Influence of past vegetation changes on estimates of ground surface temperature histories GSTH obtained by inversion of borehole temperature logs: Example from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin

  • Jacek A. Majorowicz Department of Physics, University of Alberta.
  • Jan Šafanda Institute of Geophysics, Czech Academy of Sciences
Keywords: Ground warming, Borehole temperature log, Paleoclimatology, Land use, Geophysical inversion


Functional space inversions (FSI) of precise temperature logs from 43 wells, located in low conductivity clastic sediments of the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, (WCSB), reveal evidence of extensive, recent ground surface temperature (GST) warming. Simultaneous inversion of log data acquired during the period of 1987-2005, as well as averaging of the individual site reconstructions of subsurface temperature signals, indicate evidence of high magnitude of warming of about 2°C (with standard deviations of 0.7°C). Magnitudes of such warning events exceeds 3-4 times that of globally averaged continental GST’s for the 20th century and is significantly higher than that of changes in surface air temperatures (SAT) based on instrumental records in the WCSB. Within this region, GST warming in the 20th century could have been at least partially caused by changes in vegetation cover. The temporary or permanent removal of vegetation, through deforestation, forest fires, and grassland conversion for agriculture occurred in the relatively young provinces of WCSB, during centennial long settlement and development programs. This might have significantly changed the surface properties of the area, since changes in surface albedo affects the radiation budget, while changes in the thermal, moisture and aerodynamic characteristics affect the energy balance. The results of our modelling for typical range of bedrock thermal diffusivities and assumed surface warming history for studied areas in WCSB show that a possible jump in ground surface temperature can easily be interpreted in the FSI results as a gradual warming event of large amplitude and attributed to SAT.