Remote sensing of lake ice phenology in Alaska

17 May 2021

The timing of lake ice breakup and freezeup are important indicators of climate change in Arctic and boreal regions because they respond rapidly and directly to variations in climate conditions. Despite its importance, lake ice phenology remains poorly documented in most lakes of Alaska. To fill this data gap, we constructed a remote sensing-derived lake ice phenology database covering all lakes in Alaska larger than 1 km2 (n = 4241) over the period 2000–2019. This dataset, which includes lake ice on/off dates and lake ice duration, was based on an automatic method using daily moderate resolution imaging spectroradiomenter (MODIS) imagery to measure lake ice fraction. This method extracts lake ice pixels from MODIS images using a dynamic threshold that was calibrated against Landsat Fmask. Different filters that account for clouds, polar night, and other sources of error were applied to increase the accuracy of lake ice phenology estimation. Trend analysis shows earlier breakup (−5.5 d decade−1) for 440 lakes and later breakup (7.5 d decade−1) for four lakes (p < 0.05). A total of 289 lakes had significant trends toward later freezeup (2.9 d decade−1) and 11 lakes towards earlier freezeup (−3.3 d decade−1). Most lakes with significant trends are north of the Brooks Range. This dataset can contribute to increased understanding of interactions between lake processes and climate change, and it supports the study of biogeochemical, limnological and ecological regimes in Alaska and pan-Arctic regions.

Zhang, S., Pavelsky, T. M., Arp, C. D., & Yang, X. (2021). Remote sensing of lake ice phenology in Alaska. Environmental Research Letters, 16(6), 064007. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/abf965