The formation, growth and drainage of lakes in Arctic and boreal lowland permafrost regions influence landscape and ecosystem processes. These lake and drained lake basin (L-DLB) systems occupy >20% of the circumpolar Northern Hemisphere permafrost region and ~50% of the area below 300 m above sea level. Climate change is causing drastic impacts to L-DLB systems, with implications for permafrost dynamics, ecosystem functioning, biogeochemical processes and human livelihoods in lowland permafrost regions. In this Review, we discuss how an increase in the number of lakes as a result of permafrost thaw and an intensifying hydrologic regime are not currently offsetting the land area gained through lake drainage, enhancing the dominance of drained lake basins (DLBs). The contemporary transition from lakes to DLBs decreases hydrologic storage, leads to permafrost aggradation, increases carbon sequestration and diversifies the shifting habitat mosaic in Arctic and boreal regions. However, further warming could inhibit permafrost aggradation in DLBs, disrupting the trajectory of important microtopographic controls on carbon fluxes and ecosystem processes in permafrost-region L-DLB systems. Further research is needed to understand the future dynamics of L-DLB systems to improve Earth system models, permafrost carbon feedback assessments, permafrost hydrology linkages, infrastructure development in permafrost regions and the well-being of northern socio-ecological systems.
Lake formation, growth and drainage create a shifting mosaic of landforms that serve as a primary driver of landscape and ecosystem processes in Arctic and boreal lowland permafrost regions.
The lake and drained lake basin (L-DLB) system governs geomorphic, hydrologic, ecological and human land use activities in more than 20% of the northern permafrost region.
L-DLB systems occur in regions with both ice-rich and ice-poor permafrost terrains.
The recent increase in the rate of L-DLB landscape dynamics in lowland permafrost regions highlights their role as a catalyst for understanding Arctic system change in a warming climate.
Climate warming will likely increase the loss of lakes and continue to tip the landscape to one more heavily dominated by drained lake basins (DLBs).
The rate of permafrost aggradation under DLBs will likely slow, disrupting important microtopographic controls on carbon fluxes and ecosystem processes in permafrost-region L-DLB systems. Constraining the environmental impacts of an increase in the coverage of DLBs in a warming landscape is, therefore, a critical topic for future research.
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B.M.J., L.M.F., M.Z.K., B.V.G. and A.L.B. were supported by NSF grant OPP-1806213. B.M.J. and B.V.G. were supported by NSF grant OPP-1850578. B.M.J. was supported by NSF grant OPP-1903735. M.Z.K. was supported by NSF grant OPP-1820883. A.D.P. was supported by NSF grant OPP-1806202. K.M.H. was supported by NSF grant OPP-1806287. G.G. received support through BMBF KoPf Synthesis (03F0834B). P.R.-L. was supported by Gouvernement du Québec under the 2030 Plan for a Green Economy, Sentinel North programme of Université Laval (Canada First Research Excellence Fund) and ArcticNet, a Network of Centres of Excellence of Canada. Additional support was provided by an Action Groups award from the International Permafrost Association and the Teshekpuk Lake Observatory through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF-8006.19.063445). The authors would like to thank H. Foss for the graphical contributions to Fig. 3.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Processes influenced by intense freeze–thaw and/or permafrost.
Ground in permafrost regions that remains unfrozen year round.
- Thermokarst lake
Lake that forms as a result of subsidence of the land surface due to the melting of ground ice.
- Bank overtopping
The process of water spilling over the lake bank, promoting lateral drainage.
- Piping or tunnel flow
Drainage through open frost cracks, underground erosional channels or layers of permeable material in taliks.
A perennial frost mound consisting of a core of massive ice, produced primarily by injection of water, and covered with soil and vegetation.
- Bølling–Allerød warming
An abrupt warm period that occurred during the final stages of the last glacial period.
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Jones, B.M., Grosse, G., Farquharson, L.M. et al. Lake and drained lake basin systems in lowland permafrost regions. Nat Rev Earth Environ 3, 85–98 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-021-00238-9
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