Observation-derived ice growth curves show patterns and trends in maximum ice thickness and safe travel duration of Alaskan lakes and rivers

Arp, Christopher D.; Cherry, Jessica E.; Brown, Dana R. N.; Bondurant, Allen C.; Endres, Karen L.

The formation, growth, and decay of freshwater ice on lakes and rivers are fundamental processes of northern regions with wide-ranging implications for socio-ecological systems. Ice thickness at the end of winter is perhaps the best integration of cold-season weather and climate, while the duration of thick and growing ice cover is a useful indicator for the winter travel and recreation season. Both maximum ice thickness (MIT) and ice travel duration (ITD) can be estimated from temperature-driven ice growth curves fit to ice thickness observations. We simulated and analyzed ice growth curves based on ice thickness data collected from a range of observation programs throughout Alaska spanning the past 20–60 years to understand patterns and trends in lake and river ice. Results suggest reductions in MIT (thinning) in several northern, interior, and coastal regions of Alaska and overall greater interannual variability in rivers compared to lakes. Interior regions generally showed less variability in MIT and even slightly increasing trends in at least one river site. Average ITD ranged from 214 d in the northernmost lakes to 114 d across southernmost lakes, with significant decreases in duration for half of sites. River ITD showed low regional variability but high interannual variability, underscoring the challenges with predicting seasonally consistent river travel. Standardization and analysis of these ice observation data provide a comprehensive summary for understanding changes in winter climate and its impact on freshwater ice services.

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Arp, Christopher D. / Cherry, Jessica E. / Brown, Dana R. N. / et al: Observation-derived ice growth curves show patterns and trends in maximum ice thickness and safe travel duration of Alaskan lakes and rivers. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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