11 Feb 2021

11 Feb 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

New insights into the drainage of inundated ice-wedge polygons using fundamental hydrologic principles

Dylan R. Harp1, Vitaly Zlotnik2, Charles J. Abolt1, Brent D. Newman1, Adam L. Atchley1, Elchin Jafarov1, and Cathy J. Wilson1 Dylan R. Harp et al.
  • 1Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, 87544
  • 2Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Department, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE, 68588-0340

Abstract. The pathways and timing of drainage from inundated ice-wedge polygon centers in a warming climate have important implications for carbon flushing, advective heat transport, and transitions from carbon dioxide to methane dominated emissions. This research provides intuition on this process by presenting the first in-depth analysis of drainage from a single polygon based on fundamental hydrogeological principles. We use a recently developed analytical solution to provide a baseline for the effects of polygon aspect ratios (radius to thawed depth) and hydraulic conductivity anisotropy (horizontal to vertical hydraulic conductivity) on drainage pathways and temporal depletion of ponded water heights of inundated ice-wedge polygon centers. By varying the polygon aspect ratio, we evaluate the effect of polygon size (width), inter-annual increases in active layer thickness, and seasonal increases in thaw depth on drainage. One of the primary insights from the model is that most inundated ice-wedge polygon drainage occurs along an annular region of the polygon center near the rims. This implies that inundated polygons are most intensely flushed by drainage in an annular region along their horizontal periphery, with implications for transport of nutrients (such as dissolved organic carbon) and advection of heat towards ice wedge tops. The model indicates that polygons with large aspect ratios and high anisotropy will have the most distributed drainage. Polygons with large aspect ratio and low anisotropy will have their drainage most focused near the their periphery and will drain most slowly. Polygons with small aspect ratio and high anisotropy will drain most quickly. Our results, based on idealized scenarios, provide a baseline for further research considering geometric and hydraulic complexities of ice-wedge polygons.

Dylan R. Harp et al.

Status: open (until 03 May 2021)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on tc-2020-351', Jan Nitzbon, 25 Feb 2021 reply
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', D.R. Harp, 08 Mar 2021 reply

Dylan R. Harp et al.

Model code and software

Analytical solution code Vitaly Zlotnik and Dylan Harp

Video supplement

Animation of validated model Vitaly Zlotnik, Dylan Harp, Charles Abolt, and Elchin Jafarov

Dylan R. Harp et al.


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Short summary
Polygon shaped landforms present in relatively flat Arctic tundra result in complex landscape-scale water drainage. The drainage pathways and the time to transition from inundated conditions to drained have important implications for heat and carbon transport. Using fundamental hydrologic principles, we investigate the drainage pathways and timing of individual polygons providing insights into the effects of polygon geometry and preferential flow direction on drainage pathways and timing.