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  1. We studied processes of ice-wedge degradation and stabilization at three sites adjacent to road infrastructure in the Prudhoe Bay Oilfield, Alaska, USA. We examined climatic, environmental, and subsurface conditions and evaluated vulnerability of ice wedges to thermokarst in undisturbed and road-affected areas. Vulnerability of ice wedges strongly depends on the structure and thickness of soil layers above ice wedges, including the active, transient, and intermediate layers. In comparison with the undisturbed area, sites adjacent to the roads had smaller average thicknesses of the protective intermediate layer (4 cm vs. 9 cm), and this layer was absent above almost 60% of ice wedgesmore »(vs. ∼45% in undisturbed areas). Despite the strong influence of infrastructure, ice-wedge degradation is a reversible process. Deepening of troughs during ice-wedge degradation leads to a substantial increase in mean annual ground temperatures but not in thaw depths. Thus, stabilization of ice wedges in the areas of cold continuous permafrost can occur despite accumulation of snow and water in the troughs. Although thermokarst is usually more severe in flooded areas, higher plant productivity, more litter, and mineral material (including road dust) accumulating in the troughs contribute to formation of the intermediate layer, which protects ice wedges from further melting.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 1, 2023
  2. Abstract. Thermokarst lake dynamics, which play an essential role in carbon releasedue to permafrost thaw, are affected by various geomorphological processes.In this study, we derive a three-dimensional (3D) Stefan equation tocharacterize talik geometry under a hypothetical thermokarst lake in thecontinuous permafrost region. Using the Euler equation in the calculus ofvariations, the lower bounds of the talik were determined as an extremum ofthe functional describing the phase boundary area with a fixed total talikvolume. We demonstrate that the semi-ellipsoid geometry of the talik isoptimal for minimizing the total permafrost thaw under the lake for a givenannual heat supply. The model predictingmore »ellipsoidal talik geometry wascompared to talik thickness observations using transient electromagnetic(TEM) soundings in Peatball Lake on the Arctic Coastal Plain (ACP) ofnorthern Alaska. The depth : width ratio of the elliptical sub-lake talik cancharacterize the energy flux anisotropy in the permafrost, although the lakebathymetry cross section may not be elliptic due to the presence ofnear-surface ice-rich permafrost. This theory suggests that talikdevelopment deepens lakes and results in more uniform horizontal lakeexpansion around the perimeter of the lakes, while wind-induced waves andcurrents are likely responsible for the elongation and orientation ofshallow thermokarst lakes without taliks in certain regions such as the ACPof northern Alaska.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2023
  3. Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2023
  4. Lake formation and drainage are pervasive phenomena in permafrost regions. Drained lake basins (DLBs) are often the most common landforms in lowland permafrost regions in the Arctic (50% to 75% of the landscape). However, detailed assessments of DLB distribution and abundance are limited. In this study, we present a novel and scalable remote sensing-based approach to identifying DLBs in lowland permafrost regions, using the North Slope of Alaska as a case study. We validated this first North Slope-wide DLB data product against several previously published sub-regional scale datasets and manually classified points. The study area covered >71,000 km2, including amore »>39,000 km2 area not previously covered in existing DLB datasets. Our approach used Landsat-8 multispectral imagery and ArcticDEM data to derive a pixel-by-pixel statistical assessment of likelihood of DLB occurrence in sub-regions with different permafrost and periglacial landscape conditions, as well as to quantify aerial coverage of DLBs on the North Slope of Alaska. The results were consistent with previously published regional DLB datasets (up to 87% agreement) and showed high agreement with manually classified random points (64.4–95.5% for DLB and 83.2–95.4% for non-DLB areas). Validation of the remote sensing-based statistical approach on the North Slope of Alaska indicated that it may be possible to extend this methodology to conduct a comprehensive assessment of DLBs in pan-Arctic lowland permafrost regions. Better resolution of the spatial distribution of DLBs in lowland permafrost regions is important for quantitative studies on landscape diversity, wildlife habitat, permafrost, hydrology, geotechnical conditions, and high-latitude carbon cycling.« less
  5. Riverbank erosion in yedoma regions strongly affects landscape evolution, biogeochemical cycling, sediment transport, and organic and nutrient fluxes to the Arctic Ocean. Since 2006, we have studied the 35‐m‐high Itkillik River yedoma bluff in northern Alaska, whose retreat rate during 1995–2010 was up to 19 m/yr, which is among the highest rates worldwide. This study extends our previous observations of bluff evolution and shows that average bluff‐top retreat rates decreased from 8.7–10.0 m/yr during 2011–2014 to 4.5–5.8 m/yr during 2015–2019, and bluff‐base retreat rates for the same time period decreased from 4.7–7.5 m/yr to 1.3–1.7 m/yr, correspondingly. Bluff evolution initially involves rapid fluvio‐thermal erosion atmore »the base and block collapse, following by slowdown in river erosion and continuing thermal denudation of the retreating headwall with formation of baydzherakhs. Eventually, input of sediment and water from the headwall diminishes, vegetation develops, and slope gradually stabilizes. The step change in the fluvial–geomorphic system has resulted in a 60% decline in the volumetric mobilization of sediment and organic carbon between 2011 and 2019. Our findings stress the importance of sustained observations at key permafrost region study sites to elucidate critical information related to past and potential landscape evolution in the Arctic.« less
  6. Ice-rich permafrost in the circum-Arctic and sub-Arctic (hereafter pan-Arctic), such as late Pleistocene Yedoma, are especially prone to degradation due to climate change or human activity. When Yedoma deposits thaw, large amounts of frozen organic matter and biogeochemically relevant elements return into current biogeochemical cycles. This mobilization of elements has local and global implications: increased thaw in thermokarst or thermal erosion settings enhances greenhouse gas fluxes from permafrost regions. In addition, this ice-rich ground is of special concern for infrastructure stability as the terrain surface settles along with thawing. Finally, understanding the distribution of the Yedoma domain area provides amore »window into the Pleistocene past and allows reconstruction of Ice Age environmental conditions and past mammoth-steppe landscapes. Therefore, a detailed assessment of the current pan-Arctic Yedoma coverage is of importance to estimate its potential contribution to permafrost-climate feedbacks, assess infrastructure vulnerabilities, and understand past environmental and permafrost dynamics. Building on previous mapping efforts, the objective of this paper is to compile the first digital pan-Arctic Yedoma map and spatial database of Yedoma coverage. Therefore, we 1) synthesized, analyzed, and digitized geological and stratigraphical maps allowing identification of Yedoma occurrence at all available scales, and 2) compiled field data and expert knowledge for creating Yedoma map confidence classes. We used GIS-techniques to vectorize maps and harmonize site information based on expert knowledge. We included a range of attributes for Yedoma areas based on lithological and stratigraphic information from the source maps and assigned three different confidence levels of the presence of Yedoma (confirmed, likely, or uncertain). Using a spatial buffer of 20 km around mapped Yedoma occurrences, we derived an extent of the Yedoma domain. Our result is a vector-based map of the current pan-Arctic Yedoma domain that covers approximately 2,587,000 km 2 , whereas Yedoma deposits are found within 480,000 km 2 of this region. We estimate that 35% of the total Yedoma area today is located in the tundra zone, and 65% in the taiga zone. With this Yedoma mapping, we outlined the substantial spatial extent of late Pleistocene Yedoma deposits and created a unique pan-Arctic dataset including confidence estimates.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 28, 2022
  7. Abstract
    This data set contains a classification of the North Slope, Alaska for drained lake basins (DLBs) based on Landsat-8 imagery of the years 2014-2019 and Arctic Digital Elevation Model (ArcticDEM) data. Drained lake basins (DLBs) are often the most common landforms in lowland permafrost regions in the Arctic (50% to 75% of the landscape). However, detailed assessments of DLB distribution and abundance are limited. This data set is based on a novel and scalable remote sensing-based approach to identify DLBs in lowland permafrost regions, using the North Slope of Alaska as a case study. The data set was validatedMore>>
  8. Very high spatial resolution commercial satellite imagery can inform observation, mapping, and documentation of micro-topographic transitions across large tundra regions. The bridging of fine-scale field studies with pan-Arctic system assessments has until now been constrained by a lack of overlap in spatial resolution and geographical coverage. This likely introduced biases in climate impacts on, and feedback from the Arctic region to the global climate system. The central objective of this exploratory study is to develop an object-based image analysis workflow to automatically extract ice-wedge polygon troughs from very high spatial resolution commercial satellite imagery. We employed a systematic experiment tomore »understand the degree of interoperability of knowledge-based workflows across distinct tundra vegetation units—sedge tundra and tussock tundra—focusing on the same semantic class. In our multi-scale trough modelling workflow, we coupled mathematical morphological filtering with a segmentation process to enhance the quality of image object candidates and classification accuracies. Employment of the master ruleset on sedge tundra reported classification accuracies of correctness of 0.99, completeness of 0.87, and F1 score of 0.92. When the master ruleset was applied to tussock tundra without any adaptations, classification accuracies remained promising while reporting correctness of 0.87, completeness of 0.77, and an F1 score of 0.81. Overall, results suggest that the object-based image analysis-based trough modelling workflow exhibits substantial interoperability across the terrain while producing promising classification accuracies. From an Arctic earth science perspective, the mapped troughs combined with the ArcticDEM can allow hydrological assessments of lateral connectivity of the rapidly changing Arctic tundra landscape, and repeated mapping can allow us to track fine-scale changes across large regions and that has potentially major implications on larger riverine systems.« less
  9. Accelerating erosion of the Alaska Beaufort Sea coast is increasing inputs of organic matter from land to the Arctic Ocean, and improved estimates of organic matter stocks in eroding coastal permafrost are needed to assess their mobilization rates under contemporary conditions. We collected three permafrost cores (4.5–7.5 m long) along a geomorphic gradient near Drew Point, Alaska, where recent erosion rates average 17.2 m year −1 . Down-core patterns indicate that organic-rich soils and lacustrine sediments (12–45% total organic carbon; TOC) in the active layer and upper permafrost accumulated during the Holocene. Deeper permafrost (below 3 m elevation) mainly consists of Late Pleistocene marinemore »sediments with lower organic matter content (∼1% TOC), lower C:N ratios, and higher δ 13 C values. Radiocarbon-based estimates of organic carbon accumulation rates were 11.3 ± 3.6 g TOC m −2  year −1 during the Holocene and 0.5 ± 0.1 g TOC m −2  year −1 during the Late Pleistocene (12–38 kyr BP). Within relict marine sediments, porewater salinities increased with depth. Elevated salinity near sea level (∼20–37 in thawed samples) inhibited freezing despite year-round temperatures below 0°C. We used organic matter stock estimates from the cores in combination with remote sensing time-series data to estimate carbon fluxes for a 9 km stretch of coastline near Drew Point. Erosional fluxes of TOC averaged 1,369 kg C m −1  year −1 during the 21st century (2002–2018), nearly doubling the average flux of the previous half-century (1955–2002). Our estimate of the 21st century erosional TOC flux year −1 from this 9 km coastline (12,318 metric tons C year −1 ) is similar to the annual TOC flux from the Kuparuk River, which drains a 8,107 km 2 area east of Drew Point and ranks as the third largest river on the North Slope of Alaska. Total nitrogen fluxes via coastal erosion at Drew Point were also quantified, and were similar to those from the Kuparuk River. This study emphasizes that coastal erosion represents a significant pathway for carbon and nitrogen trapped in permafrost to enter modern biogeochemical cycles, where it may fuel food webs and greenhouse gas emissions in the marine environment.« less