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PI-Submitted Research Highlights for
Terrestrial Ecosystem Science Program

Coupled simulations of surface and subsurface thermal hydrology in permafrost-affected regions

Scott L. Painter
Oak Ridge National Laboratory


7 October 2016

New multiphysics simulation capability improves permafrost thermal hydrology projections.

The Science  
We developed and demonstrated new process-rich simulation capability for coupled surface and subsurface thermal hydrology in permafrost regions. The Arctic Terrestrial Simulator (ATS) represents non-isothermal surface flow, subsurface thermal hydrology, phase change, surface energy balance, and snow distribution in fully coupled three-dimensional simulations.  

The Impact
Existing permafrost thermal hydrology simulation tools are limited in their capability to represent the thermal effects of surface and subsurface flows and other important thermal processes. Our new process-rich, fine-scale model dramatically expands the range of permafrost thermal hydrology phenomena that can be represented in simulations, and provides a community modeling tool to help advance process understanding and evaluate approximations used in Earth system models.

ATS is a collection of physics modules and physics-informed model couplers for use in a parallel, open-source subsurface flow and transport simulator called Amanzi-ATS. We developed new models for nonisothermal overland flow and snow distribution in microtopography, new approaches for robustly coupling 2-D surface and 3-D subsurface models, and new strategies for managing complexity in process-rich simulations. We combined those new capabilities with a state-of-the-art model for thermal hydrology of freezing/thawing soil. Fine-scale 100-year projections of the integrated permafrost thermal hydrological system in polygonal tundra near Barrow Alaska demonstrate the feasibility of microtopography-resolving, process-rich simulations as a tool to help understand possible future evolution of the carbon-rich Arctic tundra in a warming climate.

Contacts (BER PM)
Daniel Stover and Jared DeForest
Daniel.Stover@science.doe.gov (301-903-0289) and Jared.DeForest@science.doe.gov (301-903-1678)

(PI Contact)
Scott L. Painter
Climate Change Science Institute and Environmental Sciences Division
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
paintersl@ornl.gov (865) 241-2644

This work was supported by the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment (NGEE-Arctic) project. NGEE-Arctic is supported by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the DOE Office of Science.    

Painter, S. L., E. T. Coon, A. L. Atchley, M. Berndt, R. Garimella, J. D. Moulton, D. Svyatskiy, and C. J. Wilson (2016),
Integrated surface/subsurface permafrost thermal hydrology: Model formulation and proof-of-concept simulations, Water Resour. Res., 52, doi:10.1002/2015WR018427.

NGEE Arctic. ATS software. 

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