• Hydrology and Meteorology of the Central Alaskan Arctic: Data Collection and Analysis

      Kane, D.L.; Youcha, E.K.; Stuefer, S.L.; Myerchin-Tape, G.; Lamb, E.; Homan, J.W.; Gieck, R.E.; Schnabel, W. E.; Toniolo, H. (2014-05)
      The availability of environmental data for unpopulated areas of Alaska can best be described as sparse; however, these areas have resource development potential. The central Alaskan Arctic region north of the Brooks Range (referred to as the North Slope) is no exception in terms of both environmental data and resource potential. This area was the focus of considerable oil/gas exploration immediately following World War II. Unfortunately, very little environmental data were collected in parallel with the exploration. Soon after the oil discovery at Prudhoe Bay in November 1968, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) started collecting discharge data at three sites in the neighborhood of Prudhoe Bay and one small watershed near Barrow. However, little complementary meteorological data (like precipitation) were collected to support the streamflow observations. In 1985, through a series of funded research projects, researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), Water and Environmental Research Center (WERC), began installing meteorological stations on the North Slope in the central Alaskan Arctic. The number of stations installed ranged from 1 in 1985 to 3 in 1986, 12 in 1996, 24 in 2006, 23 in 2010, and 7 in 2014. Researchers from WERC also collected hydrological data at the following streams: Imnavait Creek (1985 to present), Upper Kuparuk River (1993 to present), Putuligayuk River (1999 to present, earlier gauged by USGS), Kadleroshilik River (2006 to 2010), Shaviovik River (2006 to 2010), No Name River (2006 to 2010), Chandler River (2009 to 2013), Anaktuvuk River (2009 to 2013), Lower Itkillik River (2012 to 2013), and Upper Itkillik River (2009 to 2013). These catchments vary in size, and runoff generation can emanate from the coastal plain, the foothills or mountains, or any combination of these locations. Snowmelt runoff in late May/early June is the most significant hydrological event of the year, except at small watersheds. For these watersheds, rain/mixed snow events in July and August have produced the floods of record. Ice jams are a major concern, especially in the larger river systems. Solid cold season precipitation is mostly uniform over the area, while warm season precipitation is greater in the mountains and foothills than on the coastal plain (roughly 3:2:1, mountains:foothills: coastal plain).The results reported here are primarily for the drainages of the Itkillik, Anaktuvuk, and Chandler River basins, where a proposed transportation corridor is being considered. Results for 2011 and before can be found in earlier reports.
    • Sagavanirktok River Spring Breakup Observations 2015

      Toniolo, H.; Youcha, E.K.; Gieck, R.E.; Tschetter, T.; Engram, M.; Keech, J. (2015-12)
      Alaska’s economy is strongly tied to oil production, with most of the petroleum coming from the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. Deadhorse, the furthest north oil town on the Alaska North Slope, provides support to the oil industry. The Dalton Highway is the only road that connects Deadhorse with other cities in Interior Alaska. The road is heavily used to move supplies to and from the oil fields. In late March and early April 2015, the Dalton Highway near Deadhorse was affected by ice and winter overflow from the Sagavanirktok River, which caused the road’s closure two times, for a total of eleven days (four and seven days, respectively). In mid-May, the Sagavanirktok River at several reaches flooded the Dalton from approximately milepost (MP) 394 to 414 (Deadhorse). The magnitude of this event, the first recorded since the road was built in 1976, was such that the Dalton was closed for nearly three weeks. During that time, a water station and several pressure transducers were installed to track water level changes on the river. Discharge measurements were performed, and water samples were collected to estimate suspended sediment concentration. Water levels changed from approximately 1 m near MP414 to around 3 m at the East Bank station, located on the river’s east bank (about MP392). Discharge measurements ranged from nearly 400 to 1560 m3/s, with the maximum measurement roughly coinciding with the peak. Representative sediment sizes (D50) ranged from 10 to 14 microns. Suspended sediment concentrations ranged from a few mg/L (clear water in early flooding stages) to approximately 4500 mg/L. An analysis of cumulative runoff for two contiguous watersheds—the Putuligayuk and Kuparuk—indicates that 2014 was a record-breaking year in both watersheds. Additionally, an unseasonable spell of warm air temperatures was recorded during mid-February to early March. While specific conditions responsible for this unprecedented flood are difficult to pinpoint, runoff and the warm spell certainly contributed to the flood event.
    • Sagavanirktok River Spring Breakup Observations 2016

      Toniolo, H.; Tape, K.D.; Tschetter, T.; Homan, J.W.; Youcha, E.K.; Vas, D.; Gieck, R.E.; Keech, J.; Upton, G. (2016-12)
      In 2015, spring breakup on the Sagavanirktok River near Deadhorse was characterized by high flows that destroyed extensive sections of the Dalton Highway, closing the road for nearly 3 weeks. This unprecedented flood also damaged infrastructure that supports the trans-Alaska pipeline, though the pipeline itself was not damaged. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) and the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company made emergency repairs to their respective infrastructure. In December 2015, aufeis accumulation was observed by ADOT&PF personnel. In January 2016, a research team with the University of Alaska Fairbanks began monitoring and researching the aufeis and local hydroclimatology. Project objectives included determining ice elevations, identifying possible water sources, establishing surface meteorological conditions prior to breakup, measuring hydrosedimentological conditions (discharge, water level, and suspended sediment concentration) during breakup, and reviewing historical imagery of the aufeis feature. Ice surface elevations were surveyed with Global Positioning System (GPS) techniques in late February and again in mid-April, and measureable volume changes were calculated. However, river ice thickness obtained from boreholes near Milepost 394 (MP394) in late February and mid-April revealed no significant changes. It appears that flood mitigation efforts by ADOT&PF in the area contributed to limited vertical growth in ice at the boreholes. End-of-winter snow surveys throughout the watershed indicate normal or below normal snow water equivalents (SWE 10 cm). An imagery analysis of the lower Sagavanirktok aufeis from late winter for the past 17 years shows the presence of ice historically at the MP393–MP396 area. Water levels and discharge were relatively low in 2016 compared with 2015. The mild breakup in 2016 seems to have been due to temperatures dropping below freezing after the flow began. Spring 2015 was characterized by warm temperatures throughout the basin during breakup, which produced the high flows that destroyed sections of the Dalton Highway. A comparison of water levels at the East Bank Station during 2015 and 2016 indicates that the 2015 maximum water level was approximately 1 m above the 2016 maximum water level. ii Maximum measured discharge in 2016 was approximately half of that measured in 2015 in the lower Sagavanirktok River. Representative suspended sediment sizes (D50) ranged from 20 to 50 microns (medium to coarse silt). An objective of this study was to determine the composition and possible sources of water in the aufeis at the lower Sagavanirktok River. During the winter months and prior to breakup in 2016, overflow water was collected, primarily near the location of the aufeis, but also at upriver locations. Simultaneously possible contributing water sources were sampled between January and July 2016, including snow, glacial meltwater, and river water. Geochemical analyses were performed on all samples. It was found that the overflow water which forms the lower Sagavanirktok aufeis is most similar (R2 = 0.997) to the water that forms the aufeis at the Sagavanirktok River headwaters (Ivishak River), thought to be fed by relatively consistent groundwater sources.