Evaluating the performance of coupled snow–soil models in SURFEXv8 to simulate the permafrost thermal regime at a high Arctic site
Climate change projections still suffer from a limited representation of the permafrost–carbon feedback. Predicting the response of permafrost temperature to climate change requires accurate simulations of Arctic snow and soil properties. This study assesses the capacity of the coupled land surface and snow models ISBA-Crocus and ISBA-ES to simulate snow and soil properties at Bylot Island, a high Arctic site. Field measurements complemented with ERA-Interim reanalyses were used to drive the models and to evaluate simulation outputs. Snow height, density, temperature, thermal conductivity and thermal insulance are examined to determine the critical variables involved in the soil and snow thermal regime. Simulated soil properties are compared to measurements of thermal conductivity, temperature and water content. The simulated snow density profiles are unrealistic, which is most likely caused by the lack of representation in snow models of the upward water vapor fluxes generated by the strong temperature gradients within the snowpack. The resulting vertical profiles of thermal conductivity are inverted compared to observations, with high simulated values at the bottom of the snowpack. Still, ISBA-Crocus manages to successfully simulate the soil temperature in winter. Results are satisfactory in summer, but the temperature of the top soil could be better reproduced by adequately representing surface organic layers, i.e., mosses and litter, and in particular their water retention capacity. Transition periods (soil freezing and thawing) are the least well reproduced because the high basal snow thermal conductivity induces an excessively rapid heat transfer between the soil and the snow in simulations. Hence, global climate models should carefully consider Arctic snow thermal properties, and especially the thermal conductivity of the basal snow layer, to perform accurate predictions of the permafrost evolution under climate change.