A Soil Survey from the Early 1990s Valuable in Today's Decisions


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In the early 1990s, Dave Swanson (then at the Natural Resources Conservation Service) and his National Park Service colleagues began to gather as much information about the Kobuk River Unit (the westernmost management unit of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve) as possible. They wanted to be prepared should a road project be proposed. They conducted a soils inventory to understand the soil, permafrost, hydrologic, and vegetation conditions in the region, spending a good amount of time in the field to learn what the land was like. Their work resulted in a soils inventory for Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.

That road project has come up. In November of 2010, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities notified the National Park Service of its intent to submit an application for access across the Kobuk River area of Gates of the Arctic NP&Pres. By 2013, teams were formed and more studies were underway to inform the environmental analysis. An application was submitted in 2016, and now (2018) the determination of the route is being made and environmental analyses are in full swing. Dave Swanson is part of the team.

“Portions of the proposed route have permafrost that is a thaw-subsidence hazard and, due to the way that water runs off over permafrost, there is a danger that contaminants (heavy metals like lead and cadmium) could flow into water bodies along the route, including Nutuvukti Lake, ” Dave said. He had a fieldwork camp near this sensitive part of the proposed route and spent a few days there sampling for the soils inventory. DOT recently gathered some more permafrost information (by drilling, so deeper than the shovel survey back in the ‘90s) and confirmed the permafrost conditions that Dave inferred from shallow observations more than 20 years ago.

The information in the inventory, even after more than 20 years, is valuable for decisions today. Even more valuable is having Dave Swanson on staff, who conducted the inventory, and can share his knowledge in the decision-making process.

Gates of the Arctic

NPS Photo

Last updated: April 2, 2018