PeRL: A Circum-Arctic Permafrost Region Pond and Lake Database

Conceptualizing process representations can be integrated in land models to improve prediction of high-latitude terrestrial processes.

The Science

CE1 ponds and lakes are abundant in Arctic permafrost lowlands and play important roles in Arctic wetland ecosystems by regulating carbon, water, and energy fluxes and providing freshwater habitats. However, waterbodies with surface areas smaller than 104 m2 (ponds) have not been inventoried or characterized in a manner amenable to improving land models. The Permafrost Region Pond and Lake (PeRL) database addresses this problem with a circum-Arctic characterization of ponds and lakes from modern (2002–2013) high-resolution aerial and satellite imagery with a resolution of 5 m or better. Project researchers found that ponds are the dominant waterbody type by number in all landscapes.

The Impact

In addition to characterizing waterbody distributions where detailed information exists, the scientists link results with observations of permafrost extent, ground ice volume, geology, and lithology to extrapolate waterbody statistics to regional landscape units. They also provide historical imagers from 1948 to 1965 with a resolution of 6 m or better. These large-scale waterbody distribution estimates, and their temporal trajectories, will help land modelers improve their representation of surface energy and carbon representations, an exercise the team is pursuing for the ACME Land Model.


Waterbodies in Arctic permafrost lowlands strongly affect wetland ecosystem processes of carbon, water, and energy fluxes important in regional- to global-scale models. However, there is no robust theory for the distribution or temporal dynamics of these surface features, nor do land models have accurate characterizations. The open source PeRL database is a critical first step in developing such theories and model representations. Project findings that small waterbodies dominate the number density of all waterbodies, and that their distributions are temporally dynamic, are motivating ongoing work in conceptualizing process representations that can be integrated in land models to improve prediction of high-latitude terrestrial processes.

Principal Investigator

William Riley
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
[email protected]

Program Manager

Daniel Stover
U.S. Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research (SC-33)
Environmental System Science
[email protected]


William J. Riley and Charles D. Koven were supported by the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE)–Tropics project of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER), within the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, under Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231.


Muster, S., K. Roth, M. Langer, and S. Lange, et al. "PeRL: A circum-Arctic permafrost region pond and lake database." Earth System Science Data 9 317–348  (2017).