The Ability of Hydrologic-Land Surface Models to Concurrently Simulate Permafrost and Hydrology

Mohamed S. Abdelhamed, Mohamed Elshamy, Saman Razavi, H. S. Wheater

Abstract. Hydrologic-land surface models (H-LSMs) provide physically-based understanding and predictions of the current and future states of the world’s vast high-latitude permafrost regions. Two major challenges, however, hamper their parametrization and validation when concurrently representing hydrology and permafrost. One is the high computational complexity, exacerbated by the need to include a deep soil profile to adequately capture the freeze/thaw cycles and heat storage. The other is that soil-temperature data are severely limited, and traditional model validation, based on streamflow, can show the right fit to these data for the wrong reasons. There are few observational sites for such vast, heterogeneous regions, and remote sensing provides only limited support. In light of these challenges, we develop 16 parametrizations of a Canadian H-LSM, MESH, for the sub-arctic Liard River Basin and validate them using three data sources: streamflows at multiple gauges, soil temperature profiles from few available boreholes, and multiple permafrost maps. The different parametrizations favor different sources of data and it is challenging to configure a model faithful to all three data sources, which are at times inconsistent with each other. Overall, the results show that: (1) surface insulation through snow cover primarily regulates permafrost dynamics after model initialization effects decay over, relatively long time and (2) different parametrizations yield different partitioning patterns of solid-vs-liquid soil-water and produce different low-flow but similar high-flow regimes. We conclude that, given data scarcity, an ensemble of model parametrizations is essential to provide a reliable picture of the current states and future spatio-temporal co-evolution of permafrost and hydrology.
Mohamed S. Abdelhamed, Mohamed Elshamy, Saman Razavi, and H. S. Wheater. 2023. The Ability of Hydrologic-Land Surface Models to Concurrently Simulate Permafrost and Hydrology. The Cryosphere Discussions, Volume 15, 15.
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