• climate modeling;
  • soil temperature;
  • active layer;
  • permafrost

[1] The terrestrial Arctic water cycle is strongly influenced by the presence of permafrost, which is at present degrading as a result of warming. In this study, we describe improvements to the representation of processes in the pan-Arctic Water Balance Model (PWBM) and evaluate simulated soil temperature at four sites in Alaska and active-layer thickness (ALT) across the pan-Arctic drainage basin. Model improvements include new parameterizations for thermal and hydraulic properties of organic soils; an updated snow model, which accounts for seasonal changes in density and thermal conductivity; and a new soil freezing and thawing model, which simulates heat conduction with phase change. When compared against observations across Alaska within differing landscape vegetation conditions in close proximity to one another, PWBM simulations show no systematic soil temperature bias. Simulated temperatures agree well with observations in summer. In winter, results are mixed, with both positive and negative biases noted at times. In two pan-Arctic simulations forced with atmospheric reanalysis, the model captures the mean in observed ALT, although predictability as measured by correlation is limited. The geographic pattern in northern hemisphere permafrost area is well estimated. Simulated permafrost area differs from observed extent by 7 and 17% for the two model runs. Results of two simulations for the periods 1996–1999 and 2066–2069 for a single grid cell in central Alaska illustrate the potential for a drying of soils in the presence of increases in ALT, annual total precipitation, and winter snowfall.