Document Type


Publication Date



Geography and Environmental Studies


The distribution of frost table depths on a peat-covered permafrost slope was examined in a discontinuous permafrost region in northern Canada over 4 consecutive years at a variety of spatial scales, to elucidate the role of active layer development on runoff generation. Frost table depths were highly variable over relatively short distances (0.25–1 m), and the spatial variability was strongly correlated to soil moisture distribution, which was partly influenced by lateral flow converging to frost table depressions. On an interannual basis, thaw rates were temporally correlated to air temperature and the amount of precipitation input. Simple simulations show that lateral subsurface flow is governed by the frost table topography having spatially variable storage that has to be filled before water can spill over to generate flow downslope, in a similar manner that bedrock topography controls subsurface flow. However, unlike the bedrock surface, the frost table is variable with time and strongly influenced by the heat transfer involving water. Therefore, it is important to understand the feedback between thawing and subsurface water flow and to properly represent the feedback in hydrological models of permafrost regions.


This article was originally published in Water Resources Research, 45(5): W05414. (c) 2009 American Geophysical Union