To ensure meaningful outcomes, we seek to engage Communities to co-produce knowledge of river conditions and climate vulnerabilities. We follow both the Principles for Conducting Research in the Arctic (IARPC, 2018) and the Guidelines for Considering Traditional Knowledges in Climate Change Initiatives (Chief et al., 2015). 

Community-based monitoring will entail:

  • Expanding and enhancing water quality and temperature monitoring by indigenous communities and the USGS

  • Using monitoring data to assess and calibrate models

Monitoring LocationsThe Arctic Rivers Project will make use of data collected at existing USGS gaging stations in Alaska and measurements made by community members as part of the Indigenous Observation Network (ION). In 2020, with the help of USGS hydrologic technicians in Alaska, three sensors measuring conductance have been installed at USGS gages where water flow is regularly measured. Two additional sensors are ready to go when USGS personnel are available. These automated water quality sensors allow observation of seasonal and annual changes in river temperature and water quality. Sensors advance community-based monitoring capacity and the USGS gage network.

In 2021, working with the USGS and the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council (YRITWC), water sensors were deployed across the Yukon River basin and other northern Alaskan rivers. These sensors collect data that will help us learn how changes in precipitation, snowmelt, glacier melt and permafrost thaw combine to impact river conditions.Community Monitoring

The work was not easy, and those in the field faced challenges. Navigating another summer with Covid-19, the YRITWC implemented a rigorous Covid-19 safety travel protocol. This included weekly negative Covid-19 test results to ensure the health of our project partner communities and to comply with Tribal Council travel mandates. Combining the logistical challenges of rural communities’ limited air flight availability, delayed air cargo delivery, a fragile communication system, and timely Covid-19 testing made a coordinated field effort across a landscape such as the Yukon River basin especially challenging. 

Another challenge we experienced was with our sensor deployment and retrievement due to weather conditions, fluctuation of water levels, unstable riverbanks, and sedimentation influx from increased river erosion across the regions. Overall, the summer was colder and wetter but we experienced regional differences with regards to river water levels. The combination of high snowpack and rapid snowmelt at the Southern Lake region caused widespread flooding that even surpassed high water levels from 2007. Meanwhile, drier weather and low water levels were observed for major Yukon River tributaries originating from the Brooks Range. Throughout the fall months, high precipitation contributes to flooding and accelerated river erosion at many Alaska Interior rivers, demonstrating complex variation over this large region. 

ErosionWe are excited to see how our sensor data reflects these conditions and captures the observed spatial variability. The data will also be provided to the communities who helped collect it. We hope the data we collected, such as water temperature, will contribute to achieving a better understanding about the Yukon River salmon decline observed over the past decade. The decline of salmon is devastating for the people and communities along the rivers as they rely deeply on the resource.