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Open AccessArticle

The Combination of Wildfire and Changing Climate Triggers Permafrost Degradation in the Khentii Mountains, Northern Mongolia

1
Professorship in Hydrology and Climatology, Institute of Geography, Heidelberg University, Im Neuenheimer Feld 348, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany
2
Permafrost Division, Institute of Geography and Geoecology, Mongolian Academy of Science, Erkhuu Street, Sukhbaatar District, Ulaanbaatar UB-14192, Mongolia
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Atmosphere 2020, 11(2), 155; https://doi.org/10.3390/atmos11020155
Received: 3 December 2019 / Revised: 27 January 2020 / Accepted: 30 January 2020 / Published: 31 January 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Climatological and Hydrological Processes in Mountain Regions)
High topographic heterogeneity and complex mechanisms between the atmosphere and the ground create unique hydro-climatic processes over mountainous regions. Based on in situ observations, we present the spatial variability of ground surface temperature (GST) in the Khentii Mountains of northern Mongolia, which is situated at the southern fringe of the Eurasian permafrost zone. Changes in the hydrothermal regime of the active layer were investigated in association with changing climate and wildfire effects. The results reveal that the GST tends to increase continuously since 2011 in both thawing and freezing seasons, and varies significantly within a short horizontal distance, particularly during the thawing season. Extreme weather events, such as drought and heavy snowfall, amplify the increase in the ground temperature and deepen the seasonal thawing depth. The fire-induced loss in organic layer resulted in a greater heat penetration deeper into the ground and unbalanced the moisture distribution. Overall, the thawing depth is greater by >1.7 m under severely burned forest, compared to unburned forest. Given that about 30% of the boreal forest was affected by wildfire in the study area, the ground thermal regime changed considerably. The findings suggest that the combination of regional temperature rise and more frequent extreme weather and wildfire events in the region triggers permafrost degradation and alters the hydrothermal regime in the future.
Keywords: wildfire, active layer, permafrost degradation, hydrothermal regime, mountain region wildfire, active layer, permafrost degradation, hydrothermal regime, mountain region
MDPI and ACS Style

Munkhjargal, M.; Yadamsuren, G.; Yamkhin, J.; Menzel, L. The Combination of Wildfire and Changing Climate Triggers Permafrost Degradation in the Khentii Mountains, Northern Mongolia. Atmosphere 2020, 11, 155.

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