27 Jun 2024
 | 27 Jun 2024
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

The influence of permafrost and other environmental controls on stream thermal sensitivity across Yukon, Canada

Andras Janos Szeitz and Sean K. Carey

Abstract. Thermal sensitivity, defined as the slope of a linear regression between stream and air temperature, is a useful indicator of the strength of coupling between atmospheric forcings and stream temperature, or conversely, of the presence of non-atmospheric thermal influences such as groundwater contributions to streamflow. Furthermore, thermal sensitivity is known to be responsive to environmental change. This study expands the current state of knowledge of stream thermal sensitivity in cold, northern regions across catchment scales, investigates the environmental controls of thermal sensitivity across a range of catchment dispositions, and assesses the thermal influence of environmental conditions unique to cold regions, namely permafrost. We conducted a linear regression analysis relating mean daily air and stream temperature in 57 catchments in Yukon, Canada, with catchment areas ranging from 5.4 to 86,500 km2, and with catchment mean permafrost probabilities ranging from 0.0 to 0.99. Thermal sensitivities obtained from the linear regressions ranged from 0.14 to 0.84 °C °C-1, with a median of 0.56 °C °C-1, and the regression intercepts ranged from -0.07 to 7.60 °C, with the mean regression Nash-Sutcliffe efficiency = 0.81. Thermal sensitivity was positively related to catchment area, land covers representing surface water storage, and streamflow ‘flashiness’ or a lack of groundwater contributions. The greatest single environmental characteristic explaining the variance in thermal sensitivity was catchment topography and physiography (9 % variance explained); however, 39 % of the variance in thermal sensitivity was explained jointly by catchment physiography, land cover, and permafrost presence indicators, suggesting thermal sensitivity is the result of multiple interacting controls. Permafrost appeared to have indirect and offsetting effects on thermal sensitivity through its influence on separate and counter-acting processes controlling thermal sensitivity.

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Andras Janos Szeitz and Sean K. Carey

Status: open (until 11 Sep 2024)

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Andras Janos Szeitz and Sean K. Carey

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Research data set Andras J. Szeitz

Andras Janos Szeitz and Sean K. Carey


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Short summary
Stream temperature sensitivity in northern regions responds to many of the same environmental controls as in temperate regions, but the presence of annually frozen ground (permafrost) influences catchment hydrology and stream temperature regimes. Permafrost can have positive and negative influences on thermal regimes. The net effect of northern environmental change on stream temperature is complex and uncertain, but permafrost will likely play a role through its control on cold region hydrology.