Arctic Field Projects

Project Title: Collaborative Research: Spatial and Temporal Influences of Thermokarst Failures on Surface Processes in Arctic Landscapes (Award# 0806394)

PI: Bowden, Breck (William) (
Phone: (802) 656.2513 
Institute/Department: U of Vermont, School of Natural Resources 
IPY Project? NO
Funding Agency: US\Federal\NSF\GEO\OPP\ARC\ARCSS
Program Manager: Dr. Neil Swanberg (
Discipline(s): | Biology |

Project Web Site(s):

Science Summary:
Recent summaries of international research clearly document the past and future extent of climate warming in the Arctic. These summaries suggest that in the future, rising temperatures will be accompanied by increased precipitation, mostly as rain: 20% more over the Arctic as a whole and up to 30% more in coastal areas during the winter and autumn. These climate changes will have important impacts on arctic systems. Of direct interest to this research is the likelihood that warming will promote permafrost degradation and thaw. Formerly frozen soils may be further destabilized by increased precipitation, leading to hillslope thermokarst failures. Recent work has documented that thermokarst failures are abundant and appear to have become more numerous around Toolik Lake on the eastern North Slope and in the western Noatak River basin in Alaska. A widespread and long-term increase in the incidence of thermokarst failures may have important impacts on the structure and function of arctic headwater landscapes. This research will use a systems approach to address hypotheses about how thermokarst failures influence the structure and function of the arctic landscape. It will focus on the composition of vegetation, the distribution and processing of soil nutrients and exports of sediments and nutrients to stream and lake ecosystems. Results obtained at this hillslope scale will be linked to patterns observed at the landscape scale to test hypotheses about the spatial distribution of thermokarst failures in the arctic foothills. It is important to understand these interactions because perhaps the greatest potential impacts of changing land surface processes and formation of thermokarst failures are feedbacks to the climate system through energy, albedo, water, and trace gas exchange. This research is designed to quantify linkages among climatology, hillslope hydrology, geomorphology, geocryology, community ecology of vegetation, soil nutrient dynamics, microbial ecology, trace gas dynamics, and aquatic ecology. It will employ a combination of field experimentation, remote sensing, and simulation modeling as a means to quantify these relationships.

Logistics Summary:
This large collaborative is composed of the following grants: 0806394 (Bowden, UVM LEAD), 0806341 (Gooseff, Penn State), 0806451 (Schimel, UC-Santa Barbara), 0806399 (Crosby, ISU), 0806271 (Mack, U of FL), 0806329 (Rastetter, MBL), 0806254 (Kling, U of MI), 0806465 (Jones, UAF). Field work originally spanned 2009-2011. The NSF approved two no-cost extensions to support outreach work in 2013 around Anaktuvuk area that was deferred from 2012. For this thermokarst study, researchers will conduct field work in Alaska around Toolik Field Station, in the Noatak National Preserve and in Anaktuvuk Pass. At each of these sites, the teams will establish a network of nine active layer monitoring stations, on hillslopes that exhibit recent/active and stable/revegetated thermokarst failures as well as on undisturbed control slopes. These stations will collect continuous information on soil temperature, water content, and pore pressure at multiple depths within the active layer and the upper permafrost, with the probes linked to data-loggers. The researchers will establish climate stations near the monitoring sites as well. In addition to the monitoring stations, the team will survey each site repeatedly using GPS. Toolik work will take place June - Aug of each year with field teams of up to 20 researchers accessing thermokarst features via truck and Toolik-based helicopter. In 2009 the team deployed the monitoring stations, which will be serviced annually. In addition to the TFS field work, in 2010 and 2011, researchers will work in Noatak Preserve. For 2010, field activities will start in early July with an airborne reconnaissance of the area. In mid-July the first of two field teams will travel to Kotzebue and fly to the Noatak/Kelly River field sites and establish a base camp. They will spend about a week visiting sites via helicopter day trips. A second field team will travel to Kotzebue and then on to the field sites around July 24 and will spend about a week. In 2011, the researchers will head to the northern end of the Noatak region, and camp at Feniak Lake. A group of 8 will travel from Bettles to Feniak Lake via fixed-wing float-plane in late July. The researchers will use an R44 helicopter to access sites in the environs of the lake. Another team will conduct work in Anaktuvuk Pass. In 2012, under collaborator Jones, one researcher will return to Toolik with a media group to conduct outreach and sampling for the PI. The media group, Unboxed Media, is filming a documentary on climate change titled The Tipping Point Crisis, Chasing the Tipping Points of Climate Change. In 2013, one team member will return to conduct outreach in Anaktuvuk Pass in early February, field work deferred from 2011 and then 2012. The researcher will borrow a CPS truck and drive the Dalton Highway to Anaktuvuk. There, she will spend about one week interviewing community members and describing research activities.

For years 2009-11, CPS will provide user days, vehicle rentals, air charters, fuel caches, and camping/safety gear. IAB will provide access to Toolik infrastructure and services. NPS will work with the PI to obtain permits that will allow the research team to access research sites in the area. UNAVCO will provide DGPS support. UMIAQ will provide permitting and outreach assistance. In 2012 only, CPS will provide user days and helicopter support via direct bill through NSF. In 2013 only, CPS support includes payment for lodging, subsistence vehicle, translator and village cordinator in Anaktuvuk Pass. The team member will pay for all expenses, and then be reimbursed by CPS after trip is complete and receipts are submitted.
SeasonField SiteDate InDate Out#People
2009Alaska - Toolik06 / 10 / 2009 08 / 26 / 200921
2010Alaska - Anaktuvuk Pass1
2010Alaska - Kotzebue07 / 01 / 2010 08 / 01 / 201010
2010Alaska - Toolik06 / 05 / 2010 09 / 30 / 201029
2010Alaska - Upper Noatak River07 / 01 / 2010 08 / 01 / 201010
2011Alaska - Anaktuvuk Pass06 / 01 / 2011 08 / 28 / 201112
2011Alaska - Feniak Lake07 / 24 / 2011 08 / 06 / 20118
2011Alaska - Toolik06 / 01 / 2011 08 / 28 / 201120
2011Alaska - Upper Noatak River06 / 01 / 2011 08 / 28 / 201120
2012Alaska - Toolik08 / 18 / 2012 08 / 22 / 20124
2013Alaska - Anaktuvuk Pass02 / 04 / 2013 02 / 10 / 20131

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