How does humidity data impact the land surface modeling of hydrothermal regimes at a permafrost site in Utqiaġvik, Alaska?


Humidity is a basic and crucial meteorological indicator commonly measured in several forms, including specific humidity, relative humidity, and absolute humidity. These different forms can be inter-derived based on the saturation vapor pressure (SVP). In past decades, dozens of formulae have been developed to calculate the SVP with respect to, and in equilibrium with, liquid water and solid ice surfaces, but many prior studies use a single function for all temperature ranges, without considering the distinction between over the liquid water and ice surfaces. These different approaches can result in humidity estimates that may impact our understanding of surface-subsurface thermal-hydrological dynamics in cold regions. In this study, we compared the relative humidity (RH) downloaded and calculated from four data sources in Alaska based on five commonly used SVP formulas. These RHs, along with other meteorological indicators, were then used to drive physics-rich land surface models at a permafrost-affected site. We found that higher values of RH (up to 40 %) were obtained if the SVP was calculated with the over-ice formulation when air temperatures were below freezing, which could lead to a 30 % maximum difference in snow depths. The choice of whether to separately calculate the SVP over an ice surface in winter also produced a significant range (up to 0.2 m) in simulated annual maximum thaw depths. The sensitivity of seasonal thaw depth to the formulation of SVP increases with the rainfall rate and the height of above-ground ponded water, while it diminishes with warmer air temperatures. These results show that RH variations based on the calculation of SVP with or without over-ice calculation meaningfully impact physically-based predictions of snow depth, sublimation, soil temperature, and active layer thickness. Under particular conditions, when severe flooding (inundation) and cool air temperatures are present, care should be taken to evaluate how humidity data is estimated for land surface and earth system modeling.

Journal Article
Year of Publication
Science of The Total Environment
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