Broad-scale lake and permafrost dynamics in the Western Alaska LCC region


Project Personel

Main Contact:
Scientific Personel: Guido Grosse, Vladimir Romanovsky, William Cable
Collaborators: Karen Murphy, Benjamin Jones, Mike Brubaker, David Swanson
Partner Organizations: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geolgical Survey, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, U.S. National Park Service

Project duration: 
Research Goals: 

In this project we focus on the dynamics of lake habitat change in major lake districts of the Western Alaska LCC (WA LCC) region in relation to permafrost change. Land, resource, and wildlife managers as well as local communities in Western Alaska need spatially explicit information to (1) quantify past lake habitat change due to drying, drainage, infilling, or formation; (2) identify overarching spatial patterns that could be correlated to climate, permafrost, or hydrological change; and (3) project future habitat changes, implement habitat conservation plans, and assess the stability of freshwater and traditional water resources for communities. We will focus on three tasks:

  1. Determine historical lake loss or gain in key lake districts in the WA LCC region from 1950-2010 using medium and fine resolution remote sensing;
  2. Investigate causes of lake loss such as catastrophic drainage or drying using remote sensing and field surveys;
  3. Expand the knowledge on permafrost and its impact on lake stability in a broad variety of landscape types of the WA LCC using ground data and predictive one-dimensional permafrost modeling for specific landscape types and driven by climate predictions from the Scenario Network for Alaska Planning (SNAP).
Study Sites: 

Study area Western Alaska LCC lake change

Our study will focus on five major lowland lake districts in the Western Alaska LCC region: Northern Seward Peninsula, central Seward Peninsula, Baldwin Peninsula and Selawik lowland, Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and Bristol Bay lowland. The total lake area in the Western Alaska LCC based on the National Hydrological Dataset is 28,070 km2 (222,000 lakes > 1 ha), and our study will cover a wetland land area of about 160,000 km2 containing ca. 183,000 lakes >1 ha. Five new permafrost monitoring sites will be established along a North-South gradient across permafrost zones on the Seward Peninsula.

Project Site Map


Fieldwork on the Seward Peninsula was conducted in July 2012. We installed all 5 new permafrost monitoring sites as planned and maintained 2 previously established sites. Unfortunately, a bear visited and destroyed one of these previous sites, though we got almost 12 months of good data before this unfortunate event.
The permafrost sites are:
SePe-1 (Rhonda Basin)
SePe-2 (Rhonda upland) - destroyed after 1 year of measurement
SePe-3 (Shishmaref Southeast)
SePe-4 (Last Bridge)
SePe-5 (Kuzitrin River)
SePe-6 (Mary's Igloo East)
SePe-7 (Salmon Lake)

Both the Shishmaref Southest and Kuzitrin River sites have near-realtime transmission of data with only several days of delay. A link will be posted as soon as things are running smoothly.
With our sites we cover a N-S permafrost temperature transect across the Seward Peninsula, and therefore also across the boundary between continuous and discontinuous permafrost.