Recent and Late Holocene Alaskan Lake Changes Identified from Water Isotopes
Abstract:To identify the existence and cause of recent lake area changes in the Yukon Flats, a region of discontinuous permafrost in north central Alaska, we evaluate lake water isotope compositions with remotely sensed imagery and hydroclimatic parameters. Estimates of the ratio of water lost by evaporation to that gained by inflow (E/I) were derived from an isotope-based water balance model. The isotope labels are also used to identify the dominant sources for lakes such as rainfall and snowfall, groundwater, rivers, or thawed permafrost. These parameters are then used in conjunction with climatic data and remotely sensed imagery to identify the patterns and causes of recent lake area changes and for evaluation with lake sediment oxygen isotope records of late Holocene lake water isotope variations.
Lake water isotope samples from 83 lakes were acquired in July, August or September between 2007 and 2010 by fixed wing aircraft. An additional set of smaller lakes (n = 33) was sampled by helicopter in September 2009. In July 2011 59 lakes were sampled on foot within five distinct 11.2-km2 areas. River water data used here are previously collected during the months of June through October between 2006 and 2008. Isotope compositions indicate that mixtures of precipitation, river water, and groundwater source ~95% of the studied lakes. The remaining minority are more dominantly sourced by snowmelt and/or permafrost thaw. Isotope-based water balance estimates indicate 58% of lakes lose more than half of inflow by evaporation. For 26% of the lakes studied, evaporative losses exceeded supply.
Surface area trend analysis indicates that most lakes were near their maximum extent in the early 1980s during a relatively cool and wet period. Subsequent reductions can be explained by moisture deficits and greater evaporation. Comparison with late Holocene isotope values and trends indicates recent changes are within the range of late Holocene variability. The records indicate a drier and warmer than present climate prior to 4000 years ago, whereas it was wetter and cooler between 4000 and 2000 years ago. These findings indicate that attempts to project future high-latitude lake change will benefit from considering the effects of decade to multi-decadal scale hydroclimatic variations.