Articles | Volume 11, issue 5
The Cryosphere, 11, 2089–2109, 2017
The Cryosphere, 11, 2089–2109, 2017

Research article 06 Sep 2017

Research article | 06 Sep 2017

Coupled land surface–subsurface hydrogeophysical inverse modeling to estimate soil organic carbon content and explore associated hydrological and thermal dynamics in the Arctic tundra

Anh Phuong Tran, Baptiste Dafflon, and Susan S. Hubbard Anh Phuong Tran et al.
  • Climate & Ecosystems Division, Earth and Environmental Sciences Area, Lawrence National Berkeley Lab, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA

Abstract. Quantitative characterization of soil organic carbon (OC) content is essential due to its significant impacts on surface–subsurface hydrological–thermal processes and microbial decomposition of OC, which both in turn are important for predicting carbon–climate feedbacks. While such quantification is particularly important in the vulnerable organic-rich Arctic region, it is challenging to achieve due to the general limitations of conventional core sampling and analysis methods, and to the extremely dynamic nature of hydrological–thermal processes associated with annual freeze–thaw events. In this study, we develop and test an inversion scheme that can flexibly use single or multiple datasets – including soil liquid water content, temperature and electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) data – to estimate the vertical distribution of OC content. Our approach relies on the fact that OC content strongly influences soil hydrological–thermal parameters and, therefore, indirectly controls the spatiotemporal dynamics of soil liquid water content, temperature and their correlated electrical resistivity. We employ the Community Land Model to simulate nonisothermal surface–subsurface hydrological dynamics from the bedrock to the top of canopy, with consideration of land surface processes (e.g., solar radiation balance, evapotranspiration, snow accumulation and melting) and ice–liquid water phase transitions. For inversion, we combine a deterministic and an adaptive Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) optimization algorithm to estimate a posteriori distributions of desired model parameters. For hydrological–thermal-to-geophysical variable transformation, the simulated subsurface temperature, liquid water content and ice content are explicitly linked to soil electrical resistivity via petrophysical and geophysical models. We validate the developed scheme using different numerical experiments and evaluate the influence of measurement errors and benefit of joint inversion on the estimation of OC and other parameters. We also quantify the propagation of uncertainty from the estimated parameters to prediction of hydrological–thermal responses. We find that, compared to inversion of single dataset (temperature, liquid water content or apparent resistivity), joint inversion of these datasets significantly reduces parameter uncertainty. We find that the joint inversion approach is able to estimate OC and sand content within the shallow active layer (top 0.3 m of soil) with high reliability. Due to the small variations of temperature and moisture within the shallow permafrost (here at about 0.6 m depth), the approach is unable to estimate OC with confidence. However, if the soil porosity is functionally related to the OC and mineral content, which is often observed in organic-rich Arctic soil, the uncertainty of OC estimate at this depth remarkably decreases. Our study documents the value of the new surface–subsurface, deterministic–stochastic inversion approach, as well as the benefit of including multiple types of data to estimate OC and associated hydrological–thermal dynamics.

Short summary
Soil organics carbon (SOC) and its influence on terrestrial ecosystem feedbacks to global warming in permafrost regions are particularly important for the prediction of future climate variation. Our study proposes a new surface–subsurface, joint deterministic–stochastic hydrological–thermal–geophysical inversion approach and documents the benefit of including multiple types of data to estimate the vertical profile of SOC content and its influence on hydrological–thermal dynamics.