Southeast Test Case
Southeast Alaska encompasses the state’s panhandle and is primarily a coastal mountainous region composed of extensive temperate rainforest and permanent ice fields. The area’s predominant driver of environmental change is glacial recession.
This glacial retreat strongly affects water discharge, which will in turn alter the stability and fluvial, biogeochemical, and thermal properties of hydrological systems and will have consequences for stream and estuarine ecosystems that serve as reservoirs of biological productivity, especially for bellwether biological resources such as salmon and plankton. A second ramification of glacial retreat is accelerated forest succession, which will alter carbon sequestration potential, the structure of riparian corridors, and the flux of organic biomass to streams. These glacier-driven hydro-ecological processes are thus the major sources of landscape change in Southeast Alaska, and have the potential to radically alter access to and availability of key resources, such as salmon and the forests and other habitats which support tourism.
The Southeast test case will focus on patterns of six key variables - ice, freshwater, alluvial forest, estuaries, salmon, and plankton - to better understand the consequences of changing environments. We will evaluate community-level social consequences as well as the adaptive capacity of natural-resource management institutions to respond to projected spatiotemporal changes to these variables.
The initial stage of test case research will examine the glacier-to-estuary system in Berners Bay, near the community of Juneau. Researchers will examine the key societal consequences of glacier-mediated dynamics, such as a potential shift in the spatiotemporal patterns of key natural resources that benefit communities. Currently we do not fully understand the adaptive capacity of this resource-driven economy. For example, stream temperature and related hydrological changes could impact the phenological variability of salmon runs, impacting the biological-investment “portfolio” upon which people and businesses depend, and around which agencies design regulatory mechanisms such as harvest boundaries and timelines.
Three research questions will guide our research in this test case:
- How do changing climate-glacier dynamics alter spatial-temporal features of the environment, including the major indicators of freshwater discharge, alluvial forests, salmon, estuaries, and plankton?
- How do local agencies and affected communities alter their resource management strategies to respond to changes to these indicators and to related ecosystem services?
- Does the capacity of economic and resource-management agencies to perceive, project and respond to anticipated change result in more effective adaptive management?