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SELAWIK: Long-term Monitoring in the Face of Change
Alaska Region, July 27, 2012
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Biologists Brandon Saito (right) and Anne Orlando (left) collecting data on the Selawik River.
Biologists Brandon Saito (right) and Anne Orlando (left) collecting data on the Selawik River. - Photo Credit: Susan Georgette/USFWS
Seen from the air, the western part of Selawik National Wildlife Refuge looks like a mosaic of river channels, sloughs, and ponds.  This area is vulnerable to some predicted impacts of a changing climate.
Seen from the air, the western part of Selawik National Wildlife Refuge looks like a mosaic of river channels, sloughs, and ponds. This area is vulnerable to some predicted impacts of a changing climate. - Photo Credit: USFWS

The heart of the two-million-plus acre Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, the Selawik River and its surrounding wetlands are core habitat for many of the fish, waterfowl and shorebirds the refuge works to conserve. This rich, wild environment is one of the places where the rubber meets the road in getting a handle on emerging climate change impacts. Located along the Arctic Circle at the interface of continuous and discontinuous permafrost, the Selawik Refuge is expected to undergo widespread alterations in its ecological systems as a result of climate change.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to measure how much something is changing unless you have information about its prior condition. To analyze changes in the Selawik River environment, good data must be collected in an ongoing manner so that we can compare it from year to year. This is the idea behind the Selawik Refuge’s long-term annual water monitoring project that we initiated in 2012.
The project’s study plan for this year was based on a hydrologic inventory in summer 2011 of 29 sites along the Selawik River drainage. From last year’s work, five representative sampling locations in the watershed were selected, which will be visited repeatedly this summer from the initial high-water of breakup through the lower water levels of early autumn. These sites were even visited in April, when biologists had to auger through ice to collect water samples for documenting water chemistry at the start of the season. We expect the following four results from the 2012 study:
• A seasonal profile of standard water chemistry and environmental conditions along the river system
• An estimate of the volume of water flowing in the river during high, medium and low water levels
• A seasonal profile of species and relative abundance of plankton
• An assessment of sources of energy to the system by analyzing soil, litter, and leaf material along the river system
These results will help us understand the dynamics of the aquatic system and monitor change. What we learn this year will help refine the sampling schedule for future years.
Other noteworthy findings from last year’s inventory: very little evidence was found of saltwater intrusion into the Selawik River system from the nearby brackish waters; tundra ponds near the village were found to be hydrologically isolated from the river system; and a period of low nitrogen availability in the system, along with increased presence of blue-green algae, occurred from mid-July to mid-August.
For more information about this work, contact biologist Anne Orlando at Selawik Refuge.


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



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