Identifying historical and future potential lake drainage events on the western Arctic coastal plain of Alaska

Benjamin M. Jones, Christopher D. Arp, Guido Grosse, Ingmar Nitze, Mark J. Lara, Matthew S. Whitman, Louise M. Farquharson, Mikhail Kanevskiy, Andrew D. Parsekian, Amy L. Breen, Nori Ohara, Rodrigo Correa Rangel, Kenneth M. Hinkel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Arctic lakes located in permafrost regions are susceptible to catastrophic drainage. In this study, we reconstructed historical lake drainage events on the western Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska between 1955 and 2017 using USGS topographic maps, historical aerial photography (1955), and Landsat Imagery (ca. 1975, ca. 2000, and annually since 2000). We identified 98 lakes larger than 10 ha that partially (>25% of area) or completely drained during the 62-year period. Decadal-scale lake drainage rates progressively declined from 2.0 lakes/yr (1955–1975), to 1.6 lakes/yr (1975–2000), and to 1.2 lakes/yr (2000–2017) in the ~30,000-km2 study area. Detailed Landsat trend analysis between 2000 and 2017 identified two years, 2004 and 2006, with a cluster (five or more) of lake drainages probably associated with bank overtopping or headward erosion. To identify future potential lake drainages, we combined the historical lake drainage observations with a geospatial dataset describing lake elevation, hydrologic connectivity, and adjacent lake margin topographic gradients developed with a 5-m-resolution digital surface model. We identified ~1900 lakes likely to be prone to drainage in the future. Of the 20 lakes that drained in the most recent study period, 85% were identified in this future lake drainage potential dataset. Our assessment of historical lake drainage magnitude, mechanisms and pathways, and identification of potential future lake drainages provides insights into how arctic lowland landscapes may change and evolve in the coming decades to centuries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)110-127
Number of pages18
JournalPermafrost and Periglacial Processes
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • Arctic lakes, drained lake basins, lake drainage, permafrost regions, thermokarst lakes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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