25 August 2023
People who travel on ice-covered rivers to access traditional lands and resources can be profoundly impacted by effects of climate change on river ice seasonality. We used remote sensing, bolstered by citizen science, to assess trends and geospatial patterns of the ice cover in the Copper River Basin of Southcentral Alaska. Our analysis of Landsat imagery from water years (WYs) 1973 to 2021 suggests a severely diminishing season of river ice travel (delayed or incomplete freezeup, early breakup) due to increasing air temperatures. The weekly probability of an adequate ice cover for river crossings declined by an average of 53 percentage points. Ice extent was closely related to accumulated freezing degree days (AFDD). AFDDOct-Apr decreased by 15% since WY 1943, a significant warming trend. We mapped the spatiotemporal variation of ice and open water extent with multispectral and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery (Sentinel-2, Sentinel-1). We identified reaches with more reliable opportunities for winter access and others susceptible to extensive open water, differences related to flow energy and channel form. The results of this study can support local decision making and adaptation in response to rapidly changing river ice conditions, and our approach can be applied elsewhere to document change and improve travel safety.