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Stream Communities and Ecosystems


A network of greater than 25,000 miles of perennial and intermittent mountain headwater streams; turbid, glacial-fed streams; meandering clear-water tundra streams; thermally stable spring-fed streams; and large rivers flow across the ARCN landscape (National Hydrography Dataset). This complex network of stream and river ecosystems represents a great range of depths, flows and trophic states and is underlain by continuous or discontinuous permafrost. Thermokarst action and solifluction have a substantial and ongoing influence on the structure and function of aquatic ecosystems across the ARCN landscape. The net result of these processes is a dynamic system of lakes, streams and water tracks that appear and disappear by draining, drying, slumping and infilling. From a monitoring perspective it will be important to quantify the variability of these processes to better understand the cumulative nature of their impacts on aquatic systems, particularly since these processes are demonstrably sensitive to changes in climate (see PDS for Permafrost Dynamics). There are seven National Wild and Scenic Rivers in ARCN, including the Noatak, Salmon, Kobuk, Alatna, John, Tinayguk and North Fork of the Koyokuk Rivers. The Kobuk and Noatak rivers are the largest rivers in northwest Alaska and together drain an area of 63,654 km2. More than two hundred turbid headwater streams originate from glaciers in the Brooks Range; however, the majority of streams in ARCN run clear. Due to the stabilizing effect of permafrost on soils, relatively low topographic relief, and low levels of precipitation, average sediment loads in many ARCN streams and rivers are low compared to sediment loads in other Alaskan rivers. There are several spring streams, including tributaries of the Reed River, Kugrak River, and Alatna River. Traditional knowledge indicates these springs do not freeze solid during winter and are an important habitat for overwintering resident and anadromous fish species. The Noatak River, which originates in GAAR, flows into NOAT, where the river and its surrounding watershed have been designated as an internationally recognized Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO). All of the streams in ARCN are free of man-made impoundments. Currently, there are no waters in ARCN listed as impaired under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act; however, no adequate assessment of water quality in the ARCN parks has been conducted. Potential local impacts on flowing waters in ARCN include consumptive use of stream and river resources and impending development. Subsistence users and recreational users fish in ARCN units. Habitat quality and fish populations are important to local communities and must be managed, protected, and preserved under provisions of ANILCA. Other local stressors to flowing water ecosystems may include road construction, industrial development, mining, and nonpoint source petrochemical pollution from snowmobiles and motor boats. Potential global stressors on flowing waters in ARCN include wet and dry deposition of contaminants and climate change. Climate change models predict that the magnitude of climate warming in the northern polar regions will be substantially greater than the global average. At the watershed scale, the cumulative effects of warming may lead to a wide range of cascading effects. For example, increased air and water temperatures may lead to degradation of permafrost and increasing soil permeability may cause ground water tables to fluctuate. In some areas small streams and large rivers may cease to flow aboveground and increased rates of solifluction and erosion may occur. Changes in the timing and extent of glacial and snowmelt water contributions and precipitation regimes are also likely to occur, according to climate projections. Fire is likely to increase in frequency and magnitude, which would significantly alter riparian...


Citation Year Type Access Holdings IRMA
O'Donnell JA and Others. 2017. Potential effects of permafrost thaw on arctic river ecosystems. Alaska Park Science (No holdings or the holding is external. Consult the IRMA reference) 2017 Journal Article Public 0 Link to
Download O'Donnell%20et%20al.%202016%20GBC.pdf O'Donnell JA and Others. 2016. Dissolved organic matter composition of Arctic rivers: linking permafrost and parent material to riverine carbon. Global Biogeochemical Cycles. 30:1811-1826 2016 Journal Article Public 1 Link to
Download O'Donnell_2015_NRDS_submitted_NRSS_final.pdf O'Donnell JA and Others. 2015. Chemical composition of rivers in Alaska’s Arctic Network, 2013–2014. Natural Resource Data Series. NPS/ARCN/NRDS—2015/809. National Park Service. Fort Collins, Colorado 2015 Published Report Public 1 Link to
Click to view holdings O'Donnell JA. 2015. Stream Chemistry Data for Alaska's Arctic Network, 2013-2014. National Park Service Arctic Network Inventory and Monitoring Program (2 holdings) 2015 Tabular Dataset Public 2 Link to
Download O'Donnell%20et%20al.%202014%20JGR-B.pdf O'Donnell JA and Others. 2014. Using dissolved organic matter age and composition to detect permafrost thaw in boreal watersheds of interior Alaska. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences. 119 2014 Journal Article Public 1 Link to


Key words: alatna, aquatic, chemistry, community, ecology, fish, john, kobuk, koyokuk, long term, monitoring, national park, national wild and scenic rivers, noatak, permafrost, population, river, salmon, sediment, stream, subsistence, thermokarst, tinayguk, water

Subject Categories:

  • Ecological Framework: Biological Integrity | Focal Species or Communities | Freshwater Communities
  • Ecological Framework: Water | Water Quality | Nutrient Dynamics
  • Ecological Framework: Water | Water Quality | Water Chemistry

View this project 'Stream Communities and Ecosystems Monitoring in the Arctic Network of National Parklands' on the IRMA Data Store | JSON | XML | Project reference last updated on 2017-12-16 12:21:34 by

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