Hydrology-ecology feedbacks in the Arctic: Narrowing the gap between theory and models

Principal Investigators: Martyn Clark (University of Saskatchewan) & Jennifer Baltzer (Wilfrid Laurier University)

Co-Investigators: Sean Carey (McMaster University), Steve Cumming (Universitè Laval), Philip Marsh (Wilfrid Laurier University), Oliver Sonnentag (Universitè de Montrèal)

Project Overview

Climate warming is accelerating disturbance processes in northern ecosystems, including thermokarst, boreal and tundra wildfire. In tandem, more gradual processes relating to warming-induced species range shifts are occurring, most notably at the taiga-tundra ecotone. These changes are resulting in dramatic land cover changes across the terrestrial arctic drainages, with profound implications for hydrological and land surface-atmosphere interactions. Despite their importance, these changes and associated feedbacks are poorly represented in Earth Systems Models [Shukla et al., 2019].

The proposed project will:

  1. Synthesize understanding of dominant hydrological-ecological interactions and their feedbacks in the terrestrial arctic drainages by a systematic review of current theoretical and empirical understanding of coupled hydrological-ecological processes;
  2. Identify shortcomings in the current generation of modelling approaches that are used to simulate these coupled processes (i.e., define the gaps between models and theory, including unrealistic assumptions and missing processes); and
  3. Conduct a hierarchy of model simulations with hydrological and ecological models of different type and complexity for specific field sites to better understand current modelling capabilities and identify limitations.

To focus the work, we will target three dominant drivers of change in the terrestrial arctic drainages: shrubification of the tundra; thermokarst-induced vegetation change; and ecological state change following wildfire.