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  1. 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 drainingmore »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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  2. 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 lakesmore »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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  3. Abstract

    Thermokarst lakes accelerate deep permafrost thaw and the mobilization of previously frozen soil organic carbon. This leads to microbial decomposition and large releases of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) that enhance climate warming. However, the time scale of permafrost-carbon emissions following thaw is not well known but is important for understanding how abrupt permafrost thaw impacts climate feedback. We combined field measurements and radiocarbon dating of CH4ebullition with (a) an assessment of lake area changes delineated from high-resolution (1–2.5 m) optical imagery and (b) geophysical measurements of thaw bulbs (taliks) to determine the spatiotemporal dynamics of hotspot-seep CH4ebullition in interior Alaska thermokarst lakes. Hotspot seeps are characterized as point-sources of high ebullition that release14C-depleted CH4from deep (up to tens of meters) within lake thaw bulbs year-round. Thermokarst lakes, initiated by a variety of factors, doubled in number and increased 37.5% in area from 1949 to 2009 as climate warmed. Approximately 80% of contemporary CH4hotspot seeps were associated with this recent thermokarst activity, occurring where 60 years of abrupt thaw took place as a result of new and expanded lake areas. Hotspot occurrence diminished with distance from thermokarst lake margins. We attribute older14C ages of CH4released from hotspot seepsmore »in older, expanding thermokarst lakes (14CCH420 079 ± 1227 years BP, mean ± standard error (s.e.m.) years) to deeper taliks (thaw bulbs) compared to younger14CCH4in new lakes (14CCH48526 ± 741 years BP) with shallower taliks. We find that smaller, non-hotspot ebullition seeps have younger14C ages (expanding lakes 7473 ± 1762 years; new lakes 4742 ± 803 years) and that their emissions span a larger historic range. These observations provide a first-order constraint on the magnitude and decadal-scale duration of CH4-hotspot seep emissions following formation of thermokarst lakes as climate warms.

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  4. 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 wedges (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.
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  8. 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 predicting 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 northernmore »Alaska.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2023
  9. Abstract. Lakes in the Arctic are important reservoirs of heat withmuch lower albedo in summer and greater absorption of solar radiation thansurrounding tundra vegetation. In the winter, lakes that do not freeze totheir bed have a mean annual bed temperature >0 ∘C inan otherwise frozen landscape. Under climate warming scenarios, we expectArctic lakes to accelerate thawing of underlying permafrost due to warmingwater temperatures in the summer and winter. Previous studies of Arcticlakes have focused on ice cover and thickness, the ice decay process,catchment hydrology, lake water balance, and eddy covariance measurements,but little work has been done in the Arctic to model lake heat balance. Weapplied the LAKE 2.0 model to simulate water temperatures in three Arcticlakes in northern Alaska over several years and tested the sensitivity ofthe model to several perturbations of input meteorological variables(precipitation, shortwave radiation, and air temperature) and several modelparameters (water vertical resolution, sediment vertical resolution, depthof soil column, and temporal resolution). The LAKE 2.0 model is aone-dimensional model that explicitly solves vertical profiles of waterstate variables on a grid. We used a combination of meteorological data fromlocal and remote weather stations, as well as data derived from remotesensing, to drive the model. We validated modeled water temperatures withdatamore »of observed lake water temperatures at several depths over severalyears for each lake. Our validation of the LAKE 2.0 model is a necessarystep toward modeling changes in Arctic lake ice regimes, lake heat balance,and thermal interactions with permafrost. The sensitivity analysis shows usthat lake water temperature is not highly sensitive to small changes in airtemperature or precipitation, while changes in shortwave radiation and largechanges in precipitation produced larger effects. Snow depth and lake icestrongly affect water temperatures during the frozen season, which dominatesthe annual thermal regime of Arctic lakes. These findings suggest thatreductions in lake ice thickness and duration could lead to more heatstorage by lakes and enhanced permafrost degradation.« less
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