skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Thursday, June 13 until 2:00 AM ET on Friday, June 14 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Title: Climate Signatures on Lake And Wetland Size Distributions in Arctic Deltas

Understanding how thermokarst lakes on arctic river deltas will respond to rapid warming is critical for projecting how carbon storage and fluxes will change in those vulnerable environments. Yet, this understanding is currently limited partly due to the complexity of disentangling significant interannual variability from the longer‐term surface water signatures on the landscape, using the short summertime window of optical spaceborne observations. Here, we rigorously separate perennial lakes from ephemeral wetlands on 12 arctic deltas and report distinct size distributions and climate trends for the two waterbodies. Namely, we find a lognormal distribution for lakes and a power‐law distribution for wetlands, consistent with a simple proportionate growth model and inundated topography, respectively. Furthermore, while no trend with temperature is found for wetlands, a statistically significant decreasing trend of mean lake size with warmer temperatures is found, attributed to colder deltas having deeper and thicker permafrost preserving larger lakes.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Geophysical Research Letters
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Coastal wetlands provide essential ecosystem goods and services but are extremely vulnerable to sea‐level rise, extreme climate, and human activities, especially the coastal wetlands in large river deltas, which are regarded as “natural recorders” of changes in estuarine environments. In addition to the area (loss or gain) and quality (degradation or improvement) of coastal wetlands, the information on coastal wetland structure (e.g., patch size and number) are also major metrics for coastal restoration and biodiversity protection, but remain very limited in China's four major river deltas. In this study, we quantified the spatial–temporal dynamics of total area (TA) and patch number (PN) of coastal wetlands with different sizes in the four deltas and the protected areas (PAs) and assessed the effects of major driving factors during 1984–2020. We also investigated the effectiveness of PAs through the comparison of TA and PN of coastal wetlands before and after the years in which PAs were listed as Ramsar Sites. We found both TA and PN experienced substantial losses in the Liaohe River Delta and Yellow River Delta but recent recoveries in the Yangtze River Delta. The coastal wetlands had a relatively stable and variable trend in TA but had a continually increasing trend in PN in the Pearl River Delta. Furthermore, reduced coastal reclamation, ecological restoration projects, and rapid expansion of invasive plants had great impacts on the coastal wetland structure in various ways. We also found that PAs were effective in halting the decreasing trends in coastal wetland areas and slowing the expansion of reclamation, but the success of PAs is being counteracted by soaring exotic plant invasions. Our findings provide vital information for the government and the public to address increasing challenges of coastal restoration, management, and sustainability in large river deltas.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract Aim

    While we understand broad climate drivers of insect distributions throughout the Arctic, less is known about the role of spatial processes in determining these relationships. As such, there is a need to understand how spatial controls may influence our interpretations of chironomid environment relationships. Here, we evaluated whether the distribution of chironomids followed spatial gradients, or were primarily controlled by environmental factors.


    Eastern Canadian Arctic, Greenland, Iceland.


    Non‐biting midges (Chironomidae).


    We examined chironomid assemblages from 239 lakes in the western North Atlantic Arctic region (specifically from the Arctic Archipelago of Canada, two parts of west Greenland (the southwest and central west) and northwest Iceland). We used a combination of unconstrained ordination (Self Organizing Maps); a simple method with only one data matrix (community data), and constrained ordination (Redundancy Analysis); a canonical ordination with two datasets where we extracted structure of community related to environmental data. These methods allowed us to model chironomid assemblages across a large bioregional dimension and identify specific differences between regions that were defined by common taxa represented across all regions in high frequencies, as well as rare taxa distinctive to each region found in low frequencies. We then evaluated the relative importance of spatial processes versus local environmental factors.


    We find that environmental controls explained the largest amount of variation in chironomid assemblages within each region, and that spatial controls are only significant when crossing between regions. Broad‐scale biogeographic effects on chironomid distributions are reflected by the distinct differences among chironomid assemblages of Iceland, central‐west Greenland, and eastern Canada, defined by the presence of certain common and low‐frequency, rare taxa for each region. Environmental gradients, especially temperature, defined species distributions within each region, whereas spatial processes combine with environmental gradients in determining what mix of species characterizes each broad and geographically distinct island region in our study.

    Main conclusions

    While biogeographic context is important for defining interpretations of environmental controls on species distributions, the primary control on distributions within regions is environmental. These influences are fundamentally important for reconstructing past environmental change and better understanding historical distributions of these insect indicators.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    River deltas display a wide range of morphologic patterns that influence how nutrients interact in channels and wetlands on their way to the coast. To quantify the role of delta morphology on nitrate fate, we simulated reactive nitrate transport over steady base flow conditions for six synthetic, morphologically unique river‐dominated deltas created in Delft3D by varying incoming grain size distributions. We parameterized nitrate removal kinetics using an observed relationship with elevation from Wax Lake Delta (Louisiana, USA). Total nitrate retention across the six synthetic deltas and Wax Lake Delta ranged from 1.3%‐13%, suggesting that these river‐dominated deltas have limited ability to remove nitrate from incoming river water. Nitrate removal is constrained by limited hydrologic connectivity with the areas of greatest nitrate demand, which are found at higher elevation. In these synthetic numerical experiments, the efficiency of nitrate removal is greatest for deltas with more topologic complexity and greater proportions of the delta plain at higher elevation, which are both common characteristics of coarser‐grained deltas. The positive relationship between grain size and nitrate removal may help guide land reclamation projects if project goals include minimizing nitrate export to the sea.

    more » « less

    Deltas are crucial for land building and ecological services due to their ability to store mineral sediment, carbon and potential pollutants. A decline in suspended sediment discharge in large rivers caused by the construction of mega‐dams might imperil deltaic flats and wetlands. However, there has not been clear evidence of a sedimentary shift in the downstream tidal flats that feed coastal wetlands and the intertidal zone with sediments. Here, integrated intertidal/subaqueous sediment samples, multi‐year bathymetries, fluvial and deltaic hydrological and sediment transport data in the Nanhui tidal flats and Nanhui Shoal in the Changjiang (Yangtze) Delta, one of the largest mega‐deltas in the world, were analysed to discern how sedimentary environments changed in response to the operations of the Three Gorges Dam. Results reveal that the coarser sediment fractions of surficial sediments in the subaqueous Nanhui Shoal increased between 2004 to 2021, and the overall grain size coarsened from 18.5 to 27.3 μm. Moreover, intertidal sediments in cores coarsened by 25% after the 1990s. During that period, the northern part of the Nanhui Shoal suffered large‐scale erosion, while the southern part accreted in recent decades. Reduced suspended sediment discharge of the Changjiang River combined with local resuspension of fine‐grained sediments are responsible for tidal flat erosion. This study found that the spatial pattern of grain‐size parameters has shifted from crossing the bathymetric isobaths to being parallel to them. Higher tide level and tidal range induced by sea‐level rise, an upstream increase in bed shear stress and larger waves likely further exacerbated erosion and sediment coarsening in deltaic flats. As a result, this sediment‐starved estuary coupled with sea‐level rise and artificial reclamations have enhanced the vulnerability of tidal flats in Changjiang Delta, this research is informative to the sedimentary shift of worldwide mega‐deltas.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract. Methane emissions from boreal and arctic wetlands, lakes, and rivers areexpected to increase in response to warming and associated permafrost thaw.However, the lack of appropriate land cover datasets for scalingfield-measured methane emissions to circumpolar scales has contributed to alarge uncertainty for our understanding of present-day and future methaneemissions. Here we present the Boreal–Arctic Wetland and Lake Dataset(BAWLD), a land cover dataset based on an expert assessment, extrapolatedusing random forest modelling from available spatial datasets of climate,topography, soils, permafrost conditions, vegetation, wetlands, and surfacewater extents and dynamics. In BAWLD, we estimate the fractional coverage offive wetland, seven lake, and three river classes within 0.5 × 0.5∘ grid cells that cover the northern boreal and tundra biomes(17 % of the global land surface). Land cover classes were defined usingcriteria that ensured distinct methane emissions among classes, as indicatedby a co-developed comprehensive dataset of methane flux observations. InBAWLD, wetlands occupied 3.2 × 106 km2 (14 % of domain)with a 95 % confidence interval between 2.8 and 3.8 × 106 km2. Bog, fen, and permafrost bog were the most abundant wetlandclasses, covering ∼ 28 % each of the total wetland area,while the highest-methane-emitting marsh and tundra wetland classes occupied5 % and 12 %, respectively. Lakes, defined to include all lentic open-waterecosystems regardless of size, covered 1.4 × 106 km2(6 % of domain). Low-methane-emitting large lakes (>10 km2) and glacial lakes jointly represented 78 % of the total lakearea, while high-emitting peatland and yedoma lakes covered 18 % and 4 %,respectively. Small (<0.1 km2) glacial, peatland, and yedomalakes combined covered 17 % of the total lake area but contributeddisproportionally to the overall spatial uncertainty in lake area with a95 % confidence interval between 0.15 and 0.38 × 106 km2. Rivers and streams were estimated to cover 0.12  × 106 km2 (0.5 % of domain), of which 8 % was associated withhigh-methane-emitting headwaters that drain organic-rich landscapes.Distinct combinations of spatially co-occurring wetland and lake classeswere identified across the BAWLD domain, allowing for the mapping of“wetscapes” that have characteristic methane emission magnitudes andsensitivities to climate change at regional scales. With BAWLD, we provide adataset which avoids double-accounting of wetland, lake, and river extentsand which includes confidence intervals for each land cover class. As such,BAWLD will be suitable for many hydrological and biogeochemical modellingand upscaling efforts for the northern boreal and arctic region, inparticular those aimed at improving assessments of current and futuremethane emissions. Data are freely available at (Olefeldt et al., 2021). 
    more » « less