Arctic Delta and Coastal Margins as Buffers and Transformers of Carbon
Warming at twice the global rate is the new 'normal' for the Arctic. Its ice is melting, its permafrost is thawing, its ocean is acidifying. Freshwater and carbon cycles are intensifying, with direct impacts on ecosystems and resources. Changes on the Arctic land and in the Arctic Ocean are expected to continue in the future. Yet, estimates of the changing carbon fluxes and transformations across these inherently linked systems ‒ the land, the ocean, and the rivers that connect them ‒ are poorly constrained, increasing uncertainties in our understanding and modeling of their impacts on local and larger scale ocean community composition, acidification, and productivity.
Bringing together a diverse team of satellite researchers, experimentalists, and modelers this study addresses this high priority research area. Focused on the Yukon River-Bering Sea continuum one of the most productive areas for Alaska fisheries - and simultaneously a ''ground zero'' for climate change - we address three key science questions: (i) How do changes in hydrological forcing and terrestrial sources affect the transport and export of particulate and dissolved organic and inorganic carbon along this rapidly changing land-ocean continuum? (ii) What is the relative importance and interplay of physical and biogeochemical processes (flocculation, microbial, photochemistry) in transforming carbon as it moves from the Alaskan terrestrial landscape to the Arctic Ocean? (iii) How will changing environmental conditions and future pressures (e.g., increasing temperatures, shifting river flow, and increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide) affect these processes and their impact on carbon fluxes and cycles under various scenarios?
Building on our existing collaborations with the Alakanuk Tribal Council and the IGAP Environmental Department in Alakanuk, we are working with local Alaskan communities and students from the Lower Yukon School District to integrate community-based monitoring in our field activities, inform this study based on local knowledge on ecosystem trends, share NASA science, and expand the spatial and temporal domain of our measurements.
In addition, the project involves strong collaborations with Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) and NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center, both for measurements in the Yukon River Delta as well as through participation in NOAA oceanographic surveys in the Northern Bering Sea including western and northern Norton Sound.