Drivers of Holocene palsa distribution in North America

Richard E. Fewster*, Paul J. Morris, Graeme T. Swindles, Lauren J. Gregoire, Ruza F. Ivanovic, Paul J. Valdes, Donal Mullan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Palsas and peat plateaus are climatically sensitive landforms in permafrost peatlands. Climate envelope models have previously related palsa/peat plateau distributions in Europe to modern climate, but similar bioclimatic modelling has not been attempted for North America. Recent climate change has rendered many palsas/peat plateaus in this region, and their valuable carbon stores, vulnerable. We fitted a binary logistic regression model to predict palsa/peat plateau presence for North America by relating the distribution of 352 extant landforms to gridded modern climate data. Our model accurately classified 85.3% of grid cells that contain observed palsas/peat plateaus and 77.1% of grid cells without observed palsas/peat plateaus. The model indicates that modern North American palsas/peat plateaus are supported by cold, dry climates with large seasonal temperature ranges and mild growing seasons. We used palaeoclimate simulations from a general circulation model to simulate Holocene distributions of palsas/peat plateaus at 500-year intervals. We constrained these outputs with timings of peat initiation, deglaciation, and postglacial drainage across the continent. Our palaeoclimate simulations indicate that this climate envelope remained stationary in western North America throughout the Holocene, but further east it migrated northwards during 11.5–6.0 ka BP. However, palsa extents in eastern North America were restricted from following this moving climate envelope by late deglaciation, drainage and peat initiation. We validated our Holocene simulations against available palaeoecological records and whilst they agree that permafrost peatlands aggraded earliest in western North America, our simulations contest previous suggestions that late permafrost aggradation in central Canada was climatically-driven.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106337
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2020


  • Climate envelope
  • Data analysis
  • Holocene
  • North America
  • Palaeogeography
  • Palsa
  • Peat plateau
  • Permafrost peatlands

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Geology


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