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Article Archive

Browse the ACRC news archive for current and past news articles.

Digging for the future of shellfish: UAS and Tribal researchers work together to understand changes to a valued subsistence resource

As the tide creeps up the shoreline at Juneau’s Amalga Harbor, ACRC researcher John Harley works shoulder to shoulder with collaborators from the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA), digging shallow holes in search of clams. By the end of the day, the group will have uncovered nearly 500 clams. Most of the bounty will be weighed and reburied for a large-scale survey of the abundance of clams in the region, but the remaining clams will travel to the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Research Lab to be tested for toxins that can accumulate in shellfish.

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In the Gulf of Alaska, snow and glacier loss could mean fewer food options for salmon

Cool, clear snowmelt, icy, turbulent glacial runoff, and dark wetland rainfall streams meet among Alaska’s coastal mountain watersheds, providing diverse food sources, plant and animal communities, and habitat types. But the mountain glaciers surrounding the Gulf of Alaska have some of the highest rates of mass loss on Earth, and as snowmelt and glacial influences fade, watersheds are losing the diversity of stream conditions brought about by cryospheric –or frozen water–contributions. The result is rivers that look more alike in their hydrology, temperature, and importantly, the structure of food webs that salmon rely on.

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Montana Confluence

ACRC Launches Report on Juneau’s Changing Climate and Community Response

Today, the Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center at the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) released a comprehensive report on the impacts and response to climate change in Juneau titled, Juneau’s Changing Climate and Community Response. From more frequent intense rainfall events to the response of local wildlife, the report features accessible information from twenty-three local experts, scientists, and managers on the historic impacts, expected trends, and community response to climate change in the City and Borough of Juneau.

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ACRC’s Jason Fellman assumes acting director role

UAS Research Associate Professor of Environmental Science Jason Fellman has stepped into the role of Acting ACRC Director, leveraging his coastal research expertise and history as a guiding force within the Center to drive ACRC’s mission and strategic activities going forward.

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ACRC welcomes postdoctoral researcher Megan Behnke

For Megan Behnke, Juneau’s coastal temperate rainforest represents the familiar and the unknown all at once. Behnke, who was born and raised in Juneau, rejoins ACRC this month as a postdoctoral researcher funded through the Coastal Rainforest Margins Research Network over five years after first engaging with ACRC as a research technician. Realizing a long-held goal of living and conducting research on the microscopic ongoings of carbon in her own backyard has given Behnke a new lens to view the familiar settings of her past.megan behnke

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Behnke Wetlands Sampling

Assessing the value of “forest fish” in Alaska’s national forests

Containing some of the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforests, Alaska’s national forests are valued for the ecosystem services they provide, forest products, and the recreational and cultural value they offer. But the streams of the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska and Chugach National Forest in southcentral Alaska hold a living, migrating resource that is harder to put a number on. ACRC research technician Emily Whitney and affiliates Ryan Bellmore and Di Johnson at the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest (PNW) Research Station and Stormy Haught with the Forest Service in Cordova are working to quantify the number of “forest fish” originating from Alaska’s National Forestlands in the last decade. 

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sheep creek

Linking Traditional Ecological Knowledge and herring spawn records to predict the future of Harmful Algal Blooms

Harvesting shellfish is a practice that dates back thousands of years in Alaska, but it can also be a risky one. Toxins can accumulate in shellfish following certain phytoplankton growth bursts known as Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), making them toxic for human consumption, causing illness and fatalities. While shellfish are often harvested in the winter and spring when phytoplankton activity is low, warming ocean temperatures have lengthened the season where HABs can occur in Southeast Alaska putting coastal communities relying on shellfish harvest at greater risk.

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Climate Change Impacts and Solutions in Southern Alaska

Join us to discuss key climate change issues affecting communities in our region of Alaska and explore specific mitigation and adaptation strategies being pursued in our coastal forest and ocean environments as climate change policy takes center stage at this year’s UNFCCC 26th COP (Conference of Parties) gathering in Glasgow, UK in November.

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From Streambed to Glacial Ice, Students Lead Research at the Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center

On the banks of Juneau’s Montana Creek, Claire Delbecq leans over a small metal strainer, sorting through the plant matter, insects, and sediment that have been collected from the water column of the nearby stream. The contents of this sample can tell us about where and when salmon are getting their food, and how altered patterns of stream flow due to climate change might affect their growth.

Delbecq is a University of Alaska Fairbanks masters student at the Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center, an ecological research institute founded in 2009 to strengthen collaborations between the University of Alaska Southeast, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the US Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, and the US Forest Service Alaska Region. Understanding how nutrients move from streams out to the ocean and how salmon growth fares in varying hydrologic conditions is a small thread of a larger picture scientists are weaving together of how retreating glaciers, changing hydrological patterns, and our warming climate are altering coastal rainforest environments.

Though warmer and wetter years are predicted for Southeast Alaska, the implications for streamflow are not straightforward. Year-to-year variations in precipitation patterns can cause both drought as well as larger and more frequent storm events. Meanwhile, melting glaciers can supplement stream flows, until retreat becomes so advanced that glaciers may disappear from some watersheds completely.students study stream organic material

Amid high and low flow, salmon persist in these waters as the landscape changes around them. Delbecq and fellow UAF graduate student Kevin Fitzgerald are studying the flow of nutrients from land to sea, and how juvenile salmon feed during storm events and how different hydrological patterns affect their growth, which is central to our understanding of their future survival. At the ACRC, students have an opportunity to gain lab and fieldwork experience and contribute to our understanding of ecological processes in the temperate rainforest, as well as develop their own research questions about the coastal environment we live in.

“We have an amazing group of undergraduate and graduate students out in the field and lab this year. It’s a chance for them to go beyond topics learned in the classroom, and experience the challenges and successes of ecological research” said UAS Research Assistant Professor Jason Fellman. Last week, ACRC staff, faculty, students and affiliates met for the first annual ACRC science symposium, a chance for students to learn about the research they are helping to carry out. “We hope to see our students do presentations at the end of the summer on the research they conducted during their time with us,” said Fellman.

Salmon growth and stream hydrology are just a facet of research within the ACRC network, where scientists study carbon storage and movement in soils, peatlands, landslide paths, and vegetation, as well as glacier and avalanche dynamics, climate and adaptive governance, and ocean acidification.

Delbecq and Fitzgerald supervise undergraduate students helping collect and process data for their research. “It's very cool to be a part of a research team that is doing work in a place that is so dynamic. Everyone has their own specialties and there are a lot of opportunities for interesting connections. Having a strong group of undergrads working with us this summer has already proven to be incredibly helpful. They consistently ask questions that help me understand my work better. This crew of undergrads is excited to learn new skills, ask questions, and explore their own interests,” said Delbecq.

Other student research at the center includes collecting and processing drone imagery to track ice dynamics in Juneau’s Suicide Basin, a glacial-dammed lake along Mendenhall Glacier that has released floods nearly every year since 2011, looking for the presence of microplastics in sediment and water bodies, and monitoring water quality in streams.

Back on Montana Creek, Delbecq and Fitzgerald lead a group of undergraduate students through collecting water samples and measuring streamflow. Funding to support these students is brought in through federal or state research grants, of which ACRC is projected to bring over $1.25 million to the University of Alaska Southeast next year. The funding for their research at Montana Creek is provided by the Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center.

“In addition to gaining valuable scientific experience, our summer students help the ACRC fulfill its mission to link land, sea, and society through integrative research on environmental change and social-ecological conditions in the Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest system,” said ACRC Director Tom Thornton. “We look forward to their results and to their development into rainforest scientists,” said Thornton.

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Delbecq Stream

Melting glaciers could speed up carbon emissions into the atmosphere

The loss of glaciers worldwide enhances the breakdown of complex carbon molecules in rivers, potentially contributing further to climate change.

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The Fate of Nitrogen and Phosphorus in the PCTR

The Pacific coastal temperate rainforest (PCTR) is projected to become warmer and wetter in the coming decades, with significant implications for how nutrients are exchanged across ecosystem boundaries. With hydrologic shifts, studies have shown that the amount and type of carbon being transported from coastal watersheds into marine ecosystems is changing. But how will the movement of nitrogen and phosphorus between land and sea be impacted? Nitrogen and phosphorus play a role in periphyton growth, community composition, and harmful algal bloom occurrences. As human sources of these nutrients are growing, there is a greater need to understand the implications of changing nutrient export on downstream ecosystem processes.

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Climate change alters coastal processes in North America’s largest temperate rainforest

In North America’s largest remaining temperate rainforest, coastal marine environments are intrinsically linked with the land through the delivery of nutrients that drive ocean productivity. Coastal margins are a unique study area for scientists working to understand the ecological processes of coastal environments, and what they might look like in our changing climate. 

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Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center names new director Tom Thornton

ACRC is pleased to announce the appointment of Tom Thornton as ACRC Director as of April 11, 2021. He will also serve as Professor of Environment and Society on UAS faculty. Thornton has served as Dean and Vice Provost since July 2018 and as Interim Co-Director of the Rainforest Center since August 2020, alongside Research Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Jason Fellman. 

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coastal landscape

Carbon in the Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest: New Research

Beneath the canopy of North America’s largest remaining old-growth forest, globally-significant amounts of carbon are captured from the atmosphere by plant life cycled through the soil, rivers, and water bodies of coastal Southeast Alaska and British Columbia. The Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest (PCTR) is a key region for research into carbon stocks and movement between forested and glacierized areas and the highly productive coastal waters. 

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ACRC research presentations at the Fall 2020 American Geophysical Union meeting

Hear from ACRC researchers and affiliates at one of the world’s largest scientific conferences this week! The American Geophysical Union Fall 2020 meeting is being held virtually from December 1st-17th, featuring thousands of hours of sessions and keynotes from the Earth and space sciences community.

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How are Southeast Alaskans responding to COVID-19? Take this survey to help researchers understand the impacts

ACRC researchers at the University of Alaska Southeast are working with the Sitka Sound Science Center, the Central Council of the Tlingit-Haida Tribes, and RAND Corporation to gain a better understanding of how Southeast Alaskans perceive the risk of COVID-19 and consequently how Southeast Alaskans are prepared against and responding to COVID-19.

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ACRC convenes stakeholders for strategic visioning session

On September 29, over 30 stakeholders as well as current and former leadership, staff, and researchers met virtually to envision the future of the University of Alaska Southeast’s Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center. The session included an overview from former Director and now affiliate faculty member Allison Bidlack, followed by discussion groups to gather input on ACRC’s research priorities, organizational structure, and metrics for success. 

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New study highlights the role of overlooked ecological factors in salmon restoration success

In the Methow River of northern Washington state, imperiled populations of salmon and steelhead are at a mere fraction of their historic numbers. Restoration efforts can help bring back these populations, but how do managers prioritize which methods to employ, and where?

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chinook salmon

ACRC welcomes new leadership this fall

This fall, ACRC marks a new era as long-time director Allison Bidlack transitions into a new role at the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service as Deputy Director of the Auke Bay Laboratory. Allison has led ACRC for over eight years, growing ACRC as a premier research institute in the north Pacific coastal temperate rainforest with a dynamic team of scientists, staff, and faculty. Though she will be missed, we look forward to continuing collaboration with her in her new role at NOAA.

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Watch: New AK CASC video on glacial lake outburst floods in Juneau

Check out the first video in a short series on glacial outburst flooding at Suicide Basin, in Juneau.

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GLOF video thumbnail

ACRC welcomes new research faculty member, interdisciplinary scientist Jim Powell

As a center dedicated to interdisciplinary science in support of resilient communities and ecosystems, we are excited to announce the addition of UAS assistant professor of public administration Jim Powell to the ACRC team. Powell brings his decades of experience in natural resources and adaptive governance to our group, with a focus on how local governments are adapting to climate change.

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eagle beach scientists

How do landslides impact the carbon balance of Southeast Alaska?

The Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska is the greatest carbon reserve in North America, capturing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in plants and soil. But natural and human disturbances, like erosion and logging, affect carbon stocks by moving organic material out of the forest, into streams and eventually coastal waters.

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landslide-seak

ACRC researcher John Harley awarded University of Alaska coronavirus response grant

As the novel COVID-19 virus disrupts life across the nation and world, many companies, organizations, and individuals are pivoting from their work to aid in response efforts. Dr. John Harley, a postdoctoral researcher at ACRC, hopes to fill a critical information need for COVID-19 vulnerability in Alaska. Though his work using environmental data to predict harmful algal blooms is unrelated to the current public health crisis, Harley saw an opportunity to use his background managing and visualizing large datasets to provide a valuable resource for COVID-19 response planning.

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ACRC welcomes new postdoctoral researcher, oceanographer Mariela Brooks

ACRC is excited to announce the addition of oceanographic researcher Mariela Brooks to our team. She joins us following her doctoral studies in Marine Chemistry at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD. 

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AK Coastal Ocean

Local climate data for Southeast Alaska

For the better part of a year, supercomputers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks have been running nonstop to produce a novel dataset of climate information for Southeast Alaska. Rick Lader, a postdoctoral fellow with the Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center, is working with a team of stakeholders to create highly detailed climate projections for the region that will help managers at the USFS Tongass National Forest, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, National Weather Service, and the Alaska Department of Transportation prepare for the rapid changes in climate Southeast Alaska faces.

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Sunrise Mountains

For salmon, glacier retreat will have mixed effects

When it comes to retreating glaciers, researchers predict there will be benefits and costs for western North American salmon populations over the coming decades. Alaska Coastal Rainforest Director Allison Bidlack and University of Alaska Southeast researcher Eran Hood are authors on a recent multidisciplinary study led by Kara Pitman at Simon Fraser University.

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Coho Underwater

Backcountry enthusiasts take to the slopes to improve snow models

For scientists collecting data deep in Alaska’s backcountry, there are few access roads and even fewer weather stations to be found. There are, however, dedicated winter recreationists traversing the landscape by ski, snowshoe, and snowmachine. These backcountry enthusiasts are being recruited by scientists to contribute to a growing dataset of snow depth observations that are improving our understanding of snow distribution in remote locations. 

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Snow-covered Mountains

Juneau students work with ACRC scientist to measure water quality

A steady curtain of rain falls over the banks of the Mendenhall River, but you’d never know it from the high spirits of Thunder Mountain students who have been working in the drenching conditions for over an hour. The students collect water samples in chest-high waders, armed with small vials and temperature probes. A group onshore inspects sediment and invertebrates collected from the stream bed. They are part of an ongoing program led by science educators Adriana Northcutt and Kristen Wells to engage eleventh- and twelfth-grade biology students in studying the Mendenhall watershed and impacts of water quality on salmon habitat. 

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Dead trees could bring new life to southeast Alaska lumber mills

As climate change rapidly alters conditions in southeast Alaska, lower snowpack levels have caused a massive decline of yellow-cedar trees. Without an insulating blanket of snow, the shallow roots of yellow-cedar trees freeze during late spring cold snaps. Left behind is a growing expanse of “ghost forests” of dead yellow-cedars, affecting roughly 678,000 acres (nearly the area of Yosemite National Park). The decay-resistant properties of yellow-cedar allow the trees to remain standing for decades after death. ACRC director Allison Bidlack, and collaborators Brian Buma, Sarah Bisbing, and Brian Vander Naald, set out to determine whether these ghost stands might provide an economic opportunity for small lumber mills in Tongass National Forest.

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ACRC Researcher Jason Fellman Awarded EPSCoR Seed Grant

Jason Fellman (UAS) and Gwenn Hennon (UAF) were awarded an Alaska EPSCoR Seed Grant to investigate microbial community composition and productivity in nearshore waters in Lynn Canal. Using filtered water from two rivers (one heavily glaciated, one largely forested) and natural marine microbial communities collected in Lynn Canal in May 2020, they will test the hypothesis that riverine dissolved organic matter source influences the dynamics of the marine microbial community.

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Waterfall

Coastal research in a changing landscape

What does the future of the Gulf of Alaska look like in a changing climate?

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Jason at Montana Creek

Paralytic shellfish toxins spike amidst new research

Shellfish harvesters and beachcombers wandering the shores around Juneau might have made an odd discovery this summer– a small white hunk of plaster under the water, strapped to a neatly labeled brick. These contraptions are part of an effort to better monitor and predict paralytic shellfish poison (PSP) levels, which were almost ten times higher this summer than at any time in the last three years.

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Shellfish Clod Cards

Can yellow-cedar recover from climate-driven declines?

Across the temperate rainforest of Southeast Alaska, a change is taking root. Warming winters are reducing snowpack in the region and causing a massive decline in a culturally, economically, and ecologically important tree species; yellow-cedar. Yellow-cedar trees are adapted with fine, shallow roots that allow them to respond to early spring warming and get a head start on growth over other species. Once an advantageous adaptation, it has now made the species susceptible to freezing when early snowmelt and frosts can be fatal to mature yellow-cedar trees. In Alaska and British Columbia, yellow-cedar is declining across 400,000 hectares and ten degrees of latitude.

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Yellow Cedar Research

Unique drainage event at Suicide Basin causes minor flooding in Juneau

As smoke from distant wildfires clouds the skies above Southeast Alaska, Juneau residents have a much closer hazard on their minds. Warm weather sped up water collection in Suicide Basin, a glacier-dammed lake adjoining Mendenhall Glacier that has generated outburst floods regularly over the last decade. On Sunday, July 7th, the basin water level reached a point where it began to overtop the Mendenhall Glacier ice dam, flowing along the side of the glacier towards Mendenhall Lake. Almost one week later, on July 13th, the basin began draining beneath the glacier. At Mendenhall Lake, the water level rose to 8.62 feet (just under minor flood stage) and peaked just after 8 P.M. – earlier and lower than predicted.

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Suicide Basin Overflow2

Is glacier tourism changing the chemistry of the Juneau Icefield? ACRC supported graduate student wins National Geographic Society grant to find out.

Visiting graduate student Megan Behnke spent her last summer in Juneau deep in the mud, looking at how dissolved organic matter moves from wetlands into streams. This summer, she has something a few degrees cooler in store. Behnke was awarded a prestigious National Geographic Early Career Grant to investigate ancient carbon and the impacts of fossil fuels from tourism on the Juneau Icefield.

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helicopter_icefield

Dim Future: Black carbon and dust are speeding up glacial melt on the Juneau Icefield

Are tiny, heat-absorbing particles accelerating the melt of the Juneau Icefield? A recent study led by UAS Assistant Professor of Geology and ACRC collaborator Sonia Nagorski found that dust and black carbon particles darkening the snow surface are speeding up snowmelt on the Icefield by days, or even weeks each year. The study also included UAS faculty Eran Hood and Jason Fellman, Susan Kaspari from Central Washington University, and McKenzie Skiles from the University of Utah.

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What does drought look like in Southeast Alaska?

The term drought brings to mind cracked earth, forest fires, and empty river beds, but at the Southeast Alaska Drought Workshop held in Juneau this week, a different type of drought was discussed.

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ACRC work highlighted in a New York Times article on glacial retreat

ACRC director Allison Bidlack, alongside USFS collaborators Ryan Bellmore and Adelaide Johnson, was featured in an interactive New York Times article on the disappearance of glaciers from the Pacific Northwest.

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Fish Traps Herbert River

By Rope, Raft, and Air: A season of research on glacier-dammed lakes

Rappelling down rock cliffs, rafting across glacial lakes, and traversing icy crevasses, all in the presence of a massive, ever-changing glacier – it's all part of the job for glaciologists monitoring glacial outburst floods (also known as jökulhlaups) in Alaska.

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Thinking Deep: Land, sea, and soil connections at the Coastal Rainforest Margins Research Network Workshop

In March, over 30 scientists from across the US, Canada, and as far as Germany stood on the soggy wetlands of Juneau’s Douglas Island during the third Coastal Rainforest Margins Research Network workshop.

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RCN group at wetlands site

Salmon density exacerbates low dissolved oxygen in Southeast Alaska streams

Stand above a salmon spawning stream in Southeast Alaska come late summer, and the sheer quantity of fish is impressive. Maneuvering through water sometimes barely higher than their gills, salmon are powerful ecosystem engineers that disturb sediment and fertilize rivers. This fall, a study published in Aquatic Sciences led by ACRC researchers Jason Fellman, Eran Hood, and Sonia Nagorski looked at how salmon may be changing the chemistry of streams they travel in.

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Salmon_Montana

Uncharted Waters: Streamflow modeling project in Southeast Alaska kicks off with stakeholder meetings

An effort to model the watersheds of southeast Alaska is coming to life as one of the AK CASC pilot projects.

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Herbert Stream Gauge