"No one has done a state water-body inventory of this magnitude," said Brian Riordan, lead author and data manager for the Bonanza Creek Long-Term Ecological Research program at UAF. "It will allow land managers to stop speculating about possible water body loss and begin to address the implications of this loss."
Using black and white aerial photographs from the 1950s, color infrared aerial photographs from 1978-1982, and digital images from the Landsat satellite from 1999-2002, Riordan outlined each pond by hand. "With automated classification your accuracy goes down," Riordan said. Cloud shadows can look like water and Alaska rarely experiences a cloudless day, said Verbyla.
The most difficult part of the four-year project, said Riordan, was "having the patience to circle 10,000 ponds for each time period."
The main study area was the subarctic boreal region of Interior Alaska, which spans more than 5 million square kilometers bounded on the north by the Brooks Range and on the south by the Alaska Range. To contrast the semi-arid, subarctic sites of discontinuous permafrost in Interior Alaska, the authors also selected a study area in the Arctic Coastal Plain where the temperatures are much colder, the growing season much shorter, and the permafrost is continuous, and a more maritime site south of the Alaska Range.
All ponds in the study regions in subarctic Alaska showed a reduction in area of between 4 and 31 percent, with most of the change occurring since the 1970s. The ponds in the Arctic Coastal Plain showed negligible change.