7 November 2022
Despite a long-term thinning trend in freshwater ice in northern Alaska, cold low-snow cover winters can still emerge to grow thick ice. In 2021, we observed abnormally thick ice by winter's end on lakes and rivers throughout the Fish Creek Watershed in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. This recent and anomalous winter presented an opportunity to assess how such conditions, more typical of many decades previous, affected aquatic habitat and winter water supply. Observed maximum ice thickness in 2021 of 1.9 m closely matched low-snow ice growth simulations, whereas previous records averaged 1.5 m and more closely matched high-snow ice growth simulations. The resulting extent of bedfast lake ice from late winter synthetic aperture radar (SAR) analysis in 2021 was the highest on record since 1992. This SAR analysis suggests a 33% reduction in liquid water below ice by lake surface area compared with the recent thin-ice winter of 2018 (1.2 m). Together, these results help place the cold, low-snow winter of 2020–2021 in context of the long-term trend toward warmer, snowier winters that appear to becoming more common in Arctic Alaska.
Christopher D. Arp, Melanie Engram, Allen C. Bondurant, and Katie A. Drew. 2023. Unusually thick freshwater ice and its impacts on aquatic resources in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) during the winter of 2020–2021. Arctic Science. 9(2): 497-505. https://doi.org/10.1139/as-2022-0027