Investigating lake-area dynamics across a permafrost-thaw spectrum using airborne electromagnetic surveys and remote sensing time-series data in Yukon Flats, Alaska

Environmental Research Letters
By: , and 

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Abstract

Lakes in boreal lowlands cycle carbon and supply an important source of freshwater for wildlife and migratory waterfowl. The abundance and distribution of these lakes are supported, in part, by permafrost distribution, which is subject to change. Relationships between permafrost thaw and lake dynamics remain poorly known in most boreal regions. Here, new airborne electromagnetic (AEM) data collected during June 2010 and February 2016 were used to constrain deep permafrost distribution. AEM data were coupled with Landsat-derived lake surface-area data from 1979 through 2011 to inform temporal lake behavior changes in the 35 500- km2 Yukon Flats ecoregion of Alaska. Together, over 1500 km of AEM data, and roughly 30 years of Landsat data were used to explore processes that drive lake dynamics across a variety of permafrost thaw states not possible in studies conducted with satellite imagery or field measurements alone. Clustered time-series data identified lakes with similar temporal dynamics. Clusters possessed similarities in lake permanence (i.e. ephemeral versus perennial), subsurface permafrost distribution, and proximity to rivers and streams. Of the clustered lakes, ~66% are inferred to have at least intermittent connectivity with other surface-water features, ~19% are inferred to have shallow subsurface connectivity to other surface water features that served as a low-pass filter for hydroclimatic fluctuations, and ~15% appear to be isolated by surrounding permafrost (i.e. no connectivity). Integrated analysis of AEM and Landsat data reveals a progression from relatively synchronous lake dynamics among disconnected lakes in the most spatially continuous, thick permafrost to quite high spatiotemporal heterogeneity in lake behavior among variably-connected lakes in regions with notably less continuous permafrost. Variability can be explained by the preferential development of thawed permeable gravel pathways for lateral water redistribution in this area. The general spatial progression in permafrost thaw state and lake area behavior may be extended to the temporal dimension. However, extensive permafrost thaw, beyond what is currently observed, is expected to promote ubiquitous subsurface connectivity, eventually evolving to a state of increased lake synchronicity.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Investigating lake-area dynamics across a permafrost-thaw spectrum using airborne electromagnetic surveys and remote sensing time-series data in Yukon Flats, Alaska
Series title Environmental Research Letters
DOI 10.1088/1748-9326/aaf06f
Volume 14
Issue 2
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher IOP Publishing
Contributing office(s) WMA - Earth System Processes Division
Description Article 025001; 13 p.
First page 1
Last page 13
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Yukon Flats