Differential frost heave model for patterned ground formation: Corroboration with observations along a North American arctic transect



[1] Frost boils in the Arctic are a manifestation of patterned ground in the form of nonsorted circles. Active frost boils involve convection of water through the soil that can bring basic salts from depth to the surface. As such, active frost boils can mitigate acidification and thereby strongly influence the type of vegetation supported by Arctic soils. The presence or absence of active frost boils is thought to play a pivotal role in establishing the sharp demarcation between moist nonacidic tundra (MNT) and moist acidic tundra (MAT) in the Arctic. The focus of this paper is to corroborate the predictions of a mathematical model that relates observable patterned ground features to ecosystem parameters with observations at the field sites along the North American Arctic Transect (NAAT) established by the Biocomplexity of Patterned-Ground Ecosystems Project. Model predictions indicate that recurrent one-dimensional frost heave can become unstable and evolve into multidimensional differential frost heave (DFH). A laboratory frost heave simulation produced a 28-cm pattern in an active layer of 10 cm, which agrees with linear stability theory predictions. A finite element solution predicts three-dimensional patterns with approximately 3-m spacing develop in a 1.0-m active layer with a surface n factor of 0.35, which agrees well with field observations from the NAAT. The lack of significant frost boil activity in the MAT is a result of suppression of DFH owing to denser surface vegetation characterized by low n factors. Prominent active frost boils are observed in the MNT at higher latitudes with more sparse vegetation characterized by higher n factors that promote DFH. However, at the northernmost field sites frost boils cannot be generated even though the n factors are relatively high owing to very rapid freezing conditions that mitigate DFH.