Study Sites & Design: Caribou-Poker Creeks Research Watershed

Credit: Jeremy Jones

The Caribou-Poker Creek Research Watershed (CPCRW) is a relatively pristine basin reserved for meteorological, hydrological, and ecological research, with no current human influence (other than scientific research). The CPCRW is the only research watershed in the United States located in the region of discontinuous permafrost, and is representative of upland headwater stream basins of subarctic Alaska. Research here has several major foci, including the role of disturbance (i.e., wildfire) on stream ecosystems and impact of discontinuous permafrost on freshwater ecology and hydrology.

Permafrost distribution within the CPCRW is governed by topographic aspect and elevation, with permafrost generally absent on south-facing slopes but present on north-facing slopes and valley bottoms. South-facing slopes are dominated by well-drained hardwood forests (Betula papyrifera, Populus tremuloides) and a patchy understory of alder (Alnus viridis), and soils are typically shallow with moderately deep organic horizons (5 – 9 cm). North-facing slopes are dominated by black spruce (Picea mariana) with feather moss and lichen understories, and soils are typically poorly drained with thick organic horizons (18 – 52 cm) and permafrost 45 – 60 cm below the surface. In valley bottoms there is extensive coverage of moss and dwarf shrubs (i.e., Betula nana, Salix spp.), and soils are typically saturated. Within the CPCRW, 38% of permafrost is unstable and thawing, and at least 2% has been lost over the past century.

Credit: Jeremy Jones

The CPCRW has discharge records of summer stream flows since 1978, snow depth and duration since the 1970s (NRCS Snow Survey), precipitation amount and chemistry since 1993 (NADP), and stream water chemistry since the early 2000s.

The entrance to the Research Watershed is located on the Steese Highway about 31 miles from Fairbanks. Access is restricted, and permission for access or to conduct research can be obtained by contacting the Site Manager, Jamie Hollingsworth.

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