07 Jul 2023
 | 07 Jul 2023

Links between seasonal suprapermafrost groundwater, the hydrothermal change of the active layer, and river runoff in alpine permafrost watersheds

Jia Qin, Yongjian Ding, Tianding Han, Faxiang Shi, Qiudong Zhao, Yaping Chang, and Junhao Cui

Abstract. The seasonal dynamic of suprapermafrost groundwater significantly affects runoff generation and concentration in permafrost basins and is a leading issue that must urgently be addressed in hydrological research in cold and alpine regions. In this study, the seasonal dynamic process of the suprapermafrost groundwater level (SGL), vertical gradient changes of soil temperature (ST) and moisture content in the active layer (AL), and river level changes were systematically analyzed at four permafrost watersheds in the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau using comparative analysis and the nonlinear correlation evaluation method. How freeze–thaw processes impact seasonal SGL, and the links between SGL and surface runoff, were also discussed. The SGL process in a hydrological year can be divided into four periods: (A) a rapid falling period (October–middle November), (B) a stable low-water period (late November–May), (C) a rapid rising period (approximately June), and (D) a stable high-water period (July–September), which synchronously respond to seasonal variations in soil moisture and temperature in the AL. The characteristics and causes of SGL changes varied significantly during the four different periods. The freeze-thaw process of the AL has crucial regulatory effects on SGL and surface runoff in permafrost watersheds. During Period A, with rapid AL freezing, the ST had a dominant impact on the SGL. In Period B, the AL was entirely frozen because of the stably low ST, and the SGL dropped to the lowest level with small changes. During Period C, ST in the deep soil layers of the active layer (below 50 cm depth) significantly impacted the SGL (nonlinear correlation coefficient R2>0.74, P<0.05), whereas the SGL change in the shallow soil layer (0–50 cm depth) had a closer relationship with soil moisture content. Rainfall was the major cause for the stable high SGL during Period D. In addition, the SGLs in Periods C and D were closely linked to the retreat and flood processes of river runoff. The SWL contributed approximately 57.0–65.8 % of the river runoff changes in Period D. These findings can provide references for hydrological research in permafrost basins and guide the rational development and utilization of water resources in cold and alpine regions.

Jia Qin et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1394', Anonymous Referee #1, 03 Aug 2023
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC1', jia qin, 18 Sep 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1394', Anonymous Referee #2, 03 Aug 2023
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC2', jia qin, 15 Sep 2023

Jia Qin et al.

Jia Qin et al.


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Short summary
The linkage between the seasonal hydrothermal change of active layer, suprapermafrost groundwater, and surface runoff, which has been regarded as a “black box” in hydrological analyses and simulations, is a bottleneck problem in permafrost hydrological studies. Based on field observations, this study has identified seasonal variations and causes of suprapermafrost groundwater. The linkages and framework of watershed hydrology responding to the freeze–thaw of the active layer also were explored.