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Ice2O: A Continued Assessment of Icefield-to-Ocean Change in the Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest

A Alaska CSC Funding Opportunity 2015 Project
Principal Investigator
Shad O'Neel


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The Gulf of Alaska is one of the most productive marine ecosystems on Earth, supporting salmon fisheries that alone provide large economic benefits to Southeast Alaska. The region also has a vibrant and growing tourism industry. Glaciers are central to many of the area’s natural processes and economic activities, but the rates of glacier loss in Alaska are among the highest on Earth. Glacier loss threatens to significantly change the amount and timing of nutrients delivered by streams to near-shore habitats. Changes in glacier runoff into the ocean may also impact coastal currents that contribute to vibrant nearshore marine ecosystems. Improving our understanding of how ecosystems depend on glaciers and what glacier loss might mean [...]

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“Muir Glacier in 2003 - Credit: Bruce Molnia”
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Projected climate warming is expected to alter the water cycle throughout coastal Alaska. In particular, changes in seasonal snowcover and glacier volume have the potential to change the amount and timing of freshwater delivery to the ocean. Climate change will also impact the amount and timing of nutrients delivered by streams to near-shore habitats. As glaciers change, so will the runoff that is a primary driver for coastal currents that contribute to vibrant nearshore marine ecosystems. The potential impacts on economically important species such as herring and salmon are poorly understood, but we do know that the wellbeing of many species is linked to physical processes and climate. Improving our understanding of these linkages will help resource managers to make better long-term decisions with regard to managing ecosystems along the Gulf of Alaska. Other potential impacts of glacier loss include changing coastal viewsheds, which impacts tourism and recreation industries. Providing decision support to plan for these changes requires interagency collaborations, cross-disciplinary research and technical tools that enable data integration across space and time. Our work will provide a data-backed foundation by which we can assess snow and ice in coastal Alaska, and contribute to informed decision making regarding our resources.

Project Extension

typeTechnical Summary
valueProjected climate warming is likely to substantially alter terrestrial storage and release of water in the Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest (PCTR) region. In particular, changes in seasonal snowcover and glacier volume have the potential to induce pronounced changes in physical and chemical hydrology. Downstream transmission of these hydrological changes will impact biological communities, in many of which population dynamics are linked to physical processes. Developing an understanding of the links between physical (hydrological) drivers and ecological trajectories will thus allow for improved science-based resource management and economic decision-making, especially with regard to economically important fish species such as herring and salmon. Additionally, as glacier retreat changes Alaska’s coastal viewsheds, tourism and recreation industries will be affected, and industries dependent on reliable seasonal snowpacks, such as ski recreation, are likely to suffer if predictions of increased winter rain manifest. Our project, Ice2O, will focus on integrating several newly available data products that can be combined to allow us to begin to develop forecasting decision-making tools related to cryospheric and hydrological change throughout the PCTR. These tools, leveraging the inter-agency collaborations we have established, will ultimately help address projected climate and ecosystem changes over multiple temporal and spatial scales. Ice2O will integrate climate downscaling, snow accumulation, glacier mass balance and streamflow datasets, and then use the integrated database to assess glacier sensitivity to changes in climate forcing. We will perform the analysis at the basin scale, but integrate over the entire northern PCTR region. The sensitivity testing will be guided by colleagues in resource management (including LCC’s, USFS, NPS, BLM) and ecology (including colleagues at the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences and the USGS) in order to align our efforts with the “questions that matter”, that is those with large uncertainty and/or substantial management and economic impacts. By building on an observational foundation, and by incorporating external ecosystem expertise, we will enhance model accuracy and provide relevant, accurate information on glacier change in the PCTR to to decision-makers. Our results will be presented in multiple formats to best facilitate engagement with both the science and management communities. The Ice2O team is diverse, with backgrounds in physical, chemical and biological science. We have a proven track-record of working with management, highlighting the existing and potential ecosystem-wide implications of glacier change. Each member of our team brings many other funded projects with them, allowing this project to focus on integrating a broad array of new discovery.
projectStatusIn Progress

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Type Scheme Key
RegistrationUUID NCCWSC 3c13106a-a637-4c0e-88c9-557de3a45fc9
StampID NCCWSC AK14-OS0042

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