20 Oct 2023
 | 20 Oct 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Small-scale hydrological patterns in a Siberian permafrost ecosystem affected by drainage

Sandra Raab, Karel Castro-Morales, Anke Hildebrandt, Martin Heimann, Jorien Elisabeth Vonk, Nikita Zimov, and Mathias Goeckede

Abstract. Climate warming and associated accelerated permafrost thaw in the Arctic lead to a shift in landscape patterns, hydrologic conditions and release of carbon. In this context, the lateral transport of carbon, and shifts therein following thaw, remain poorly understood. Crucial hydrologic factors affecting the lateral distribution of carbon include e.g., the depth of the saturated zone above the ice table with respect to changes in water table and thaw depth, and the connectivity of water saturated zones. With changing landscape conditions due to rising temperatures, polygonal or flat floodplain Arctic tundra areas in various states of degradation are expected to become more common in the future, with associated changes in hydrologic conditions. This study centers in an experimental site near Chersky, Northeast Siberia, where a drainage ditch was constructed in 2004 reflecting landscape degradation features that result in drier soil conditions and channeled water flow. We characterized and compared the drained area (dry soil conditions) with an adjacent control area (wet soil conditions) with regard to water levels and thaw depths. We also identified the sources of water at the site via stable water isotope analysis. We found substantial spatiotemporal changes in the water conditions at the drained site: i) lower water tables resulting in drier soil conditions, ii) quicker water flow in drier areas, iii) larger saturation zones in wet areas, and iv) a higher proportion of permafrost melt water in the liquid phase towards the end of the growing season. These findings suggest a decreased lateral connectivity throughout the drained area. Shifts in hydraulic connectivity associated with a shift in vegetation abundance and water sources may impact carbon sources, sinks as well as its transport pathways. Identifying lateral transport patterns in areas with degrading permafrost are therefore of major relevance.

Sandra Raab et al.

Status: open (until 07 Jan 2024)

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Sandra Raab et al.

Sandra Raab et al.


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Short summary
Water status is an important control factor on sustainability of Arctic permafrost soils, including production and transport of carbon. We compared a drained permafrost ecosystem with a natural control area, investigating water levels, thaw depths, and lateral water flows. We found that shifts in water levels following drainage affected carbon processes and that lateral transport patterns were of major relevance. Understanding these shifts is crucial for future carbon budget studies.