P.O. Box 755860, Alaska, 99775, Fairbanks, United States of America
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 2.5 MB)
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Language: English
Published: IOP Publishing, 2020
Publish Date: 2020-12-01


The presence of ground ice in Arctic soils exerts a major effect on permafrost hydrology and ecology, and factors prominently into geomorphic landform development. As most ground ice has accumulated in near-surface permafrost, it is sensitive to variations in atmospheric conditions. Typical and regionally widespread permafrost landforms such as pingos, ice-wedge polygons, and rock glaciers are closely tied to ground ice. However, under ongoing climate change, suitable environmental spaces for preserving landforms associated with ice-rich permafrost may be rapidly disappearing. We deploy a statistical ensemble approach to model, for the first time, the current and potential future environmental conditions of three typical permafrost landforms, pingos, ice-wedge polygons and rock glaciers across the Northern Hemisphere. We show that by midcentury, the landforms are projected to lose more than one-fifth of their suitable environments under a moderate climate scenario (RCP4.5) and on average around one-third under a very high baseline emission scenario (RCP8.5), even when projected new suitable areas for occurrence are considered. By 2061–2080, on average more than 50% of the recent suitable conditions can be lost (RCP8.5). In the case of pingos and ice-wedge polygons, geographical changes are mainly attributed to alterations in thawing-season precipitation and air temperatures. Rock glaciers show air temperature-induced regional changes in suitable conditions strongly constrained by topography and soil properties. The predicted losses could have important implications for Arctic hydrology, geo- and biodiversity, and to the global climate system through changes in biogeochemical cycles governed by the geomorphology of permafrost landscapes. Moreover, our projections provide insights into the circumpolar distribution of various ground ice types and help inventory permafrost landforms in unmapped regions.

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Series: Environmental research letters
ISSN: 1748-9326
ISSN-E: 1748-9326
ISSN-L: 1748-9326
Volume: 15
Issue: 10
Article number: 104065
DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/abafd5
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1171 Geosciences
1172 Environmental sciences
112 Statistics and probability
Funding: This study was funded by the Academy of Finland (grants 315519, 307761). BMJ was supported by awards from the US National Science Foundation (OPP-1806213 and ICER-1927872) and GG was supported by ERC PETA-CARB (#338335), the HGF Impulse and Networking Fund (ERC-0013), and NASA NNX08AJ37G. The contribution by BE and KSL was funded by the University of Oslo, Norway. We wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for their highly valuable comments.
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 315519
Detailed Information: 315519 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: ©2020TheAuthor(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd. Original content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence. Any further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the title of the work, journal citation and DOI.