Permafrost Modelling

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Why do we need Permafrost Models?

Permafrost models are important tools to investigate the role and the sensitivity of frozen ground under very complex environmental and climatic conditions. The models allow us to investigate impactsof past and future climate changes in the Arctic. Since permafrost is usually not visible at the earth’s surface and only few measurement sites exist, models are also important to investigate the current state of permafrost. Furthermore, permafrost models give us insights into the evolution of Arctic landscapes and help us understand how these unique ecosystems respond to natural and human-caused disturbances. Permafrost models are, thus, important scientific tools to answer urgent questions concerning the future of the Arctic.

What are Permafrost Models?

Permafrost models provide information on ground temperatures and the freeze-thaw cycle for time-periods and places where direct measurements are not available. The models are based on physical laws which control the thermal state of the ground. The complexity of permafrost models strongly varies according to the number and kind of processes represented by the model. Permafrost models, thus, can be as simple as a single equation which may be calculated on a sheet of paper and as complex as rocket science using super computers to obtain results. At the Alfred-Wegener-Institute we mainly work with so called transient permafrost models that aim to represent all exchange processes between the atmosphere and the ground as realistic as possible. With our model we investigate interactions between permafrost, vegetation, snow, lakes, and the Arctic ocean. Furthermore, we use our models to gain insights into important ecosystem functions such as the water and carbon cycles. We also investigate interactions between permafrost and infrastructure such as buildings, roads and railroad tracks. Our models can be used to test the sensitivity of permafrost soils to past, current, and future climatic conditions – which in turn helps us to understand the consequences of a rapidly warming Arctic.