Contrasting lake ice responses to winter climate indicate future variability and trends on the Alaskan Arctic Coastal Plain
Environmental Research Letters
Strong winter warming has dominated recent patterns of climate change along the Arctic Coastal Plain (ACP) of northern Alaska. The full impact of arctic winters may be best manifest by freshwater ice growth and the extent to which abundant shallow ACP lakes freeze solid with bedfast ice by the end of winter. For example, winter conditions of 2016-17 produced record low extents of bedfast ice across the ACP. In addition to high air temperatures, the causes varied from deep snow accumulation on
... w accumulation on the Barrow Peninsula to high late season rainfall and lake levels farther east on the ACP. In contrast, the previous winter of 2015-16 was also warm, but low snowpack and high winds caused relatively thick lake ice to develop and corresponding high extents of bedfast ice on the ACP. This recent comparison of extreme variation in lake ice responses between two adjacent regions and years in the context of long-term climate and ice records highlights the complexity associated with weather conditions and climate change in the Arctic. Recent observations of maximum ice thickness (MIT) compared to simulated MIT from Weather Research and Forcing (Polar-WRF) model output show greater departure toward thinner ice than predicted by models, underscoring this uncertainty and the need for sustained observations. Lake ice thickness and the extent of bedfast ice not only indicate the impact of arctic winters, but also directly affect sublake permafrost, winter water supply for industry, and overwinter habitat availability. Therefore, tracking freshwater ice responses provides a comprehensive picture of winter, as well as summer, weather conditions and climate change with implications to broader landscape, ecosystem, and resource responses in the Arctic.