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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 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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  2. Abstract

    The expansion of shrubs across the Arctic tundra may fundamentally modify land–atmosphere interactions. However, it remains unclear how shrub expansion pattern is linked with key environmental drivers, such as climate change and fire disturbance. Here we used 40+ years of high‐resolution (~1.0 m) aerial and satellite imagery to estimate shrub‐cover change in 114 study sites across four burned and unburned upland (ice‐poor) and lowland (ice‐rich) tundra ecosystems in northern Alaska. Validated with data from four additional upland and lowland tundra fires, our results reveal that summer precipitation was the most important climatic driver (r = 0.67,p < 0.001), responsible for 30.8% of shrub expansion in the upland tundra between 1971 and 2016. Shrub expansion in the uplands was largely enhanced by wildfire (p < 0.001) and it exhibited positive correlation with fire severity (r = 0.83,p < 0.001). Three decades after fire disturbance, the upland shrub cover increased by 1077.2 ± 83.6 m2 ha−1, ~7 times the amount identified in adjacent unburned upland tundra (155.1 ± 55.4 m2 ha−1). In contrast, shrub cover markedly decreased in lowland tundra after fire disturbance, which triggered thermokarst‐associated water impounding and resulted in 52.4% loss of shrub cover over three decades. No correlation was found between lowland shrub cover with fire severity (r = 0.01). Mean summer air temperature (MSAT) was the principal factor driving lowland shrub‐cover dynamics between 1951 and 2007. Warmer MSAT facilitated shrub expansion in unburned lowlands (r = 0.78,p < 0.001), but accelerated shrub‐cover losses in burned lowlands (r = −0.82,p < 0.001). These results highlight divergent pathways of shrub‐cover responses to fire disturbance and climate change, depending on near‐surface permafrost and drainage conditions. Our study offers new insights into the land–atmosphere interactions as climate warming and burning intensify in high latitudes.

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  3. Uncrewed aerial systems (UASs) have emerged as powerful ecological observation platforms capable of filling critical spatial and spectral observation gaps in plant physiological and phenological traits that have been difficult to measure from space-borne sensors. Despite recent technological advances, the high cost of drone-borne sensors limits the widespread application of UAS technology across scientific disciplines. Here, we evaluate the tradeoffs between off-the-shelf and sophisticated drone-borne sensors for mapping plant species and plant functional types (PFTs) within a diverse grassland. Specifically, we compared species and PFT mapping accuracies derived from hyperspectral, multispectral, and RGB imagery fused with light detection and ranging (LiDAR) or structure-for-motion (SfM)-derived canopy height models (CHM). Sensor–data fusion were used to consider either a single observation period or near-monthly observation frequencies for integration of phenological information (i.e., phenometrics). Results indicate that overall classification accuracies for plant species and PFTs were highest in hyperspectral and LiDAR-CHM fusions (78 and 89%, respectively), followed by multispectral and phenometric–SfM–CHM fusions (52 and 60%, respectively) and RGB and SfM–CHM fusions (45 and 47%, respectively). Our findings demonstrate clear tradeoffs in mapping accuracies from economical versus exorbitant sensor networks but highlight that off-the-shelf multispectral sensors may achieve accuracies comparable to those of sophisticated UAS sensors by integrating phenometrics into machine learning image classifiers. 
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  4. Nearly 25% of all lakes on earth are located at high latitudes. These lakes are formed by a combination of thermokarst, glacial, and geological processes. Evidence suggests that the origin of periglacial lake formation may be an important factor controlling the likelihood of lakes to drain. However, geospatial data regarding the spatial distribution of these dominant Arctic and subarctic lakes are limited or do not exist. Here, we use lake-specific morphological properties using the Arctic Digital Elevation Model (DEM) and Landsat imagery to develop a Thermokarst lake Settlement Index (TSI), which was used in combination with available geospatial datasets of glacier history and yedoma permafrost extent to classify Arctic and subarctic lakes into Thermokarst (non-yedoma), Yedoma, Glacial, and Maar lakes, respectively. This lake origin dataset was used to evaluate the influence of lake origin on drainage between 1985 and 2019 in northern Alaska. The lake origin map and lake drainage datasets were synthesized using five-year seamless Landsat ETM+ and OLI image composites. Nearly 35,000 lakes and their properties were characterized from Landsat mosaics using an object-based image analysis. Results indicate that the pattern of lake drainage varied by lake origin, and the proportion of lakes that completely drained (i.e., >60% area loss) between 1985 and 2019 in Thermokarst (non-yedoma), Yedoma, Glacial, and Maar lakes were 12.1, 9.5, 8.7, and 0.0%, respectively. The lakes most vulnerable to draining were small thermokarst (non-yedoma) lakes (12.7%) and large yedoma lakes (12.5%), while the most resilient were large and medium-sized glacial lakes (4.9 and 4.1%) and Maar lakes (0.0%). This analysis provides a simple remote sensing approach to estimate the spatial distribution of dominant lake origins across variable physiography and surficial geology, useful for discriminating between vulnerable versus resilient Arctic and subarctic lakes that are likely to change in warmer and wetter climates. 
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  5. Forty-five years (i.e. 1975-2019) of Landsat observations were used to map the spatiotemporal patterns of lake drainage in northern Alaska. All Landsat data was pre-processed by the United States Geological Survey and downloaded by google earth engine in a radiometrically, atmospherically, and geometrically terrain-corrected state. We used Landsat surface reflectance products acquired from the Multispectral Scanner (MSS), Terrestrial Mapper (TM), Enhanced Terrestrial Mapper Plus (ETM+), and Operational Land Imager (OLI) sensors to compute eight image mosaics for the ice-free period (June 15 to September 1) at five-year time-periods. This data product represents the change in lake area between time-periods or epochs. All data used to spatially identify patterns of lake change are presented in a map (LakeDrainChg.tif), where the associated morphometric controls on drainage are summarized for each of the ~33,000 lake boundaries (Lake_Drainage.shp). All data can also be viewed within Google Earth Engine (; accessed on 13 September 2021) or clone Git repository (git clone ; accessed on 13 September 2021). 
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  6. 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). 
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