Streamflow input to Lake Athabasca, Canada
Abstract. The Lake Athabasca drainage area in northern Canada encompasses ecologically rich and sensitive ecosystems, vast forests, glacier-clad mountains, and abundant oil reserves in the form of oil sands. The basin includes the Peace–Athabasca Delta, recognized internationally by UNESCO and the Ramsar Convention as a biologically rich inland delta and wetland that are now under increasing pressure from multiple stressors. In this study, streamflow variability and trends for rivers feeding Lake Athabasca are investigated over the last half century. Hydrological regimes and trends are established using a robust regime shift detection method and the Mann–Kendall (MK) test, respectively. Results show that the Athabasca River, which is the main contributor to the total lake inflow, experienced marked declines in recent decades impacting lake levels and its ecosystem. From 1960 to 2010 there was a significant reduction in lake inflow and a significant recession in the Lake Athabasca level. Our trend analysis corroborates a previous study using proxy data obtained from nearby sediment cores suggesting that the lake level may drop 2 to 3 m by 2100. The lake recession may threaten the flora and fauna of the Athabasca Lake basin and negatively impact the ecological cycle of an inland freshwater delta and wetland of global importance.