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  1. Abstract

    In 2007, the Anaktuvuk River fire burned more than 1000 km2of arctic tundra in northern Alaska, ~ 50% of which occurred in an area with ice-rich syngenetic permafrost (Yedoma). By 2014, widespread degradation of ice wedges was apparent in the Yedoma region. In a 50 km2area, thaw subsidence was detected across 15% of the land area in repeat airborne LiDAR data acquired in 2009 and 2014. Updating observations with a 2021 airborne LiDAR dataset show that additional thaw subsidence was detected in < 1% of the study area, indicating stabilization of the thaw-affected permafrost terrain. Ground temperature measurements between 2010 and 2015 indicated that the number of near-surface soil thawing-degree-days at the burn site were 3 × greater than at an unburned control site, but by 2022 the number was reduced to 1.3 × greater. Mean annual ground temperature of the near-surface permafrost increased by 0.33 °C/yr in the burn site up to 7-years post-fire, but then cooled by 0.15 °C/yr in the subsequent eight years, while temperatures at the control site remained relatively stable. Permafrost cores collected from ice-wedge troughs (n = 41) and polygon centers (n = 8) revealed the presence of a thaw unconformity, that in most cases was overlain by a recovered permafrost layer that averaged 14.2 cm and 18.3 cm, respectively. Taken together, our observations highlight that the initial degradation of ice-rich permafrost following the Anaktuvuk River tundra fire has been followed by a period of thaw cessation, permafrost aggradation, and terrain stabilization.

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  2. Abstract

    Wetlands in Arctic drained lake basins (DLBs) have a high potential for carbon storage in vegetation and peat as well as for elevated greenhouse gas emissions. However, the evolution of vegetation and organic matter is rarely studied in DLBs, making these abundant wetlands especially uncertain elements of the permafrost carbon budget. We surveyed multiple DLB generations in northern Alaska with the goal to assess vegetation, microtopography, and organic matter in surface sediment and pond water in DLBs and to provide the first high-resolution land cover classification for a DLB system focussing on moisture-related vegetation classes for the Teshekpuk Lake region. We associated sediment properties and methane concentrations along a post-drainage succession gradient with remote sensing-derived land cover classes. Our study distinguished five eco-hydrological classes using statistical clustering of vegetation data, which corresponded to the land cover classes. We identified surface wetness and time since drainage as predictors of vegetation composition. Microtopographic complexity increased after drainage. Organic carbon and nitrogen contents in sediment, and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and dissolved nitrogen (DN) in ponds were high throughout, indicating high organic matter availability and decomposition. We confirmed wetness as a predictor of sediment methane concentrations. Our findings suggest moderate to high methane concentrations independent of drainage age, with particularly high concentrations beneath submerged patches (up to 200μmol l−1) and in pond water (up to 22μmol l−1). In our DLB system, wet and shallow submerged patches with high methane concentrations occupied 54% of the area, and ponds with high DOC, DN and methane occupied another 11%. In conclusion, we demonstrate that DLB wetlands are highly productive regarding organic matter decomposition and methane production. Machine learning-aided land cover classification using high-resolution multispectral satellite imagery provides a useful tool for future upscaling of sediment properties and methane emission potentials from Arctic DLBs.

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  3. Abstract

    Permafrost warming and degradation is well documented across the Arctic. However, observation‐ and model‐based studies typically consider thaw to occur at 0°C, neglecting the widespread occurrence of saline permafrost in coastal plain regions. In this study, we document rapid saline permafrost thaw below a shallow arctic lake. Over the 15‐year period, the lakebed subsided by 0.6 m as ice‐rich, saline permafrost thawed. Repeat transient electromagnetic measurements show that near‐surface bulk sediment electrical conductivity increased by 198% between 2016 and 2022. Analysis of wintertime Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite imagery indicates a transition from a bedfast to a floating ice lake with brackish water due to saline permafrost thaw. The regime shift likely contributed to the 65% increase in thermokarst lake lateral expansion rates. Our results indicate that thawing saline permafrost may be contributing to an increase in landscape change rates in the Arctic faster than anticipated.

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  4. Abstract

    Snowdrifts formed by wind transported snow deposition represent a vital component of the earth surface processes on Arctic tundra. Snow accumulation on steep slopes particularly at the margins of rivers, coasts, lakes, and drained lake basins (DLBs) comprise a significant water storage component for the ecosystem during spring and summer snowmelt. The tundra landscape is in constant change as lakes drain, substantially altering the surface morphology that partially controls how snow drifts and accumulates throughout the cold seasons. Here, we combine field measurements, remote sensing observations, and snow modeling to investigate how lake drainage affects snow redistribution at Inigok on the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska, where the snow movement is controlled by wind. Field observations included measurements of snow depth using ground penetrating radar and probe. We mapped mid‐July snow cover and modeled snow redistribution before and after drainage simulation for 33 lakes (∼30 km2) in our study area (∼140 km2). Our results show the advantage of using a wide range of snow depth measurements on frozen lakes, DLBs, and upland to validate the snow modeling in order to capture the variability inherent in the landscape. The lake drainage simulation suggests an increase in snow storage of up to ∼24% at DLBs compared to extant lakes, ∼35% considering only snowdrifts (assumed as ≥1 m depth), and ∼4% considering the whole study area. This increase in snow accumulation could significantly impact the landscape when it melts, including wildlife, vegetation, biogeochemical processes, and potential natural hazards like snow‐dam outburst floods.

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  5. Abstract

    Lakes set in arctic permafrost landscapes can be susceptible to rapid drainage and downstream flood generation. Of many thousands of lakes in northern Alaska, hundreds have been identified as having high drainage potential directly to river systems and 18 such drainage events have been documented since 1955. In 2018 we began monitoring a large lake with high drainage potential as part of a long‐term hydrological observation network designed to evaluate impacts of land use and climate change. In early June 2022, surface water was observed flowing over a 30‐m wide bluff, with active headward erosion of ice‐rich permafrost soils apparent by late June. This overflow point breached rapidly in early July, draining almost the entire lake within 12 h and generating a 191 m3/s flood to a downstream creek. Water level and turbidity sensors and time‐lapse cameras captured this rapid lake‐drainage event at high resolution. A wind‐driven surface seiche and warming waters following ice‐out helped trigger the initial thermomechanical breach. We estimate at least 600 MT of lake sediment was eroded, mobilized, and transported downstream. A flood wave peaking at 42 m3/s arrived 14 h after the initial breach at a river gauge 9‐km downstream. Comparing this event with three other quantified arctic lake‐drainage floods suggests that lake surface area coupled with drainage gradient height can predict outburst flood magnitude. Using this relationship we estimated future flood hazards from the 146 lakes in the Arctic Coastal Plain of northern Alaska (ACP) with high drainage potential, of which 20% are expected to generate outburst floods exceeding 100 m3/s to downstream rivers. This fortunate and detailed drainage‐event observation adds to a growing body of research on the impact of lakes on arctic hydrology, hazard forecasting in a region with an increasing human footprint, and broader processes of landscape evolution in arctic lowlands.

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  6. Abstract

    On the Arctic Coastal Plain (ACP) in northern Alaska (USA), permafrost and abundant surface‐water storage define watershed hydrological processes. In the last decades, the ACP landscape experienced extreme climate events and increased lake water withdrawal (LWW) for infrastructure construction, primarily ice roads and industrial operations. However, their potential (combined) effects on streamflow are relatively underexplored. Here, we applied the process‐based, spatially distributed hydrological and thermal Water Balance Simulation Model (10 m spatial resolution) to the 30 km2Crea Creek watershed located on the ACP. The impacts of documented seasonal climate extremes and LWW were evaluated on seasonal runoff (May–August), including minimum 7‐day mean flow (MQ7), the recovery time of MQ7 to pre‐perturbation conditions, and the duration of streamflow conditions that prevents fish passage. Low‐rainfall scenarios (21% of normal, one to three summers in a row) caused a larger reduction in MQ7 (−56% to −69%) than LWW alone (−44% to −58%). Decadal‐long consecutive LWW under average climate conditions resulted in a new equilibrium in low flow and seasonal runoff after 3 years that included a disconnected stream network, a reduced watershed contributing area (54% of total watershed area), and limited fish passage of 20 days (vs. 6 days under control conditions) throughout summer. Our results highlight that, even under current average climatic conditions, LWW is not offset by same‐year snowmelt as currently assumed in land management regulations. Effective land management would therefore benefit from considering the combined impact of climate change and industrial LWWs.

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  7. Abstract

    Lakes represent as much as ∼25% of the total land surface area in lowland permafrost regions. Though decreasing lake area has become a widespread phenomenon in permafrost regions, our ability to forecast future patterns of lake drainage spanning gradients of space and time remain limited. Here, we modeled the drivers of gradual (steady declining lake area) and catastrophic (temporally abrupt decrease in lake area) lake drainage using 45 years of Landsat observations (i.e. 1975–2019) across 32 690 lakes spanning climate and environmental gradients across northern Alaska. We mapped lake area using supervised support vector machine classifiers and object based image analyses using five-year Landsat image composites spanning 388 968 km2. Drivers of lake drainage were determined with boosted regression tree models, using both static (e.g. lake morphology, proximity to drainage gradient) and dynamic predictor variables (e.g. temperature, precipitation, wildfire). Over the past 45 years, gradual drainage decreased lake area between 10% and 16%, but rates varied over time as the 1990s recorded the highest rates of gradual lake area losses associated with warm periods. Interestingly, the number of catastrophically drained lakes progressively decreased at a rate of ∼37% decade−1from 1975–1979 (102–273 lakes draining year−1) to 2010–2014 (3–8 lakes draining year−1). However this 40 year negative trend was reversed during the most recent time-period (2015–2019), with observations of catastrophic drainage among the highest on record (i.e. 100–250 lakes draining year−1), the majority of which occurred in northwestern Alaska. Gradual drainage processes were driven by lake morphology, summer air and lake temperature, snow cover, active layer depth, and the thermokarst lake settlement index (R2adj= 0.42, CV = 0.35,p< 0.0001), whereas, catastrophic drainage was driven by the thawing season length, total precipitation, permafrost thickness, and lake temperature (R2adj= 0.75, CV = 0.67,p< 0.0001). Models forecast a continued decline in lake area across northern Alaska by 15%–21% by 2050. However these estimates are conservative, as the anticipated amplitude of future climate change were well-beyond historical variability and thus insufficient to forecast abrupt ‘catastrophic’ drainage processes. Results highlight the urgency to understand the potential ecological responses and feedbacks linked with ongoing Arctic landscape reorganization.

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  8. Abstract

    Snowmelt‐dominated runoff regimes have defined northern Alaskan rivers. Discharge records from three watersheds within the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR‐A) span 19 years and capture three notable periods of changing runoff. In the first, 2001–2008, mean annual runoff (MAR) averaged 90 mm, characterized by sharp snowmelt runoff and summer drought. Over the next 7 years, larger MAR averaged 120 mm driven by high and early snowmelt runoff. The most recent 4 years, 2016–2019, had even higher MAR of 163 mm with high and sustained late summer flows. Hydrograph analysis suggests a shift toward rainfall‐dominated runoff in the most recent period compared to snowmelt‐dominated hydrographs in the previous two. Declining sea ice appears closely linked to increasing late summer precipitation and a shift toward rainfall runoff. Future development in the NPR‐A will require continued hydrological monitoring and planning to mitigate flood and erosion hazards, permafrost degradation, and ecosystem impairment.

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  9. Abstract

    Lakes are an important ecosystem component and geomorphological agent in northern high latitudes and it is important to understand how lake initiation, expansion and drainage may change as high latitudes continue to warm. In this study, we utilized Landsat Multispectral Scanner System images from the 1970s (1972, 1974, and 1975) and Operational Land Imager images from the 2010s (2013, 2014, and 2015) to assess broad-scale distribution and changes of lakes larger than 1 ha across the four permafrost zones (continuous, discontinuous, sporadic, and isolated extent) in western Alaska. Across our 68 000 km2study area, we saw a decline in overall lake coverage across all permafrost zones with the exception of the sporadic permafrost zone. In the continuous permafrost zone lake area declined by −6.7% (−65.3 km2), in the discontinuous permafrost zone by −1.6% (−55.0 km2), in the isolated permafrost zone by −6.9% (−31.5 km2) while lake cover increased by 2.7% (117.2 km2) in the sporadic permafrost zone. Overall, we observed a net drainage of lakes larger than 10 ha in the study region. Partial drainage of these medium to large lakes created an increase in the area covered by small water bodies <10 ha, in the form of remnant lakes and ponds by 7.1% (12.6 km2) in continuous permafrost, 2.5% (15.5 km2) in discontinuous permafrost, 14.4% (74.6 km2) in sporadic permafrost, and 10.4% (17.2 km2) in isolated permafrost. In general, our observations indicate that lake expansion and drainage in western Alaska are occurring in parallel. As the climate continues to warm and permafrost continues to thaw, we expect an increase in the number of drainage events in this region leading to the formation of higher numbers of small remnant lakes.

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  10. Abstract

    The presence of ground ice in Arctic soils exerts a major effect on permafrost hydrology and ecology, and factors prominently into geomorphic landform development. As most ground ice has accumulated in near-surface permafrost, it is sensitive to variations in atmospheric conditions. Typical and regionally widespread permafrost landforms such as pingos, ice-wedge polygons, and rock glaciers are closely tied to ground ice. However, under ongoing climate change, suitable environmental spaces for preserving landforms associated with ice-rich permafrost may be rapidly disappearing. We deploy a statistical ensemble approach to model, for the first time, the current and potential future environmental conditions of three typical permafrost landforms, pingos, ice-wedge polygons and rock glaciers across the Northern Hemisphere. We show that by midcentury, the landforms are projected to lose more than one-fifth of their suitable environments under a moderate climate scenario (RCP4.5) and on average around one-third under a very high baseline emission scenario (RCP8.5), even when projected new suitable areas for occurrence are considered. By 2061–2080, on average more than 50% of the recent suitable conditions can be lost (RCP8.5). In the case of pingos and ice-wedge polygons, geographical changes are mainly attributed to alterations in thawing-season precipitation and air temperatures. Rock glaciers show air temperature-induced regional changes in suitable conditions strongly constrained by topography and soil properties. The predicted losses could have important implications for Arctic hydrology, geo- and biodiversity, and to the global climate system through changes in biogeochemical cycles governed by the geomorphology of permafrost landscapes. Moreover, our projections provide insights into the circumpolar distribution of various ground ice types and help inventory permafrost landforms in unmapped regions.

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