The Fish Creek Watershed drains a 4500 km2 region of the Arctic Coastal Plain in northern Alaska. This watershed is composed of abundant lakes, wetlands, beaded streams, and alluvial rivers set atop permafrost soils, which provide diverse mosaic of freshwater habitats for fish and waterbirds. Though almost entirely roadless and de facto wilderness, this hydrologic unit is entirely within the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPR-A), and thus is a focal area for future petroleum development.
Accordingly, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in partnership with University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other agencies have gradually developed an environmental monitoring network to track responses to climate change and establish a baseline prior to petroleum development. Included in this program is the Circum-Arctic Lakes Observing Network (CALON; an Arctic Observing Network (AON) program) with nodes of six lakes in the upper and lower portions of the watershed. This expanding network of lake buoys, stream and river gauges, and climate stations not only is helping to understand hydroclimatic changes in the Arctic, but also provides an ideal framework to initiate hypothesis driven research programs.
Such projects include studies of fish foraging and migration through a stream-lake system, a watershed-scale analysis of aquatic habitat responses to climate and land-use change, and focused investigation of lake ice interactions with permafrost and climate. Continuation of the Fish Creek Watershed Observatory (FCWO) will focus on sustaining climate, hydrologic, permafrost, and biological inventory and monitoring to capture the coupled responses of land-use and climate change in Arctic Alaska.