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The dominance and growth of shallow groundwater resources in continuous permafrost environments

May 20, 2024
Water is a limited resource in Arctic watersheds with continuous permafrost because freezing conditions in winter and the impermeability of permafrost limit storage and connectivity between surface water and deep groundwater. However, groundwater can still be an important source of surface water in such settings, feeding springs and large aufeis fields that are abundant in cold regions and generating runoff when precipitation is rare. Whether groundwater is sourced from suprapermafrost taliks or deeper regional aquifers will impact water availability as the Arctic continues to warm and thaw. Previous research is ambiguous about the role of deep groundwater, leading to uncertainty regarding Arctic water availability and changing water resources. We analyzed chemistry and residence times of spring, stream, and river waters in the continuous permafrost zone of Alaska, spanning the mountains to the coastal plain. Water chemistry and age tracers show that surface waters are predominately sourced from recent precipitation and have short (<50 y) subsurface residence times. Remote sensing indicates trends in the areal extent of aufeis over the last 37 y, and correlations between aufeis extent and previous year summer temperature. Together, these data indicate that surface waters in continuous permafrost regions may be impacted by short flow paths and shallow suprapermafrost aquifers that are highly sensitive to climatic and hydrologic change over annual timescales. Despite the lack of connection to regional aquifers, continued warming and permafrost thaw may promote deepening of the shallow subsurface aquifers and creation of shallow taliks, providing some resilience to Arctic freshwater ecosystems.
Publication Year 2024
Title The dominance and growth of shallow groundwater resources in continuous permafrost environments
DOI 10.1073/pnas.2317873121
Authors Joshua C. Koch, Craig T. Connolly, Carson Baughman, Marisa Repasch, Heather Best, Andrew Hunt
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Index ID 70254432
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Water; Geology and Geophysics Science Center