Spatio-temporal variations of soil active layer thickness in Chinese boreal forests from 2000 to 2015

Xiongxiong Bai, Jian Yang, Bo Tao, Wei Ren

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5 Scopus citations


The soil active layer in boreal forests is sensitive to climate warming. Climate-induced changes in the active layer may greatly affect the global carbon budget and planetary climatic system by releasing large quantities of greenhouse gases that currently are stored in permafrost. Ground surface temperature is an immediate driver of active layer thickness (ALT) dynamics. In this study, we mapped ALT distribution in Chinese boreal larch forests from 2000 to 2015 by integrating remote sensing data with the Stefan equation. We then examined the changes of the ALT in response to changes in ground surface temperature and identified drivers of the spatio-temporal patterns of ALT. Active layer thickness varied from 1.18 to 1.3 m in the study area. Areas of nonforested land and low elevation or with increased air temperature had a relatively high ALT, whereas ALT was lower at relatively high elevation and with decreased air temperatures. Interannual variations of ALT had no obvious trend, however, and the ALT changed at a rate of only -0.01 and 0.01 m year-1. In a mega-fire patch of 79,000 ha burned in 2003, ΔALT (ALTi - ALT2002, where 2003 ≤ i ≤ 2015) was significantly higher than in the unburned area, with the influence of the wildfire persisting 10 years. Under the high emission scenario (RCP8.5), an increase of 2.6-4.8 °C in mean air temperature would increase ALT into 1.46-1.55 m by 2100, which in turn would produce a significant positive feedback to climate warming.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1225
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This study was funded by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (grant no. 2016YFA0600804), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant no. 41222004).

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments: We acknowledge the China Scholarship Council for its support of Xiongxiong Bai, and also acknowledge Jiaxing Zu, Wenhua Cai, and Yuanzheng Yang for their assistance in data collection. The land cover data were downloaded at The MODIS Land surface data was downloaded at We would like to thank LetPub ( for providing linguistic assistance during the preparation of this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 by the authors.


  • Active layer thickness
  • Boreal forests
  • Remote sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (all)


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