In Canada's Northwest Territories (NWT), lakes are covered in ice (lake ice) and serve as vital transportation and communication routes for the region’s socio-economic activities, including diamond mining, hunting, and fishing. Community members rely on ice roads constructed during winter to transport goods and services within and outside the region. The timing of lake ice freezing and breaking, as well as how long the ice remains intact, called (lake ice phenology), is sensitive to changes in climate and is threatened by the impacts of climate change due to rising temperatures.
Increased warming is reducing the thickness and duration of lake ice because it causes lakes to freeze later in the year and melt earlier than usual. This affects how safe lakes are for winter travel and how much weight on ice roads built on them can sustain. It is crucial that communities, industry and other stakeholders who use ice roads know how ice thickness and phenology is changing to support safe winter travel.
It is a privilege to be part of a team (ReSECLab), led by Dr. Homa Kheyrollah Pour, dedicated to exploring these issues and how novel, non-traditional methods can be used to efficiently monitor lake ice. In our recent trip to the Northwest Territories to measure lake ice thickness, we experienced firsthand the spatial differences in lake ice thickness and the danger being unaware of these differences may pose.
Certain areas measured on the lake were thinner than others and there were times when we could hear and see cracks on the lake ice which prompted our hurried relocation or departure. Uncertainties like these in addition to other reported incidents of people falling through the ice make it necessary to explore safer methods of monitoring lake ice.
Our research aims to monitor the distribution and trends of daily lake ice thickness and phenology on lakes using remote sensing data coupled with thermodynamic modeling. With this we will be able to address the following questions:
This project combines remote sensing data and spatially distributed thermodynamic modeling as a tool to monitor the daily ice thickness across different areas on lakes. Daily lake ice thickness on over 500 lakes in the Northwest territories from 1984 to the present are being monitored in this study. The phenology of lake ice has not been explored on such a large scale in the Northwest territories and this approach reports on lake ice differences both within and between lakes.
To achieve this, gridded lake surface temperature is derived from Landsat and MODIS satellite data which serves as inputs for the model to simulate the differences in ice thickness on a given lake. Results from Lake surface temperature derived suggest warming temperature trends in our study region which further demonstrate the need to monitor changes.
In addition to temperature inputs, climate variables like snow, wind, cloud, and humidity also collected from remote sensing data are used as inputs to simulate ice thickness. Using this gridded data as inputs, daily lake ice thickness can be simulated while highlighting the spatial differences on a given lake. Examining the trends and distribution of lake ice thickness and phenology provides information about the development of lake ice over time and how climate change has affected these processes.
Answers to questions surrounding lake ice are not only of interest to scientists but also to the local community. Community members the research team has the privilege of interacting with usually inquired if data gathered would be made accessible. This is why as part of this research free and easily accessible datasets and interactive maps will be generated for the community members and other stakeholders.
The methodology adopted in this research is consistent, continuous, and a cost-effective way to monitor lake ice compared to ground-based measurements which have declined over the years due to cost and logistical difficulties. Additionally, this monitoring approach can be applied to monitor lakes in different regions for information and planning purposes and to provide further insights into the impact of climate change on lake ice.
Gifty Attiah is an international student pursuing a PhD in Geography, a joint program run by Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo. Gifty is part of the Remote Sensing of Environmental Change lab and has a particular interest in using geospatial tools to solve environmental and climate issues. Her current research focuses on monitoring lake ice thickness and phenology in the Northwest Territories using remote sensing and modeling.
She is an Early Career Researcher Representative of the Cold Regions Research Centre and was on the student committee of the 42nd Canadian Symposium on Remote Sensing where she presented her research. Gifty enjoys engaging in activities, which fuel her research and passion for sustainability issues including the Laurier Graduate student Competition and Climate KIC – The Journey.
Gifty holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Management from the University of Kiel, Germany, and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Ghana. Prior to her PhD she worked as a GIS assistant at the Stiftung Naturschutz (Nature Conservation Foundation) in Schleswig Holstein, Germany, and as a Research Fellow in the Remote Sensing group of the Institute of Computer Science in the University of Osnabrück, Germany.