Permafrost cooled in winter by thermal bridging through snow-covered shrub branches

Domine, Florent ; Fourteau, Kévin ; Picard, Ghislain ; Lackner, Georg ; Sarrazin, Denis ; Poirier, Mathilde

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<p align=justify>Considerable expansion of shrubs across the Arctic tundra has been observed in recent decades. These shrubs are thought to have a warming effect on permafrost by increasing snowpack thermal insulation, thereby limiting winter cooling and accelerating thaw. Here, we use ground temperature observations and heat transfer simulations to show that low shrubs can actually cool the ground in winter by providing a thermal bridge through the snowpack. Observations from unmanipulated herb tundra and shrub tundra sites on Bylot Island in the Canadian high Arctic reveal a 1.21 °C cooling effect between November and February. This is despite a snowpack that is twice as insulating in shrubs. The thermal bridging effect is reversed in spring when shrub branches absorb solar radiation and transfer heat to the ground. The overall thermal effect is likely to depend on snow and shrub characteristics and terrain aspect. The inclusion of these thermal bridging processes into climate models may have an important impact on projected greenhouse gas emissions by permafrost.</p>
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