Dr. Liljedahl and her graduate student Tiffany Gatesman are working to better understand how changes to Alaska’s glaciers will affect water runoff which affects many rivers and streams. Resource managers are always looking to better predict river discharge and river water quality and Dr. Liljedahl and Tiffany’s work will help develop more accurate models which will allow for better prediction of how much water rivers will discharge and the nutrients and suspended solids that will be transported downstream. Their work builds on previous NIWR funded work on the Jarvas Creek watershed and is highly complimentary to a recently funded National Science Foundation research project.
Alaska’s rivers are strongly influenced by snow and glacier melt, which contribution to overall runoff is rarely quantified. This uncertainty ultimately impacts the ability of managers and communities to plan and adapt to short- and long-term variations in runoff. For example, the anticipated climate warming will likely increase the release of water that is stored in glaciers, which can play a major role in maintaining runoff during periods of low rainfall. Effective forecasts and projections depend not only upon realistic total runoff amounts, but also an understanding of the contributing sources. Increased glacial runoff may also increase suspended solids, primarily inorganic silts and clays associated with mechanical erosion. Changes in streamflow chemistry, including suspended solids, has implications for downstream water quality and can help us better understand the export of inorganic nutrients (e.g. iron) and organic matter from permafrost and glacier affected terrestrial systems. The proposed effort, which is a continuation of a 1st year NIWR project, will provide perhaps the first hydrograph partitioning and colloidal analysis of an Interior Alaskan glacial river.