Landsat-based lake distribution and changes in western Alaska permafrost regions between the 1970s and 2010s

guido.grosse [ at ]


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 (MSS) images from the 1970s (1972, 1974, and 1975) and Operational Land Imager (OLI) 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 ca 70,000 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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Helmholtz Cross Cutting Activity (2021-2027)
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DOI 10.1088/1748-9326/abd270

Cite as
Lindgren, P. R. , Farquharson, L. M. , Romanovsky, V. E. and Grosse, G. (2021): Landsat-based lake distribution and changes in western Alaska permafrost regions between the 1970s and 2010s , Environmental Research Letters, 16 , 025006-025006 . doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/abd270

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