Contemporary (1951–2001) Evolution of Lakes in the Old Crow Basin, Northern Yukon, Canada: Remote Sensing, Numerical Modeling, and Stable Isotope Analysis


  • Sylvain Labrecque
  • Denis Lacelle
  • Claude R. Duguay
  • Bernard Lauriol
  • Jim Hawkings



thaw lakes, lake levels, remote sensing, modeling, stable O-H isotopes, Old Crow, northern Yukon


This study reports on changes in the distribution, surface area, and modern water balance of lakes and ponds located in the Old Crow Basin, northern Yukon, over a 50-year period (1951–2001), using aerial photographs, satellite imagery, a numerical lake model, and stable O-H isotope analysis. Results from the analysis of historical air photos (1951 and 1972) and a Landsat-7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM+) image (2001) show an overall decrease (-3.5%) in lake surface area between 1951 and 2001. Large lakes typically decreased in extent over the study period, whereas ponds generally increased. Between 1951 and 1972, approximately 70% of the lakes increased in extent; however, between 1972 and 2001, 45% decreased in extent. These figures are corroborated by a numerical lake water balance simulation (P-E index) and stable O-H isotope analysis indicating that most lakes experienced a water deficit over the period 1988–2001. These observed trends towards a reduction in lake surface area are mainly attributable to a warmer and drier climate. The modern decrease in lake levels corresponds well to changes in regional atmospheric teleconnection patterns (Arctic and Pacific Decadal oscillations). In 1977, the climate in the region switched from a predominantly cool and moist regime, associated with the increase in lake surface area, to a hot and dry one, thus resulting in the observed decrease in lake surface area. Although some lakes may have drained catastrophically by stream erosion or bank overflow, it is not possible to determine with certainty which lakes experienced such catastrophic drainage, since an interval of two decades separates the two air photo mosaics, and the satellite image was obtained almost30 years after the second mosaic of air photos.