Sep 24 2019

Water resources in a changing landscape: AK CASC researchers attend Juneau conference

a man stands next to a poster at a conference

Ross Spicer presented his work on exploring thermokarst initiation for the Alaska Thermokarst Model

a man stands next to a poster at a conference

Rick Lader presented his work on historical and projected precipitation extremes for Southeast Alaska.

Be it flowing in rivers or glaciers, falling as snow, or carving the coast in waves, Southeast Alaska is a landscape shaped by water. Small changes in the climate can have big impacts on the amount and source of water in the terrestrial and coastal ecosystems of the region. At the American Water Resources Association Alaska Section Annual Conference on September 17th, 2019, physical, biological, and social scientists, engineers, and other professionals gathered to collaborate on water resource research, planning, development, management, and education.

AK CASC scientist Bob Bolton, and fellows Rick Lader and Ross Spicer traveled to Juneau to participate in the conference, titled Water Resources in a Changing Landscape. 

Bolton presented information on permafrost, snow, and vegetation interactions on the Seward Peninsula. Lader and Spicer presented posters on historical and projected precipitation extremes for Southeast Alaska and exploring thermokarst initiation for the Alaska Thermokarst Model, respectively.

Rapid change and extreme hydrological events in Southeast Alaska were a focal point of the meeting.

One of the things that struck me at the conference was how different the observed streamflow responses were this summer depending on whether its water was sourced from a glacier or not,” shared Lader. For example, for two proximate rivers on the Kenai Peninsula, one river which was glacially-sourced had near-record high flows and the other, which was not, had near-record low flows, despite having more or less the same weather (e.g., warm and dry). 

“The worrying implication here is that as the glaciers recede, the low flow stream scenario would become more prominent. I also got the sense that there was a lot of interest in the future frequency and intensity of atmospheric rivers in Southeast and the future tendency of the rain/snow line,” said Lader.