Sustainability of High Arctic Ponds in a Polar Desert Environment
Keywords:Arctic hydrology, climate change, connectivity, low-gradient wetland, sustainability
c wetland environments are sensitive to ongoing climate change as seen by the recent loss of lakes and ponds in southern Alaska, Siberia, and northern Ellesmere Island, Canada. A clearer picture of the mechanisms accounting for these losses or the persistence of ponds is presently required. To better understand and quantify the hydrologic processes that are leading to the sustainability or demise of High Arctic ponds, a detailed study was conducted during the summer seasons of 2005 and 2006 at Somerset Island, Nunavut (72˚43' N, 94˚15' W). A water balance framework that quantifies water inputs, losses, and storage was employed on four ponds situated in three broad geomorphic areas (coastal, bedrock, and glacial terrain, which includes plateau and moraine). The initial snow cover amount influenced the water level pattern for the summer season. Large end-of-winter snow accumulations in the deep Bedrock pond ensured large initial water storage and seasonal sustainability despite variable climatic conditions and a coarse substrate, which encouraged subsurface outflow. Connectivity to a stream draining an upland area and a melting late-lying snowbed nearby allowed the small Moraine pond to maintain stable water levels throughout both years. Sandy soils typical of the Coastal and Plateau ponds favored seepage and subsurface water losses, leading to desiccation of these ponds during dry periods. Lateral water losses from the Coastal pond were enhanced by the presence of a downslope frost crack that formed a steep hydraulic gradient with the pond. High initial snowfall and substantial rain maintain pond water levels, but in years with low snowfall and dry conditions, ponds are vulnerable to disappearance unless a range of dependable hydrological linkages exists.