Thermokarst lakes are important emitters of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. However, accurate estimation of methane flux from thermokarst lakes is difficult due to their remoteness and observational challenges associated with the heterogeneous nature of ebullition. We used high-resolution (9–11 cm) snow-free aerial images of an interior Alaskan thermokarst lake acquired 2 and 4 days following freeze-up in 2011 and 2012, respectively, to detect and characterize methane ebullition seeps and to estimate whole-lake ebullition. Bubbles impeded by the lake ice sheet form distinct white patches as a function of bubbling when lake ice grows downward and around them, trapping the gas in the ice. Our aerial imagery thus captured a snapshot of bubbles trapped in lake ice during the ebullition events that occurred before the image acquisition. Image analysis showed that low-flux A- and B-type seeps are associated with low brightness patches and are statistically distinct from high-flux C-type and hotspot seeps associated with high brightness patches. Mean whole-lake ebullition based on optical image analysis in combination with bubble-trap flux measurements was estimated to be 174 ± 28 and 216 ± 33 mL gas m−2 d−1 for the years 2011 and 2012, respectively. A large number of seeps demonstrated spatiotemporal stability over our 2-year study period. A strong inverse exponential relationship (R2 > = 0.79) was found between the percent of the surface area of lake ice covered with bubble patches and distance from the active thermokarst lake margin. Even though the narrow timing of optical image acquisition is a critical factor, with respect to both atmospheric pressure changes and snow/no-snow conditions during early lake freeze-up, our study shows that optical remote sensing is a powerful tool to map ebullition seeps on lake ice, to identify their relative strength of ebullition, and to assess their spatiotemporal variability.
AWI Organizations > Geosciences > Junior Research Group: PETA-CARB