Understanding the Impacts of Permafrost Change: Providing Input into the Alaska Integrated Ecosystem Model

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Ongoing climate change has the potential to negatively impact Alaska’s ecosystems and the critical services that they provide. These ecosystem services include supplying food and fiber for Alaskan communities, offering opportunities for recreational, cultural, and spiritual activities, and regulating temperature and water flow (runoff, flooding, etc.). Scientists build models to better unders...

Ongoing climate change has the potential to negatively impact Alaska’s ecosystems and the critical services that they provide. These ecosystem services include supplying food and fiber for Alaskan communities, offering opportunities for recreational, cultural, and spiritual activities, and regulating temperature and water flow (runoff, flooding, etc.).

 

Scientists build models to better understand processes and interactions in the natural environment and to use what we know to predict what will happen in the future, so that we can plan for it. Researchers from multiple institutions and disciplines developed an Integrated Ecosystem Model (IEM) for Alaska and Northwest Canada. The model helps forecast how climate change will affect landscapes, habitats, and ecosystem services, providing useful information for natural resource managers seeking to prepare for and prioritize actions related to climate change.

 

The goal of this project was to support the development of the IEM through several critical phases, including model parameterization (defining rules and relationships), validation (checking how well the model represents what’s happening in the real world), and verification (making sure the model was built according to upfront assumptions). Researchers conducted field studies to collect information on vegetation, soil carbon and nitrogen, climate, and permafrost in the Yukon River Basin and Tanana River floodplain, providing insight on how permafrost thaw will affect these and similar ecosystems.