Steven V. Kokelj


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The Northwest Territories Thermokarst Mapping Collective: A northern-driven mapping collaborative toward understanding the effects of permafrost thaw
Steven V. Kokelj, Tristan Gingras-Hill, Seamus V Daly, P D Morse, S A Wolfe, Ashley Rudy, Jurjen van der Sluijs, Niels Weiss, H B O'Neill, Jennifer L. Baltzer, Trevor C. Lantz, Carolyn Gibson, Dieter Cazon, Robert Fraser, Duane G. Froese, Garfield Giff, Charles Klengenberg, Scott F. Lamoureux, William L. Quinton, M. R. Turetsky, Alexandre Chiasson, C.C. Ferguson, Michael Newton, Mike Pope, Jason Paul, A E Wilson, Joseph M. Young
Arctic Science

This paper documents the first comprehensive inventory of thermokarst and thaw-sensitive terrain indicators for a 2 million km2 region of northwestern Canada. This is accomplished through the Thermokarst Mapping Collective (TMC), a research collaborative to systematically inventory indicators of permafrost thaw sensitivity by mapping and aerial assessments across the Northwest Territories (NT), Canada. The increase in NT-based permafrost capacity has fostered science leadership and collaboration with government, academic, and community researchers to enable project implementation. Ongoing communications and outreach have informed study design and strengthened Indigenous and stakeholder relationships. Documentation of theme-based methods supported mapper training, and flexible data infrastructure facilitated progress by Canada-wide researchers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The TMC inventory of thermokarst and thaw-sensitive landforms agree well with fine-scale empirical mapping (69% to 84% accuracy) and aerial inventory (74% to 96% accuracy) datasets. National- and circumpolar-scale modelling of sensitive permafrost terrain contrasts significantly with TMC outputs, highlighting their limitations and the value of empirically-based mapping approaches. We demonstrate that the multi-parameter TMC outputs support a holistic understanding and refined depictions of permafrost terrain sensitivity, provide novel opportunities for syntheses, and inform future modelling approaches, which are urgently required to comprehend better what permafrost thaw means for Canada’s North.


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Permafrost Landscape History Shapes Fluvial Chemistry, Ecosystem Carbon Balance, and Potential Trajectories of Future Change
Scott Zolkos, Suzanne E. Tank, Steven V. Kokelj, Robert G. Striegl, Sarah Shakil, Carolina Voigt, Oliver Sonnentag, William L. Quinton, Edward A. G. Schuur, Donatella Zona, Peter M. Lafleur, Ryan C. Sullivan, Masahito Ueyama, David P. Billesbach, David Cook, Elyn Humphreys, Philip Marsh
Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Volume 36, Issue 9

Abstract Intensifying permafrost thaw alters carbon cycling by mobilizing large amounts of terrestrial substrate into aquatic ecosystems. Yet, few studies have measured aquatic carbon fluxes and constrained drivers of ecosystem carbon balance across heterogeneous Arctic landscapes. Here, we characterized hydrochemical and landscape controls on fluvial carbon cycling, quantified fluvial carbon fluxes, and estimated fluvial contributions to ecosystem carbon balance across 33 watersheds in four ecoregions in the continuous permafrost zone of the western Canadian Arctic: unglaciated uplands, ice‐rich moraine, and organic‐rich lowlands and till plains. Major ions, stable isotopes, and carbon speciation and fluxes revealed patterns in carbon cycling across ecoregions defined by terrain relief and accumulation of organics. In previously unglaciated mountainous watersheds, bicarbonate dominated carbon export (70% of total) due to chemical weathering of bedrock. In lowland watersheds, where soil organic carbon stores were largest, lateral transport of dissolved organic carbon (50%) and efflux of biotic CO 2 (25%) dominated. In watersheds affected by thaw‐induced mass wasting, erosion of ice‐rich tills enhanced chemical weathering and increased particulate carbon fluxes by two orders of magnitude. From an ecosystem carbon balance perspective, fluvial carbon export in watersheds not affected by thaw‐induced wasting was, on average, equivalent to 6%–16% of estimated net ecosystem exchange (NEE). In watersheds affected by thaw‐induced wasting, fluvial carbon export approached 60% of NEE. Because future intensification of thermokarst activity will amplify fluvial carbon export, determining the fate of carbon across diverse northern landscapes is a priority for constraining trajectories of permafrost region ecosystem carbon balance.


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Mapping and understanding the vulnerability of northern peatlands to permafrost thaw at scales relevant to community adaptation planning
Carolyn Gibson, Karl Cottenie, Tristan Gingras-Hill, Steven V. Kokelj, Jennifer L. Baltzer, L. Chasmer, M. R. Turetsky
Environmental Research Letters, Volume 16, Issue 5

Abstract Developing spatially explicit permafrost datasets and climate assessments at scales relevant to northern communities is increasingly important as land users and decision makers incorporate changing permafrost conditions in community and adaptation planning. This need is particularly strong within the discontinuous permafrost zone of the Northwest Territories (NWT) Canada where permafrost peatlands are undergoing rapid thaw due to a warming climate. Current data products for predicting landscapes at risk of thaw are generally built at circumpolar scales and do not lend themselves well to fine-scale regional interpretations. Here, we present a new permafrost vulnerability dataset that assesses the degree of permafrost thaw within peatlands across a 750 km latitudinal gradient in the NWT. This updated dataset provides spatially explicit estimates of where peatland thermokarst potential exists, thus making it much more suitable for local, regional or community usage. Within southern peatland complexes, we show that permafrost thaw affects up to 70% of the peatland area and that thaw is strongly mediated by both latitude and elevation, with widespread thaw occuring particularly at low elevations. At the northern end of our latitudinal gradient, peatland permafrost remains climate-protected with relatively little thaw. Collectively these results demonstrate the importance of scale in permafrost analyses and mapping if research is to support northern communities and decision makers in a changing climate. This study offers a more scale-appropriate approach to support community adaptative planning under scenarios of continued warming and widespread permafrost thaw.


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Spatial and stratigraphic variation of near‐surface ground ice in discontinuous permafrost of the taiga shield
Jason R. Paul, Steven V. Kokelj, Jennifer L. Baltzer
Permafrost and Periglacial Processes, Volume 32, Issue 1

The acceleration of permafrost thaw due to warming, wetting, and disturbance is altering circumpolar landscapes. The effect of thaw is largely determined by ground ice content in near‐surface permafrost, making the characterization and prediction of ground ice content critical. Here we evaluate the spatial and stratigraphic variation of near‐surface ground ice characteristics in the dominant forest types in the North Slave region near Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. Physical variation in the permafrost was assessed through cryostructure, soil properties, and volumetric ice content, and relationships between these parameters were determined. Near‐surface ground ice characteristics were contrasted between forest types. In black spruce forests the top of the permafrost was ice‐rich and characterized by lenticular and ataxitic cryostructures, indicating the presence of an intermediate layer. Most white spruce/birch forests showed similar patterns; however, an increase in the active layer thickness and permafrost thaw at some sites have eradicated the transition zone, and the large ice lenses encountered at depth reflect segregated ground ice developed during initial downward aggradation of permafrost. Our findings indicate that white spruce/birch terrain will be less sensitive than black spruce forests to near‐surface permafrost thaw. However, if permafrost thaws completely, white spruce/birch terrain will probably be transformed into wetland–thaw lake complexes due to high ground ice content at depth.


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Mineral Weathering and the Permafrost Carbon‐Climate Feedback
Scott Zolkos, Suzanne E. Tank, Steven V. Kokelj
Geophysical Research Letters, Volume 45, Issue 18

Permafrost thaw in the Arctic enables the biogeochemical transformation of vast stores of organic carbon into carbon dioxide (CO2). This CO2 release has significant implications for climate feedbacks, yet the potential counterbalance from CO2 fixation via chemical weathering of minerals exposed by thawing permafrost is entirely unstudied. We show that thermokarst in the western Canadian Arctic can enable rapid weathering of carbonate tills, driven by sulfuric acid from sulfide oxidation. Unlike carbonic acid‐driven weathering, this caused significant and previously undocumented CO2 production and outgassing in headwater streams. Increasing riverine solute fluxes correspond with long‐term intensification of thermokarst and reflect the regional predominance of sulfuric acid‐driven carbonate weathering. We conclude that thermokarst‐enhanced mineral weathering has potential to profoundly disrupt Arctic freshwater carbon cycling. While thermokarst and sulfuric acid‐driven carbonate weathering in the western Canadian Arctic amplify CO2 release, regional variation in sulfide oxidation will moderate the effects on the permafrost carbon‐climate feedback.