Cold regions provide water resources for half the global population yet face rapid change. Their hydrology is dominated by snow, ice and frozen soils, and climate warming is having profound effects. Hydrological models have a key role in predicting changing water resources, but are challenged in cold regions. Ground-based data to quantify meteorological forcing and constrain model parameterization are limited, while hydrological processes are complex, often controlled by phase change energetics. River flows are impacted by poorly quantified human activities. This paper reports scientific developments over the past decade of MESH, the Canadian community hydrological land surface scheme. New cold region process representation includes improved blowing snow transport and sublimation, lateral land-surface flow, prairie pothole storage dynamics, frozen ground infiltration and thermodynamics, and improved glacier modelling. New algorithms to represent water management include multi-stage reservoir operation. Parameterization has been supported by field observations and remotely sensed data; new methods for parameter identification have been used to evaluate model uncertainty and support regionalization. Additionally, MESH has been linked to broader decision-support frameworks, including river ice simulation and hydrological forecasting. The paper also reports various applications to the Saskatchewan and Mackenzie River basins in western Canada (0.4 and 1.8 million km2). These basins arise in glaciated mountain headwaters, are partly underlain by permafrost, and include remote and incompletely understood forested, wetland, agricultural and tundra ecoregions. This imposes extraordinary challenges to prediction, including the need to overcoming biases in forcing data sets, which can have disproportionate effects on the simulated hydrology.
Permafrost thaw has been observed in recent decades in the Northern Hemisphere and is expected to accelerate with continued global warming. Predicting the future of permafrost requires proper representation of the interrelated surface/subsurface thermal and hydrologic regimes. Land surface models (LSMs) are well suited for such predictions, as they couple heat and water interactions across soil-vegetation-atmosphere interfaces and can be applied over large scales. LSMs, however, are challenged by the long-term thermal and hydraulic memories of permafrost and the paucity of historical records to represent permafrost dynamics under transient climate conditions. In this study, we address the challenge of model initialization by characterizing the impact of initial climate conditions and initial soil frozen and liquid water contents on the simulation length required to reach equilibrium. Further, we quantify how the uncertainty in model initialization propagates to simulated permafrost dynamics. Modelling experiments are conducted with the Modélisation Environmentale Communautaire – Surface and Hydrology (MESH) framework and its embedded Canadian Land Surface Scheme (CLASS). The study area is in the Liard River basin in the Northwest Territories of Canada with sporadic and discontinuous regions. Results show that uncertainty in model initialization controls various attributes of simulated permafrost, especially the active layer thickness, which could change by 0.5-1.5m depending on the initial condition chosen. The least number of spin-up cycles is achieved with near field capacity condition, but the number of cycles varies depending on the spin-up year climate. We advise an extended spin-up of 200-1000 cycles to ensure proper model initialization under different climatic conditions and initial soil moisture contents.