Assessing Resource Vulnerability

July 22, 2016 Posted by: Caitlin Rankin
Previous monitoring projects conducted at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (KLGO) illustrate the vulnerability of archaeological resources due to climate change impacts. Climate change impacts include: glacial outburst floods, isostatic rebound, earlier snow melt, increased spring runoff, and increased sediment discharge. The primary landscape changes driven by these climate change impacts are increased erosion along the Taiya River, Taiya River channel migration, and melting ice patches. The 2016 KLGO archaeological crew emphasizes critical concern of Taiya River erosion and channel migration because many gold rush era artifacts along the Chilkoot Trail are located near the banks of the Taiya River. Several monitoring projects of the Dyea town site and the Kinney Bridge site show significant river bank loss. The loss of river bank can result in irreplaceable destruction of cultural resources.
Rusted metal along a river bank
Cultural resources at risk of being eroded by the Taiya River

A major goal of this field season is to assess the vulnerability of cultural resources to prevent destruction or disappearance of fragile and irreplaceable materials. Additionally, park employees working at the Summit of the Chilkoot Trail have identified undocumented artifacts appearing from melting ice patches. Unlike glaciers, artifacts discovered in ice patches remain frozen in time due to the static and stable nature of ice patches. With the trend of increasing winter and summer temperatures, alpine ice patches are beginning to melt, exposing the artifacts preserved within to atmospheric elements that can rapidly degrade and destroy artifacts. KLGO archaeologists will survey snow and ice patches at the summit of the Chilkoot Trail in order to document and preserve fragile cultural resources before exposure to various environmental elements destroys them.

In early June, the 2016 KLGO archaeology crew spent five days along the Chilkoot Trail to begin the Taiya River monitoring project and to determine the feasibility of the ice patch survey project. The crew collected GPS data and photographs of the current Taiya River bank as well as natural spillways and abandoned channels of the Taiya. The collected data points will later be used in a geospatial analysis to study Taiya channel migration through time and expected fluvial changes. Ongoing monitoring and some degree of prediction are necessary to determine which cultural resources remain the most vulnerable to fluvial responses due to climate change impacts.

Before entering the field, the archaeology crew used topographic and land cover maps to determine which ice patch areas contain the greatest likelihood of finding pre-contact cultural materials. The area surrounding the Chilkoot Trail summit comprised the most promising results. Determining the accessibility and logistics of surveying the pre-field identified ice patches was highly considered. The crew determined one of the two ice patch survey areas remains accessible from the Chilkoot summit;however, a clear path to the second ice patch has not yet been identified. At the time of field reconnaissance, seasonal snow still covered any visible ice patches. Conducting ice patch archaeological inventories requires patience and perfect timing due to the small window of seasonal snow melt. The KLGO archaeology crew will return in mid-July to begin survey around and above the Chilkoot Pass summit and to traverse to additional research areas.

Three people stand on a mountain snow patch
KLGO Archeology team at the top of Chilkoot Pass assessing ice patch survey areas.

Last updated: July 22, 2016

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