Hydro-Ecology of Arctic Thawing (HEAT): Ecology

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Permafrost thaw is leading to a myriad of changes in physical and chemical conditions throughout the Arctic.

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Permafrost thaw and the subsequent changes to geomorpholgy, hydrology, and vegetation can alter groundwater flow and inflows to streams, affecting river hydrographs, water temperature, and the availability of carbon and nutrients.  Changes in stream hydrology and chemistry subsequently have the potential to affect fish habitat and metabolism directly. By changing primary productivity in stream ecosystems, these changes can also alter food resources available to fish. While these physical changes have already been observed in interior Alaska there is little understanding of the effects on ecosystems and Alaska’s fish that are important commercial, sport, and subsistence resources, and also important to wildlife.  This 5 year study will assess the potential effects of permafrost thaw on streams and their fish by 1) using space for time approaches to consider the effects of permafrost loss (through thermokarsting and decreased permafrost extent) on stream hydrology and chemistry, ecosystem functions, fish performance, and fish community structure; 2)  using physical models to determine the rates of change and explore potential effects on stream discharge, temperature, hyporheic zones, flow duration, perennial stream lengths, and inflows; and 3) using a temperature-based combined physical and fish metabolism model to quantify the effects for Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma) and  Arctic Grayling (Thymallus arcticus).  These will provide major advances in our understanding of hydrology and fish at the boreal-arctic transition, as well as a direct link (through stream temperature) to couple climate change and fish metabolism.  This glimpse into Alaska’s future has broad implications for understanding the rates and mechanisms of landscape change, with implications for these two fish species as well as the broader fish community.  This research program will inform management decisions on development activities and enable predictions on the effects of climate change for wildlife outcomes.

This project is in conjunction with the Hydro-ecology of Arctic Thawing: Hydrology

Funding: USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystem Initiative

Dolly Varden from the Agashashok River on a measuring board

Dolly Varden from the Agashashok River on a measuring board.
(Credit: Mike Carey, USGS. Public domain.)

A minnow trap underwater with Dolly Varden inside

Dolly Varden in a minnow trap in the Agashashok River drainage. 
(Credit: Mike Carey, USGS. Public domain.)

A sculpin in shallow water surrounded by rocks

Sculpin in shallow water in the Agashashok River watershed.
(Credit: Mike Carey, USGS. Public domain.)

 

A small arctic grayling near the bottom of the Imelyak River

Small arctic grayling hugging the bottom in the Imelyak River in the Brooks Range. 
(Credit: Mike Carey, USGS. Public domain.)

 

Many Dolly Varden char and Arctic grayling underwater in the Agashashok River

Underwater photo of a large school of Dolly Varden char and Arctic grayling in the Agashashok River. 
(Credit: Mike Records, USGS. Public domain.)

 

An aerial view of a stream in the Agashashok River watershed in the western Brooks range

A stream type at the Boreal-Arctic transition of the Brooks Range, Noatak National Park and Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park. The stream is part of the Agashashok River watershed. 
(Credit: Mike Carey, USGS. Public domain.)

A stream in the Agashashok River drainage with a red helicopter on the bank

A stream type at the Boreal-Arctic transition of the Brooks Range, Noatak National Park and Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park. The stream is in the Agashashok River watershed.
(Credit: Mike Carey, USGS. Public domain.)

 

A stream in the Agashashok River drainage

A stream type at the Boreal-Arctic transition of the Brooks Range, Noatak National Park and Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park. This stream is in the Agashashok River watershed. 
(Credit: Mike Carey, USGS. Public domain.)

 

A stream in the Agashashok River drainage

A stream type at the Boreal-Arctic transition of the Brooks Range, Noatak National Park and Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park. The stream is in the Agashashok River watershed. 
(Credit: Mike Carey, USGS. Public domain.)

Scientist walking up the Akilik River with a minnow trap to catch fish

Hiking up a stream from the Akilik River drainage to set minnow traps for fish sampling. This is a stream type at the Boreal-Arctic transition of the Brooks Range, Noatak National Park and Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park.
(Credit: Josh Koch, USGS. Public domain.)

A snorkeler floating in a clear water stream

A snorkeler sampling a stream in the Boreal-Arctic transition of the Brooks Range in Noatak National Park and Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park.
(Credit: Mike Carey, USGS. Public domain.)

 

Scientist walking up the Imelyak River

Sampling the Imelyak River in the Boreal-Arctic transition of the Brooks Range in Noatak National Park and Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park.
(Credit: Mike Carey, USGS. Public domain.)

 

Scientist walking up a stream in the Agashashok River drainage

Chris Zimmerman sampling a stream in the drainage of the Agashashok River which is in the Boreal-Arctic transition of the Brooks Range in Noatak National Park and Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park. 
(Credit: Mike Carey, USGS. Public domain.)

 

Sampling a stream in the mist in the Akilik River drainage

Sampling a stream from the Akilik River drainage in the Boreal-Arctic transition of the Brooks Range in Noatak National Park and Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park. 
(Credit: Mike Carey, USGS. Public domain.)