Aerial view of Accomplishment Creek and the Sagavanirktok River in the Brooks Range of Alaska.  Photo by D.L. Kane

Collaborative Research: Detection and attribution of changes in the hydrologic regimes of the Mackenzie, the Kuparuk and the Lena River Basins

Larry D. Hinzman (, University of Alaska Fairbanks
John Cassano (, University of Colorado
Manda Lynch (, University of Colorado
Douglas L. Kane (, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Kenji Yoshikawa (, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Matt A. Nolan (, University of Alaska Fairbanks
William Gutowski (, Iowa State University

This research addresses the physical character of the Arctic freshwater system and its interactions with the Arctic Ocean, particularly the role of terrestrial freshwater storage on the time-scales of days to decades. Our priorities particularly emphasize those set by several recent research initiatives: the Arctic/SubArctic Ocean Fluxes (ASOF), Arctic Community-wide Hydrological Analysis and Monitoring Program (Arctic-CHAMP), and Study of Environmental ARctic Change (SEARCH) projects. In particular, we are coordinating the implementation of an international observation system (in Russia, Alaska, and Canada) that will hopefully serve as a prototype for sustained, long-term efforts to document and understand variability in the Arctic freshwater system, by both standardizing field methods and modeling approaches. This coordination will allow us to pursue an integrated synthesis of the processes, linkages and causes of variability in the Arctic terrestrial, atmosphere and upper-ocean hydrologic cycle. In addition to these data collection, synthesis and analyses efforts, we plan to document the variability of the Arctic freshwater storage components on a decade to century time-scale, in relation to their effects on freshwater discharge into the Arctic Ocean. As our understanding of these processes is improved, we intend to characterize the range of future changes to the Arctic hydrological system and assess their impacts on freshwater inputs into the Arctic Ocean.

Our research will span spatial scales from 5 m to the entire pan-Arctic, with primary emphasis on the middle Yukon River, Kuparuk and Putuligayuk Rivers in Alaska, the upper Yukon River and lower Mackenzie River in Canada, and portions of the Lena River in Russia. Field measurements will be used within a previously-developed process-based arctic hydrological model, WaterWERCs, run at high spatial resolution (up to 5 m posting) in small research watersheds, underlain by both continuous and discontinuous permafrost, to elucidate the processes involved and to allow extrapolation to a coarser spatial resolution. We will also develop a new atmospheric model for Arctic regions, PAM, based on the popular MM5 model. This model will then be run at 10 km resolution for our research watersheds, and 30 km resolution for the complete transects, with this climate data driving the WaterWERCs hydrological model. We will couple field studies with rescue, reconstitution and analyses of aerial photos, satellite imagery, and the scientific literature to document changes in Arctic lakes (size, number, volume, orientations), aufeis (location, size, volume), and glaciers (location, mass balance) for the past 50 years, as well as conduct mass balance measurements on representatives of each of these three. Each of these storage units integrates the combined effects of the Arctic's weather, thus PAM and WaterWERCs can be validated against these measurements and used to predict change in these units in the future. The results of these comparisons will be used to assess our modeling reliability and to create a statistically based, reduced form model (RFM) that will utilize the results from the physically based PAM atmospheric model and the WaterWERCs hydrologic model to assess scenarios 50 years in the future. Our deliverables will include a significant contribution to our pan-Arctic understanding of the freshwater land / atmosphere / ocean system and its influence on regional or global-scale processes, as well as three tested models: WaterWERCs, PAM, and RFM.

Relevance to society and outreach to community will be on-going priorities throughout this effort. Most villages in arctic regions derive their water supply from surface sources. The reservoir and recharge capacities of these sources in a changing climate are largely unknown and the local populations' reliance on these sources with no other alternatives elevates the importance of this research. Increasing demand and decreasing availability of water is an expanding problem throughout the globe. In arctic regions, understanding the dynamics and rates of change of hydrologic and climatic processes is critically important. The implications of this research extend far beyond the bounds of the Arctic as the dynamics in thermohaline circulation are strongly influenced by dynamics in terrestrial runoff, potentially impacting global oceanic circulation patterns. This research will link with other CHAMP/ASOF investigations, and with investigators involved in the Siberian-GAME program and the Canadian MAGS program. Collectively this strong team of researchers has over 100 years experience conducting hydrologic field research in the Arctic. The project team is committed to education and dissemination of the project results. Over the course of the project, several graduate and undergraduate students will be active participants in the research and will be involved in the University of Colorado Graduate School funded Summer Multicultural Access to Research Training (SMART) program for undergraduates.

Arctic CHAMP
Science Management Office

Contact Information
Role of the Arctic-CHAMP Science Management Office
Photo: Aerial view of Accomplishment Creek and the
     Sagavanirktok River in the Brooks Range of Alaska.  Photo by D.L. Kane