Talik formation has long been acknowledged as an important mechanism of permafrost degradation. Currently, a lack of in situ observations has left a critical gap in our understanding of how ongoing climate change may influence future sub-aerial talik formation in areas unaffected by water bodies or wildfire. Here we present in situ ground temperature measurements from undisturbed sub-aerial sites across the discontinuous permafrost zone of Alaska between 1999 and 2020. We find that novel taliks formed at 24 sites across the region, with widespread initiation occurring during the winter of 2018 due to higher air temperatures and above-average snowfall insulating the soil. Future projections under a high emissions scenario show that by 2030, talik formation will initiate across up to 70% of the discontinuous permafrost zone, regardless of snow conditions. By 2090, talik in areas of black spruce forest, and warmer ecosystems, may reach a thickness of 12 m. The establishment of widespread sub-aerial taliks has major implications for permafrost thaw, thermokarst development, carbon cycling, hydrological connectivity and engineering.
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The GIPL model used to estimate potential thaw, potential freeze and talik thickness is freely available via GitHub at https://github.com/Elchin/GIPL.
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This work was funded by NSF AON Award numbers 1832238 (L.M.F., V.E.R., D.N. and A.K.) and 1304271 (L.M.F., V.E.R., D.N. and A.K.), NSF-funded Bonanza Creek LTER project (V.E.R.), the Department of Energy Next Generation Ecosystem Experiment Arctic (NGEE-Arctic) (L.M.F., V.E.R. and A.K.) and the Tomsk State University Development Programme (Priority-2030) (D.N.). We thank B. Cable, K. Dolgikh and C. Wright for maintaining permafrost monitoring stations and B. Gaglioti for assistance calculating thawing degree day and freezing degree day values.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Model output is plotted against observations from ground temperature sensors in permafrost boreholes. RMSE error, 0.84 °C.
Model output is plotted against observations from ground temperature sensors in permafrost boreholes. RMSE error, 1.2 °C.
Extended Data Fig. 3 Bonanza Creek volumetric liquid water content (%) and ground temperature (°C) at 0.54 m depth between fall 2009 and summer 2019.
Note the lack of freezing during the winters of 2017–2018 and 2018–2019.
Extended Data Fig. 4 A comparison of measured active layer depths and those modeled by the GIPL model for Bonanza Creek.
Active layer depths were measured using an active layer probe at the end of the summer (late August) over an 18-year period. The labels indicate the year of measurement.
Raw data for thawing degree days, freezing degree days and snowfall.
Raw data from potential thaw, potential freeze, active-layer depths and talik thickness for Bonanza Creek and SL#2 sites; data include model input files for model runs and the GIPL model.exe file.
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Farquharson, L.M., Romanovsky, V.E., Kholodov, A. et al. Sub-aerial talik formation observed across the discontinuous permafrost zone of Alaska. Nat. Geosci. 15, 475–481 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-00952-z