Perennial snowfields in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve (GAAR) in the central Brooks Range of Alaska are a critical component of the cryosphere. They serve as habitat for an array of wildlife, including caribou, a species that is crucial as a food and cultural resource for rural subsistence hunters and Native Alaskans. Snowfields also influence hydrology, vegetation, permafrost, and have the potential to preserve valuable archaeological artifacts. By deriving time series maps using cloud computing and supervised classification of Landsat satellite imagery, we calculated areas and evaluated extent changes. We also derived changes in elevations of the perennial snowfields that remained stable for at least four years. For the study period of 1985 to 2017, we found that total areas of perennial snowfields in GAAR are decreasing, with most of the notable changes in the latter half of the study period. Equilibrium areas, or bright areas, of the snowfields are shrinking, while ablation, or dark areas, are growing. We also found that the snowfields occur at higher elevations over time. Climate change may be altering the distribution, elevation, and extent of perennial snowfields in GAAR, which could affect caribou populations and subsistence lifestyles in rural Alaska.

Citation

Tedesche, M.E., Trochim, E.D., Fassnacht, S.R., and Wolken, G.J.. 2019. Extent changes in the perennial snowfields of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Hydrology. 62: 53. https://www.mdpi.com/2306-5338/6/2/53. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/hydrology6020053.