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SELAWIK:Hydrologic research with a “purpose”
Alaska Region, July 27, 2011
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Research technician Carmen Daggett has led the sampling effort for this project, using a variety of tools and techniques. Photo: Nichole Hanshaw/USFWS
Research technician Carmen Daggett has led the sampling effort for this project, using a variety of tools and techniques. Photo: Nichole Hanshaw/USFWS - Photo Credit: n/a
The Selawik River is part of a maze of wetlands and waterways.  Local knowledge and navigational skills have helped make the project feasible.
Photo: Steve Hillebrand/USFWS
The Selawik River is part of a maze of wetlands and waterways. Local knowledge and navigational skills have helped make the project feasible. Photo: Steve Hillebrand/USFWS - Photo Credit: n/a
Frank
Frank "Sonny" Berry Jr., a Selawik resident and USFWS Maintenance Worker, operates the motorboat and has helped collect samples and deploy equipment for this project. Photo: Susan Georgette/USFWS - Photo Credit: n/a

Virtually every National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska is charged with “ensuring water quality and quantity.”  Addressing this purpose can be a challenge without good information on flow levels, water quality and chemistry, and the hydrology of the freshwater systems.  This type of information has not yet been systematically collected for the Selawik River watershed in northwest Alaska, leaving an important data gap for scientists and managers at Selawik Refuge. 

The need to have a baseline understanding of how the system works is made more critical by changes taking place in northern watersheds due to climate change.  Shifts in lake levels, algal blooms, and permafrost melting are some of the effects being seen which could certainly impact wildlife and people.  Selawik Refuge, in partnership with Dr. Bob Stottlemyer (Research Professor at Michigan Tech University) and the USFWS Water Resources Branch, has a project underway on the refuge to gather data to better “ensure water quality and quantity.”

Working with refuge staff from Selawik village, a hydrologist will be collecting and analyzing water samples from several locations around Selawik this summer.  The study will run from the high water levels of early summer through the low water levels of early autumn.  Saltwater intrusion, water quality and chemistry, phytoplankton productivity, and lake and pond water loss will be investigated. 

The project results should help us understand the system (for example, are certain lakes connected below the surface or separate) and give us a baseline for future comparisons. The information will also be useful in helping us to understand the impacts of climate change.  For example, the extent of permafrost thawing will be hinted at through an increase in the amount of organic compounds in the water (that are no longer locked up in ice), increased phytoplankton production (in response to the flush of organic nutrients), and changes in the size of lakes and ponds (as water is allowed to sink deeper into the thawed soils).  Stay tuned for future updates!


Contact Info: Brittany Sweeney, (907) 442-3799 ex.13, brittany_sweeney@fws.gov



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