The Sensitivity of Alaskan and Yukon Rivers, Fish, and Communities to Climate is a five-year project funded by the National Science Foundation’s Navigating the New Arctic Program. The goal of the project is to weave together Indigenous Knowledges, monitoring, and the modeling of climate, rivers (flows, temperature, ice), and fish to improve our understanding of how Arctic rivers, ice transportation corridors, fish, and communities might be impacted by and adapt to climate change. The project started January 1, 2020 and runs through December 31, 2024.
Our project team has diverse experience in water quality monitoring, river ice prediction, streamflow, climate change, fish, and tribal environmental issues. We worked with the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council (YRITWC), a non-profit group representing 74 Tribes & First Nations dedicated to the preservation of the Yukon River Watershed. They helped us to develop our initial research questions, guided by their executive board of directors and by Tribal and First Nations representatives. Our main research question is:
How will societally important fish habitat and river-ice transportation corridors along Arctic rivers be impacted by climate change including permafrost degradation, transformed groundwater dynamics, shifts in streamflow, and altered river temperatures?
Indigenous northern communities use river systems for subsistence fishing and travel. As climate change rapidly transforms Arctic rivers, the possibilities for people, their fisheries and winter travel corridors are deeply uncertain. This project will advance collective understanding of terrestrial hydrologic change and potential impacts on rivers, fish, and communities in the Arctic. The project will facilitate knowledge coproduction through Indigenous community-based monitoring, Native engagement and oversight, ethnographic methods, and advances in climate, hydrologic, and river-ice, and fish bioenergetic models. Indigenous Knowledge (IK) and Western Science (WS) will be used to co-develop storylines of past and plausible future conditions. An Arctic Rivers Summit co-developed by Tribal Environmental experts, the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council (YRITWC), the USGS, and a Native Advisory Council will identify IK and WS baseline conditions of rivers and fish. This will include continuous water quality measurements of major rivers to guide model parameter estimation. The Regional Arctic System Model (RASM) and the Community Terrestrial Systems Model will be coupled to simulate river ice and water temperature with a chain of process-based models. Historical reanalysis, verified against baseline conditions, and future climate scenarios will be simulated. A fish bioenergetics model will be used to assess vulnerabilities and possibilities of co-identified river-run Arctic fish species. Results will be communicated through co-developed storylines, making future projections of Arctic change and potential societal impacts tangible and relatable to a broad audience. Thus, we will achieve our project objective to assess how socially important fish habitat and river-ice transport corridors of Arctic rivers may be impacted by climate-driven hydrologic change. By linking models with human aspects of climate change and IK we will assess impacts on the natural, built, and social Arctic environment.