Many lakes in northern high latitudes have undergone substantial changes in surface area over the last four decades, possibly as a result of climate warming. In the discontinuous permafrost of Yukon Flats, interior Alaska (USA), these changes have been non-uniform across adjacent watersheds, suggesting local controls on lake water budgets. Mechanisms that could explain the decreasing mass of one lake in Yukon Flats since the early 1980s, Twelvemile Lake, are identified via a scoping analysis that considers plausible changes in snowmelt mass and infiltration, permafrost distribution, and climate warming. Because predicted changes in evaporation (2 cmyr-1) are inadequate to explain the observed 17.5 cmyr-1 reduction in mass balance, other mechanisms are required. The most important potential mechanisms are found to involve: (1) changes in shallow, lateral groundwater flow to the lake possibly facilitated by vertical freeze-thaw migration of the permafrost table in gravel; (2) increased loss of lake water as downward groundwater flow through an open talik to a permeable subpermafrost flowpath; and (3) reduced snow meltwater inputs due to decreased snowpack mass and increased infiltration of snowmelt into, and subsequent evaporation from, fine-grained sediment mantling the permafrost-free lake basin.
Additional publication details
Sensitivity analysis of lake mass balance in discontinuous permafrost: the example of disappearing Twelvemile Lake, Yukon Flats, Alaska (USA)