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Cumulative impacts of a gravel road and climate change in an ice-wedge polygon landscape, Prudhoe Bay, AK

Publication: Arctic Science
2 March 2022

Abstract

Environmental impact assessments for new Arctic infrastructure do not adequately consider the likely long-term cumulative effects of climate change and infrastructure to landforms and vegetation in areas with ice-rich permafrost. This is due in part to lack of long-term environmental studies that monitor changes after infrastructure is built. This case study examines long-term (1949–2020) climate- and road-related changes in a network of ice-wedge polygons, Prudhoe Bay Oilfield, Alaska. We studied four trajectories of change along a heavily traveled road and a relatively remote site. During 20 years prior to oilfield development, the climate and landscapes changed very little. During 50 years after development, climate-related changes included increased numbers thermokarst ponds, changes to ice-wedge-polygon morphology, snow distribution, thaw depths, dominant vegetation types, and shrub abundance. Road dust strongly affected plant-community structure and composition, particularly small forbs, mosses, and lichens. Flooding increased permafrost degradation, polygon center-trough elevation contrasts, and vegetation productivity. It was not possible to isolate infrastructure impacts from climate impacts, but the combined datasets provide unique insights into the rate and extent of ecological disturbances associated with infrastructure-affected landscapes under decades of climate warming. We conclude with recommendations for future cumulative impact assessments in areas with ice-rich permafrost.

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cover image Arctic Science
Arctic Science
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Received: 7 April 2021
Published online: 2 March 2022

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Donald A. Walker dawalker@alaska.edu
University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Institute of Arctic Biology and Department of Biology and Wildlife, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Martha K. Raynolds
University of Alaska Fairbanks, 11414, Institute of Arctic Biology, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Mikhail Z. Kanevskiy
University of Alaska Fairbanks, 11414, Institute of Northern Engineering, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Yuri S. Shur
University of Alaska Fairbanks, 11414, Institute of Northern Engineering, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Vladimir E. Romanovsky
University of Alaska Fairbanks, 11414, Geophysical Institute and Department of Geology and Geophysics, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Benjamin M. Jones
University of Alaska Fairbanks, 11414, Institute of Northern Engineering, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Marcel Buchhorn
Flemish Institute for Technological Research, 54520, Mol, Belgium
M. Torre Jorgenson
Ecoscience, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Jozef Šibík
Plant Science and Biodiversity Center of Slovak Academy of Sciences, Institute of Botany, Bratislava, Slovakia
Amy L. Breen
University of Alaska Fairbanks, 11414, International Arctic Research Center, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Anja Kade
University of Alaska Fairbanks, 11414, Department of Biology and Wildlife, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Emily Watson-Cook
University of Alaska Fairbanks, 11414, Institute of Arctic Biology and Department of Biology and Wildlife, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Helena Bergstedt
University of Alaska Fairbanks, 11414, Institute of Northern Engineering, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Anna K. Liljedahl
Woodwell Climate Research Center, Falmouth, Massachusetts, United States
University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Institute of Northern Engineering, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Ronald P. Daanen
Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Geological and Geophysical Surveys, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Billy Connor
University of Alaska Fairbanks, 11414, Institute of Northern Engineering, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Dmitry Nicolsky
University of Alaska Fairbanks, 11414, Geophysical Institute, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States
Jana L. Peirce
University of Alaska Fairbanks, 11414, Institute of Arctic Biology, Fairbanks, Alaska, United States

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1. The shifting mosaic of ice-wedge degradation and stabilization in response to infrastructure and climate change, Prudhoe Bay Oilfield, Alaska, USA1
2. The shifting mosaic of ice-wedge degradation and stabilization in response to infrastructure and climate change, Prudhoe Bay Oilfield, Alaska

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