Arctic – Boreal Catchment Studies

Science Center Objects

Catchment hydrology focuses on the movement of water and solutes from landscapes to waterbodies. Our research addresses questions such as: Where is the stream water coming from? How long did it take to get here? What solutes, nutrients, and/or contaminants did the water pick up along the way? Because streams and lakes gather water and solutes, we can learn about the entire watershed by studying stream and lake hydrology and chemistry.

A conceptual model of effect of permafrost on catchment hydrology.

A conceptual model of effect of permafrost on catchment hydrology – permafrost may restrict deep flow, leading to quick drainage of aquifers. As permafrost thaws, altered flowpaths (from red to blue) affect water residence times and solute loads, with implications for the stream ecosystem.(Credit: Kim Wickland, USGS. Public domain.)

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Our research focuses on many Alaskan landscapes, primarily the Arctic and Boreal regions. Often our research addresses how catchment hydrology is influenced by permafrost presence and thaw. In boreal settings, we also consider the effects of fire. Both fire and thaw can substantially change hydrologic flow paths and subsequently the delivery of water, sediments, and solutes to streams and lakes. These changes in turn, have broad implications for Alaskan ecosystems and wildlife.

Our research is critical for stakeholders and land managers because it can quantitatively describe the processes underlying observed environmental conditions and change, and provides the fundamental understanding necessary for predicting future conditions.