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Keywords:

  • lakes;
  • methane;
  • modeling;
  • thermokarst

[1] Thermokarst lakes alter landscape topography and hydrology in widespread permafrost regions and mobilize significant permafrost carbon pools, including releasing methane (CH4) to the atmosphere. Despite this, the dynamics of lake evolution, permafrost thawing, and carbon mobilization are not well known. We present a 3-D numerical model of thermokarst lakes on organic-rich yedoma permafrost terrains with surface water flow and pooling naturally defining lakes that deepen, expand laterally, and drain due to talik formation, bank retreat, and both gradual and catastrophic drainage. We predict the 3-D pattern of microbial methane production within the talik over time. As a first model test and calibration, beginning with small protolakes, we simulated 10,000 years of evolution of Pear and Claudi lakes, two neighboring thermokarst features on the northern Seward Peninsula, Alaska. Simulated lakes approximated observed bathymetry, but results are sensitive to initial topography and soil ice content. Local topography caused markedly different dynamics for the two lakes. Pear expanded rapidly across low-relief topography, fully drained multiple times, and released little methane in later stages due to Pleistocene carbon depletion by the first and largest lake generation. Claudi grew slowly and continuously across high-relief topography, forming high subaerial banks; partial drainages left remnant horseshoe lakes that continued to expand into virgin yedoma, mobilizing carbon at roughly the same rate irrespective of lake drainage. The ∼2× discrepancy between simulated CH4 production and observed emission rates in Claudi likely results from misestimation of hot spot ebullition, labile carbon content, CH4:CO2 production ratio, or microbial CH4 oxidation.