Kougarok Site Description

Kougarok Bridge
Kougarok Bridge,
Photo by UAF staff

The Kougarok (Quartz Creek) area appears to be representative of a large portion of interior regions of the Seward Peninsula and may offer intermediate landscape/vegetation types between those at Ivotuk and Council. This region also presents an interesting array of landscapes for comparative analyses including well-developed tussock tundra, small patches of continuous shrubs and large uniform areas of moss/lichens.

Logistically, the Kougarok site is convenient compared to most remote study areas in Alaska. It is accessible by road (90 miles) from Nome during the summer months. Road accessibility ends at the Kougarok River and access to sites farther north requires an ATV or helicopter. There is an airplane landing strip within one mile of the watersheds with ample space for a field camp. Although not pristine (there are some ATV trails within the watersheds), they do not display the obvious mining scars present in most watersheds along the road system.

Two small watersheds in the area are being studied. The first, Mauze Gulch, drains an area of 4.9 km2. It is in an area that is significantly warmer than previously studied watersheds on the North Slope of Alaska, but still contains nearly continuous permafrost. The permafrost is relatively thin in this area (~15 m) and is probably discontinuous under larger streams and rivers. Vegetation is primarily tussock tundra, but contains shrubs (to 2 m) in protected areas. The Seward Peninsula experiences a maritime climate. Research in this watershed was initiated in April 1999 and identical hydrologic and meteorological measurements will permit intensive cross-site comparisons of hydrological and meteorological processes and response to climate.

The second watershed of interest, Niagara Creek (6.5 km2), lies directly adjacent and parallel to Mauze Gulch. Niagara Creek is very similar to Mauze Gulch, however, a portion of Niagara Creek was burned in a large tundra fire (76,300 acres) from July 22 to August 25, 1997. This area offers a good opportunity to examine the effects of tundra fires on surface energy, water and carbon balance. There is a strong fire history in the area, and many different tundra age stands are regenerating from fires ranging from first year burns to very old burns. There is a good record of these fires (size, location) by the Alaska Fire Service.

In Spring 1999, three ATLAS weather stations were installed - one 3 m tower within the burned area of Niagara Creek (K1-burn), one 10 m tower between Niagara Creek and Mauze Gulch (K2-met), and one 3 m tower in a shrub area in Mauze Gulch (K3-mauze). There is also a BLM RAWS (Remote Automated Weather Station) site that has been operated near the landing strip since 1988, collecting primarily climatic data useful for fire prediction during summer. Additionally, a 1 km x 1 km grid was installed as part of the Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring (CALM) program, which is an effort to monitor changes in the thickness of the active layer above permafrost.