Responses of Boreal Forest Ecosystems and Permafrost to Climate Change and Disturbances: A Modeling Perspective


The north circumpolar region contains a large amount of carbon. This carbon storage is vulnerable due to permafrost degradation and wildfire disturbances under ongoing and projected climate change. Climate warming and wildfires change soil organic horizons gradually or abruptly, and modify permafrost thermal-hydrology and biogeochemistry, ecosystem structures, functions, and capability of sequestrating rising atmospheric CO2. Land models do not fully take accounts of these interactions and its complexity in the high latitude. This chapter describes a terrestrial ecosystem model with dynamic organic soil module (DOS-TEM) and its unique freezing-thawing algorithm, and presents key results of its applications mainly in boreal forests of Alaska. The DOS-TEM explicitly considers interactions of soil thermal and hydrological processes, permafrost degradation and the direct and indirect effects of wildfire disturbances, in addition to soil–plant C and N cycles. We first introduce four modules of DOS-TEM, focusing on its disturbance module and coupling with a dynamic organic soil module. Then we describe and validate DOS-TEM’s freezing-thawing algorithm and development based on two-directional Stefan algorithm (TDSA). Finally, we apply the DOS-TEM at site and region scales, with a focus on model ability to dynamically simulate soil organic thickness under warming and wildfires, and consequent impacts on permafrost in the Yukon River Basin. We conclude that land surface model development is urgently needed to include other critical landscape processes, such as thermalkarst and other disturbances, to synchronize thermal-hydrological-biogeochemical processes, and to incorporate an advanced understanding of biospheric feedbacks to atmosphere and ecosystems. Such a complexity of modeling scope is plausible with advancement of high performance computing.

Book Chapter
Year of Publication
Book Title
Arctic Hydrology, Permafrost and Ecosystems
Number of Pages
849 - 892
Springer International Publishing
ISBN Number
Original Publication
Arctic Hydrology, Permafrost and Ecosystems
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