• Consequences of Catastrophic Lake Drainage: Will Ghost Lakes Increasingly Haunt the New Arctic during Snowmelt?
    • Chris Arp (WERC)
    • October 19, 2018

New development in regions with rapidly changing climates, such as road construction in arctic coastal lowlands, may portend unforeseen hazards. Thermokarst lakes cover 20% of arctic lowlands and are naturally prone to catastrophic flood generation. Cumulative drainage over the Holocene has resulted in up to 60% coverage by drained thermokarst lake basins (DTLBs). Recent observations in northern Alaska show that these relic lakes may come back to life each snowmelt season to produce catastrophic floods. Blowing snow fills drainage gullies of DTLBs each winter, impounding meltwater in the spring and, upon snow-dam failure, release downstream flood-outbursts. Projected snowier winters may raise even more drained lakes from the grave to haunt the snowmelt landscape by causing larger and sharper snow-dam outburst, adding additional uncertainty to hazard assessment on an increasingly scary tundra. If climate change also drives enhanced lake drainage, we predict even more sporadic and higher magnitude floods, with implications for downstream ecosystems and human infrastructure as development pushes into the Arctic.

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