Arctic Lake Ecosystems

Limnology is classically concerned with lake formation and geomorphology, and with lake physics, chemistry, and biology. Of the over 75 documented ways there are to form a lake, the Arctic contains examples of nearly all of those processes and certainly of lakes formed by the major categories of volcanic, glacial, and tectonic forces. But one unique aspect of arctic lakes is the role of thermokarst processes, which contribute to the most numerous lake forms on the planet. These shallow

Figure 2 The marked surface coverage of lakes shown on the coastal plain of Alaska near Barrow (a - top left, 71.3° N), in western Siberia near the Pur River (b - top right, 67° N), the Mackenzie River Delta (c - bottom left, 69° N), and ice-wedge polygons on Bylot Island (d - bottom right, 72.8°N). Photos a and b by G Kling; c by L Lesack; d by W Vincent.

Figure 2 The marked surface coverage of lakes shown on the coastal plain of Alaska near Barrow (a - top left, 71.3° N), in western Siberia near the Pur River (b - top right, 67° N), the Mackenzie River Delta (c - bottom left, 69° N), and ice-wedge polygons on Bylot Island (d - bottom right, 72.8°N). Photos a and b by G Kling; c by L Lesack; d by W Vincent.

ponds are formed inside ice-wedge polygons or from the melting of shallow ground ice to form thermokarst lakes. The numbers of these thaw lakes and ponds are staggering; -45 000 have been mapped on the Mackenzie River delta and floodplain, and -200 000 are found on the Yukon River delta alone. The Arctic also stands out as typically having the greatest water coverage of any terrestrial surface (Figure 2), which has implications for climate feedbacks and for the role of lakes in regional carbon budgets. An interesting feature of the thermokarst lakes is that they are typically oblong and oriented with their main axis perpendicular to the prevailing wind, apparently caused by surface currents that are strongest at the leeward corners of the lake.

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