EPSCoR - Alaska Adapting to Changing Environments
The integrated hydrologic and societal impacts of a warming climate in Interior Alaska
In this dissertation, interdisciplinary research methods were used to examine how changes in hydrology associated with climate affect Alaskans. Partnerships were established with residents of Fairbanks and Tanana to develop scientific investigations relevant to rural Alaskans. In chapter 2, local knowledge was incorporated into scientific models to identify a socialecological threshold used to model potential driftwood harvest from the Yukon River. Anecdotal evidence and subsistence calendar records were combined with scientific data to model the harvest rates of driftwood. Modeling results estimate that between 1980 and 2010 hydrologic factors alone were responsible for a 29% decrease in the annual wood harvest, which approximately balanced a 23% reduction in wood demand due to a decline in number of households. The community's installation of wood-fired boilers in 2007 created a threshold increase (76%) in wood demand that is not met by driftwood harvest. Modeling of climatic scenarios illustrates that increased hydrologic variability decreases driftwood harvest and increases the financial or temporal costs for subsistence users. In chapter 3, increased groundwater flow related to permafrost degradation was hypothesized to be affect river ice thickness in sloughs of the Tanana River. A physically-based, numerical model was developed to examine the importance of permafrost degradation in explaining unfrozen river conditions in the winter. Results indicated that ice melt is amplified by increasing groundwater upwelling rates, groundwater temperatures, and snowfall. Modeling results also suggest that permafrost degradation could be a valid explanation of the phenomenon, but does not address the potential drivers (e.g. warming climate, forest fire, etc.) of the permafrost warming. In chapter 4, remote sensing techniques were hypothesized to be useful for mapping dangerous ice conditions on the Tanana River in interior Alaska. Unsupervised classification of high-resolution satellite imagery was used to identify and map open water and degraded ice conditions on the Tanana River. Ninety-five percent of the total river channel surface was classified as "safe" for river travel, while 4% of the channel was mapped as having degraded ice and 0.6% of the channel was classified as open water (overall accuracy of 73%). This research demonstrates that the classification of high-resolution satellite images can be useful for mapping hazardous ice for recreational, transportation, or industrial applications in northern climates. These results are applicable to communities throughout the North. For people that rely upon subsistence activities, increased variability in climate cycles can have substantial financial, cultural, recreational, or even mortal consequences. This research demonstrates how collaborations between scientists and local stakeholders can create tools that help to assess the impacts of increased environmental variability (such as flooding) or to detect or predict unsafe conditions (such as thin or unpredictable ice cover). Based upon this research, I conclude that regional-scale adaptations and technological advances (such as modeling and remote sensing tools) may help to alleviate the effects of environmental variability associated by climate.
Data and Resources
Data Types: Report