Research In The Park

map of study area at Tanada and Copper Lakes
Map of the study area showing Tanada and Copper Lakes

Pete Rand, PWSSC

Investigating factors affecting inriver migratory success of Copper River sockeye salmon (2024 - 2025)

Dr. Pete Rand (

Prince William Sound Science Center (PWSSC;

Our goal is to explain anomalous changes in escapement of sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) in the Copper River, Alaska. We will examine fitness-related traits specific to each study population in the watershed, and how biotic and abiotic factors affect their ability to migrate and reproduce. Our primary hypothesis is that reduced size and condition of returning Copper River sockeye increases enroute mortality leading to widening discrepancies between lower and upper river escapement counts and compromised reproductive performance. Understanding these processes is of value to fishery managers as the information generated by this project can inform the adjustment of fishing pressure that occurs at the mouth of the Copper River to achieve escapement goals expressed in terms of both quantity and quality, particularly during unusual events such as that experienced in 2018 (low return) and 2019 (heatwave and high flows).

This research is focused on characterizing the fates of radio-tagged, adult sockeye salmon and describing the condition of juvenile and adult sockeye salmon in the Copper River. In the Tanada and Copper Lake systems we intend to sample during a one week period in August of 2024 and 2025. In each of the two years, 1000 adult sockeye will be captured and tagged in the lower river. PWSSC staff will be surveying lake and stream habitat (near or at spawning grounds) to locate and sample tagged fish in both years of the study.

Nicklen fire study area map
Map of the fire monitoring study area


A comparison of post-fire ecological changes between once-and twice-burned areas in Wrangell-St. Elias.

E. Fleur Nicklen, Alaska Eastern Area Fire Management, National Park Service, 2024

The 2009 Chakina Fire burned ~ 56,000 acres, including spruce bark beetle plots installed in the late 1990s. In 2010 NPS Fire ecologists re-sampled the plots and established additional monitoring plots. Just seven years later, a third of this area reburned in the 2016 Steamboat Fire. The next summer, NPS fire ecologists again re-sampled of the original plots and the 2010 plots. The region including the study area has a longer fire-return interval than is typical for most of Interior Alaska, 150-200 years compared with 60-150 years, respectively. Thus, not only does this area provide a unique view into the ecological effects of shortened reburning intervals in an area known for low fire frequency, but it has a rich history of monitoring upon which we can build.

We plan to revisit this study area in summer 2024 with the goal of comparing post-fire ecological changes in areas that burned once with changes in areas that burned twice in short succession in a region known for long fire return intervals. We will add a new component to this ongoing research by sampling soil fungal communities.

We will do this by remeasuring once- and twice-burned plots. Unburned plots will serve as controls. Control plots were sampled in 2021 as part of the Central Alaska Network Vegetation Monitoring Program and do not need to be remeasured at this time save for soil fungal sampling. At each plot we will measure vascular and nonvascular plant cover, tree density, basal area, and tree seedling density, active layer depth, and organic mat depth. We will collect soil to quantify soil properties and fungal communities. The plots are circular and 16m in diameter except the spruce beetle plots are 30-m x 2-m. We will base out of May Creek cabin and use the EAFM helicopter each day to access our plots between July 8-19, 2024.

For more info contact Mark Miller, Park Research Coordinator,

Study area map within Wrangell-St Elias NP of microbial research USGS
Study area map within Wrangell-St Elias NP of microbial research.


Development, optimization, and application of analytic tools for assessing the dissemination of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) via surface waters on public lands.

Laura Scott, USGS, 2024

In this project, we aim to develop and optimize genomic tools for the assessment of the abundance and dissemination of antimicrobial resistance genes in surface waters on Department of the Interior managed public lands. Antimicrobial resistance genes and other microbial source trackers can be used as indicators of fecal contamination by humans and other vertebrate taxa. Additionally, individual antimicrobial resistance genes have been correlated with various anthropogenic inputs, including heavy metals or fecal contamination. Application of these tools will include evaluation of various anthropogenic influences contributing to detection of antimicrobial resistance and assessment of potential human and animal health risks. Work proposed for the 2024 season builds upon a 2023 pilot study conducted in partnership with Wrangell-St. Elias staff (PEPC Project ID 117405). Work in in Wrangell-St. Elias is part of a larger ecological study of various national parks (see attached study plan). The primary goal of this work is to determine the burden of antimicrobial resistance genes at national parks of varying visitation and across multiple years.

Each sample will consist of 100 liters of water filtered in duplicate. Water will be filtered across hollow fiber ultrafilters with a battery powered peristaltic pump. Filtered water will be returned to the body of water immediately after filtration. Maximum noise generation by the motorized peristaltic pump is 60 dBA, which is likely to be inaudible to any nearby visitors due to other noise / sound sources.

More information: Mark Miller, Park Research Coordinator,

Study area map stream hydrology Copper River and Tanada Creek
Study area map of the stream hydrology research on the Copper River, Tanada Creek and Copper Lake.


Characterizing stream hydrologic and thermal regimes in the Copper River Basin.

Dan Gorze, Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission, Fisheries Dept. Glennallen, Alaska, 2024

The purpose of this study is to monitor stream temperatures in settings with different hydrologic and thermal regimes to support a larger study that seeks to understand climate-change implications for juvenile salmon body conditions and freshwater prey availability in important salmon-bearing watersheds in southcentral Alaska, including the Copper River Basin. Information from the larger study will improve our understanding of how climate change will affect future salmon productivity in different types of watersheds and thus inform restoration, conservation, and monitoring efforts across the southcentral region. For the Copper River Basin in Wrangell-St. Elias, Tanada Creek and Copper Lake outlet have been identified as high-priority monitoring locations on the basis of their unique hydrologic and thermal characteristics. Data from these Wrangell-St. Elias locations also will used to inform interpretation of salmon escapement estimates collected by NPS at the Tanada Creek weir during a long-term period of years with variable environmental conditions.

Onset V2 stream temperature loggers will be deployed in duplicate at each of three proposed monitoring locations. Loggers will be weighted in rigid housings and attached to the shore using 1/8 or 1/4" coated stainless steel cable. GPS locations will be recorded and photos taken to facilitate consistent relocation of monitoring locations and reinstallation of temperature loggers in future years. Travel to sites for deployment and data retrieval will be by ATV on existing trails between June 1 and September 31 in 2024.

More information: Mark Miller, Park Research Coordinator,

Moose with antlers and test kit for hunters
Moose with antlers walking in tundra and sample kit for hunters

Kelsey Stanbro

Moose Health Monitoring Program.

Ahtna lntertribal Resource Commission,
Kelsey Stanbro 2023

Moose are a main source of subsistence in the Ahtna Traditional Use Territory. Traditional foods provide nutritional and social benefits; however, Tribal citizens have noticed changes in moose and have become concerned about contamination and adverse health effects of consumption. This project will gather data on heavy metals and other elements inmoose organs to ensure that rural residents and Tribal citizens are not consuming excessive levels of certain metals and other elements. Samples will be collected from hunters who harvest moose and voluntarily provide samples. The study aims to examine the accumulation of heavy metals in moose harvested from the Ahtna Traditional Use Territory by analyzing various organs. The Ahtna Traditional Use Territory includes over 40,000 km2 of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (WRST), by extending our sampling into WRST we are able to cover a key area where Tribal citizens and rural residents harvest moose thus increasing our sampling range and size.

We will work with WRST in issuing sample kits to permitted moose hunters who choose to participate in this project and voluntarily provide moose samples for analysis during the 2023 and 2024 hunting seasons. Sample kits will provide hunters with instructions and materials for sampling moose organs, hair, teeth, and other tissues. The sample kits also will provide hunters with a means of recording information such as harvest location, sex, and body condition of the harvested moose. Wildlife technicians will collect these samples in WRST from hunters who voluntarily collect them.

For more information: Mark Miller, Team Lead for Resource Stewardship and Science,

Schwanke researcher with Burbot fish in hand
ADFG Fishery Biologist with Burbot fish in hand.

Corey Schwanke

Population Assessment of Burbot in Ptarmigan Lake, and Bathymetry of Ptarmigan and Rock Lakes

Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Sport Fish, Corey Schwanke, Fishery Biologist 2023

This study will estimate the abundance of burbot in Ptarmigan Lake, length composition of the burbot population, and catch per unit effort (CPUE) of baited hoop traps set along transects. This will be important for future management of the lake. Burbot are relatively long-lived, slow growing, and slow to mature fish. They are extremely vulnerable to over harvest, especially in small lakes. Although fishing effort is relatively light in the study area, it has been higher in the past and may increase again. Data collected during this study will inform managers of the current population status, and can be used for comparative purposes in the future. Understanding depth profiles in Rock and Ptarmigan Lakes will help estimate sustainability in the absence of population metrics.

This study is the final component of a 5-year agreement between the National Park Service (NPS) and the Office of Subsistence Management (OSM). Two capture events will be used to generate abundance, CPUE, and length composition estimates for burbot in Ptarmigan Lake. Fish sampling will occur over two 7-day periods with the first being from 20-26 June and the second from 22-28 August. Burbot will be captured with baited hoop traps set on the bottom of the lake for 48 hours. Each fish captured will be tagged in the first event, and abundance will be estimated based on the percentage of fish with tags caught during the second event. Depth data at Rock and Ptarmigan Lakes will also be collected with a GPS incorporated depth finder. Each Lake will be surveyed along multiple transects, spaced equidistantly, paralleling the shoreline and decreasing in size until the lake is covered.

For More Information: Mark Miller, Team Lead for Resource Stewardship and Science,

two men walking in a stream with fishing gear.
Fish Inventory researchers in a stream.


Anadromous Waters Cataloging and Fish Inventories in Subbasins of the Copper and Bering Rivers

Alaska Freshwater Fish Inventory, Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Division of Sport Fish, Nate Cathcart 2023

In Alaska habitats that support migrating, spawning, or rearing anadromous fish are protected under state, federal, and local administrative jurisdictions. Alaska Statute (AS) 16.05.871 (the Anadromous Fish Act) is the keystone statutory protection for freshwater habitats of anadromous fish in Alaska, requiring the ADF&G to "specify the various rivers, lakes, and streams or parts of them" of the state that are important to the spawning, rearing, or migration of anadromous fish in the Anadromous Waters Catalog (AWC) and Atlas. It is important that water bodies used by anadromous fish are listed in the AWC because only listed water bodies are protected from potentially harmful activities. To be listed in the AWC, water bodies require site-specific, direct, unambiguous observations of anadromous fish by a qualified observer. This project will seek to identify waters important to anadromous and freshwater fishes. Crews will be electrofishing or trapping for all fishes in target waterbodies of the Copper River Basin. Helicopters, trucks, and hiking will be used to access sites. The primary field season is August 7-16th, 2023.

More info, contact Mark Miller, Team Lead for Resource Stewardship and Science,

Map of fire management area
Map of fire management area

E. Fleur Nicklen

Moose Lake Allotment Fuel Reduction Project Monitoring

Eastern Area Fire Management, National Park Service,
E. Fleur Nicklen 2023

To reduce the risks associated with wildland fire, the Eastern Area Fire Management (EAFM) in conjunction with Alaska Fire Service is soliciting a contractor to reduce fuels (vegetation) around two Native Allotments that are designated as "full" protections areas in the fire management plans. The shaded fuel breaks created by the vegetation reduction, are scheduled to be installed starting in mid-July 2023. Fuels reduction work is also planned for the allotment just east of the Moose Lake Allotment for the following year. Non-fire fuels treatments are required (under, RM-18 NPS Reference Manual 18 Wildland Fire Management), to have pre- and post-treatment monitoring at a level sufficient to determine whether the objectives of the treatment were met. The EAFM Fire Ecologist and staff intend to install 19 non-permanent pre-treatment plots in the treatment area around the two Allotments (Map). Five of those plots will be just outside of the treatment area and serve as control plots.

The plots will follow the NPS Alaska Fire and Fuels Circular Plot Monitoring Protocol (NPS Alaska Fire and Fuels Circular Plot Monitoring Protocol, V 1.0 ). Plots are 16 m in diameter and will not be permanent installations. Briefly, this protocol allows us to determine stand basal area, tree density, plant species composition and cover, tree seeding recruitment, active layer depth, and organic layer mat thickness. We will install these plots approximately every 250 meters around the allotment in the 50 ft area of planned fuels reduction treatment surrounding the allotments.

More info: Mark Miller, Team Lead for Resource Stewardship and Science,

Cryoconite hole in Root Glacier.
Cryoconite hole in Root Glacier.


Cryoconite Holes: Measuring Respiration Rate and Net Community Production on Root Glacier

Evergreen State College, Stephanie Pierce 2023

Cryoconite holes are perhaps one of the most understudied yet important structures of a glacier. Only 13-15% of glacier meltwater originates from these holes, yet studies have found up to 60% of biologically available dissolved organic matter that is formed in these holes is dispersed downstream as these icy niches melt into glacially-fed systems. In some cases, the current melt rate spurred by climate change exposes isolated cryoconite hole pockets that would otherwise persist for several years. Increases in glacial runoff are climatically driven and are expected to greatly impact the export of nutrients to the downstream environment. Models working to understand fluxes in glacial melt and cryoconite production are integral to understanding glacial ecosystems and downstream hydrological systems as a whole. Future research and inclusion into current hydrologic models are essential. As our world's glaciers continue to diminish, we need to better understand not only how downstream flow is affected, but also understand how ecosystems dependent on glacially-derived carbon and nitrogen are impacted.

Respiration and rate of photosynthesis will be measured at 3 random cryoconite holes (CH) within the study site, as well as within 50 m from the glacial terminus. Study site locations will be recorded using ArcGIS Field Data Collector and the pH will be monitored with a portable meter and CH widths and depths will be recorded. Dissolved organic carbon and Particulate organic carbon will be measured. Additionally, water collected from each hole and at the glacier terminus will be evaluated for microbial abundance.

For more info: Mark Miller, Team Lead for Resource Stewardship and Science,

Aleutian Tern
Aleutian Tern

N. Catterson/USFS

Aleutian Tern Population Assessment and Conservation Surveys in southcentral Alaska

US Fish & Wildlife Service, Robert Kaler 2023

Aleutian terns breed only in coastal areas in Alaska and eastern Russia. While little is known about Russian population trends, populations at known breeding sites in Alaska have declined dramatically in recent decades. A recent study estimated an 8.1% annual decline since the 1960s. If this estimate is representative of the statewide population, it would be the steepest decline of any seabird species in Alaska. Given the lack of a formal monitoring effort across the range, uncertainties related to census methods, and an inability to assess if birds have dispersed from declining colonies to as-of-yet unknown colonies, the Aleutian tern has been included on several species watch lists. This project is part of a larger on-going effort to gather more information about the population status of the species. A group of agency, non-governmental organizations, and university researchers has been developing a plan to estimate the number of Aleutian terns in Alaska, which will ultimately inform an accurate assessment of the conservation status of the species.

Surveys will use fixed-wing aircraft to cover the large swaths of potential nesting habitat along Alaska's coastlines, surveying by region over the next 3 years (2023-2025). In 2023, the focus of survey efforts will be southeastern Alaska, extending from Cordova to Gustavus. Aleutian terns frequently nest with Arctic terns, and differentiating between the two species from a plane is difficult. As such, biologists will conduct ground-based surveys at tern colonies detected from the air. The biologists will record the total number of terns at each colony, and the proportion that are Aleutian terns. Colonies will be accessed by various means, including boats, fixed-wing aircraft, and helicopters.

For more information, contact Mark Miller, Team Lead for Resource Stewardship and Science,

Two Bison walking near a stream
Two Bison standing near a stream.

Heidi Hatcher

Copper River Bison Herd Management Program

Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Glennallen
Heidi Hatcher 2023

These efforts to deploy and maintain GPS satellite collars on bison of the Copper River herd will provide updated seasonal movement and range use data to improve our understanding of this herd's utilization of the landscape. Additionally, these collars will provide real-time herd location data to improve survey and inventory efforts, allowing the Alaska Department of Fish and Game the best chance of success at timing bison census flights to catch the herd when most animals will be in more open and visible areas, thus improving census results. This data is vital to make informed management decisions and ensure responsible harvest strategies for sustained yield of the Copper River bison herd.

Bison will be captured through chemical immobilization via remote delivery darts from helicopters and in some cases from ground darting efforts. Up to 20 cows and 5 bulls will be targeted. Once immobilized, a GPS satellite collar will be fitted to each animal. Biological samples such as blood, feces, and hair will be collected and analyzed for insights into individual health and diet. Reversal agents will be administered and each animal will be observed until it recovers from immobilization and returns to its feet. Data from collared individuals will be transmitted via satellite to inform herd managers of bison locations and movements.

For More Information: Mark Miller, Team Lead for Resource Stewardship and Science,

Bison herd aerial view
Bison herd aerial view

Clint Cooper

Effects of diet and snow conditions on Alaskan bison herd productivity.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game, University of Alaska Fairbanks,
Clint Cooper 2023

This study aims to increase our understanding of bison populations and their habitats in Alaska. Bison managers desire to grow and expand populations of wild Alaskan bison. Understanding key determinants in bison herd growth, health, and ultimately success, will contribute to bison conservation efforts in the Far North. This study aims to characterize dietary quality and composition in Alaskan bison herds, snow conditions within the range of each herd, and to explore how these nutritional and environmental factors might contribute to differences in herd productivity. This study has the potential to impact bison conservation and management across North America and the world, especially at northern latitudes.

Bison fecal samples will be collected from all herds in late winter and in summer to obtain dietary data. The Copper River and Chitina herds will be accessed via fixed-wing aircraft or helicopter twice annually, and fresh fecal samples will be collected for dietary analysis.

More info: Clint Cooper, (907) 895-7492,

Copper River in Winter
Copper River in Winter

NPS/Mike Townsend

Fresh Eyes on Ice: Connecting arctic communities through a revitalized and modernized ice observation network.

Water and Environmental Research Center, Institute of Northern Engineering, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Christopher Arp 2023

The Fresh Eyes on Ice network spans the state of Alaska. In Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, satellite-linked ice observation equipment will provide near real-time data to the public, scientists, and park managers, available at A camera will record daily images of the Copper River from a bluff near Park Headquarters. A string of thermistors in a remote lake near the Cheshnina River will provide daily information on snow and ice thickness.

Winter is the most rapidly changing season in the Arctic, causing widespread responses in freshwater ice -- an understudied component of the cryosphere. Freshwater ice dynamics (i.e., formation, growth, and melt) not only integrate winter climate conditions, but also impact energy balance, permafrost, hydrology, greenhouse gas emissions, and human travel and subsistence. Long-term observations document dramatic changes in ice thickness and breakup timing in lakes and rivers of northern latitudes. Fresh Eyes on Ice, a new freshwater ice observation network, is revitalizing existing datasets and expanding observations in space and time using modern satellite, aerial, and in situ sensing techniques integrated with community-based monitoring. Together these ice observations provide a valuable and integrated record of winter climate change that is relevant at local, regional, and global scales.

For more info, contact Mark Miller, Team Lead for Resource Stewardship and Science at Wrangell-ST Elias NPP,
or visit the website Fresh Eyes on Ice University of Alaska Fairbanks (

Research equipment on Turner Glacier
Research equipment on Turner Glacier

Ellyn M. Enderlin

Coupled hydrologic and glacier dynamic instabilities during Turner Glacier's surges.

Boise State University, Ellyn M. Enderlin 2022

This study aims to collect a variety of detailed geophysical observations of Turner Glacier during its ongoing period of rapid flow, known as a surge, to better understand how the glacier and its hydrologic system evolve throughout surges. Surges occur periodically, redistributing snow and ice from higher elevations towards a glacier's lower reaches, where melting will occur at a faster rate. As a result, surges can considerably influence rates of glacier mass loss. Despite their importance in regard to glacier mass loss and the potential hazards surges can pose, the precise controls on these periodic order of magnitude changes in the rate of ice flow are poorly understood. Through our unprecendently detailed analysis of Turner Glacier's current surge, we will gain insights into the relationships between water flow through and beneath a glacier and ice flow during surges. The results of this study will lead to a better understanding of controls on glacier surges and facilitate predictions of when and where surges occur.

From September 2020-July 2023, an array of geophysical instruments will be installed on and around the glacier to record the surge. Five high-precision GPS will be installed along the glacier length to record changes in ice flow and thickness. Two automated weather stations and a stationary ice-penetrating radar will also be installed on the ice to provide data on snow accumulation, melt, and routing through the ice. We will also installed five on-ice seismic stations and six pairs of stations along the glacier to monitor water flow beneath the ice. A time-lapse camera will be installed to overlook the glacier terminus to provide insights into changes in length and water output at the terminus.

Samovar Hills sample area
Samovar Hills sample area

Erin Donaghy et al

The role of oceanic plateau collision in the geologic development of the St. Elias Mountains.

Erin Donaghy, Dr. Michael Eddy, and Dr. Kenneth Ridgway 2022

The goal of this project is to document the sedimentary and igneous record of oceanic plateau accretion in southeastern Alaska (Yakutat terrane) and the Pacific Northwest (Siletzia terrane) during the last 50 million years. Recent geologic data suggests that Siletzia and Yakutat formed as part of the same oceanic plateau offshore Washington. This hypothesis requires that following formation, the Yakutat terrane split from Siletzia and was transported northward by strike-slip faults to its present location in southern Alaska.

We have the unique opportunity to better understand how the collision of the Yakutat terrane impacted local climate, topography, and regional depositional environments in eastern Alaska since the Paleogene. Comparison of data to our work in Olympic National Park will give us the unique opportunity to test if part of Olympic NP has been transported up to where it currently resides in Wrangell National Park and Preserve. Fieldwork in the Samovar Hills will consist primarily of lithofacies mapping, measuring stratigraphic sections, and collecting samples for igneous and detrital geochronologic analyses. Researchers will be dropped off in the Samovar Hills via helicopter for one week of field work.

For more info email

Weather station on the Kennicott Glacier
Weather station on the Kennicott Glacier

Regine Hock/Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Current and future mass changes of Kennicott Glacier and their drivers.

Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Regine Hock 2022

The majority of glaciers in Alaska have been shrinking for decades but only a few glaciers have detailed in-situ observations of mass change. The goal of this project is to establish a 10-year monitoring program at Kennicott Glacier to study glacier-climate relationships and provide data for glacier modeling and projections. The Kennicott Glacier is ideal for longer-term monitoring due to the proximity of Kennicott and direct road access close to the glacier. In addition the glacier is of special interest since it is covered by extensive debris cover in much of its lower reaches, which affects melt rates and how the glacier reacts to climate change.

We drilled several stakes into the glacier and their height above the surface is measured repeatedly to assess how much the glacier is melting over the melt season. Stakes are distributed across the glacier but focused on the lower part of the glacier for logistical reasons. The stakes will be re-drilled when they melt out. In addition we installed two automatic weather stations, one close to the glacier tongue at 675 m above sea level and and another one at high elevation (>2100 m above sea level). The stations continuously record air temperature, humidity, wind speed and radiation. These data will be used to study the relation between glacier change and meteorological variables. We also installed several pairs of stereo cameras to collect time series of photographs to study the dynamic changes of the glacier surface as the glacier melts and moves. Typically the glacier field campaigns are performed in late May/early June and in August/September.

For more info email

Coastal Alaska Forestry Inventory
Coastal Alaska Forestry Inventory

USDA Forest Service

Coastal Alaska Forest Inventory & Analysis (FIA)

Pacific Northwest Research Station (PNW), USDA Forest Service 2022

FIA provides information on the status and trends of forests across the region for policymakers, resource managers, and the general public at local, state, and national levels. Our work makes it possible to show how forests have changed and how they might change in the future. We collect, analyze, and share data that provide broad insights into past trends and the future potential of forest land. Our program focuses on long-term tracking of the status of land use and forest resources by sampling all forest types under all ownerships. The information FIA acquires can be used in many ways to inform management decisions. This year there are nine plots that the Coastal AK FIA crew is planning to visit within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

FIA collects data on fixed-radius permanent field plots. These plots are spaced at intervals of about 3 miles on all public and private forests across the Nation. Data are collected using techniques and methods that are consistently applied across the country. The FIA Field Guide is publicly available.

PNW-FIA collects data on:
-live and dead trees: diameter, height, crown, percent rot and other damages from insect or disease.
-understory vegetation (species and percent-cover)
-down woody material (coarse woody debris transects, duff & litter depth measurements)
-stand level characteristics such as forest type, stand age, historic and ongoing disturbances.

For more info

Kennicott Glacier and Valley
Kennicott Glacier and Valley

Tim Bartholomaus

Unraveling spatio-temporal patterns of past subglacial sediment and erosion dynamics in the Kennicott Glacial Valley.

University of Idaho, Bruno Belotti 2022

The presence of thick layers of subglacial sediment beneath valley glaciers and ice sheets, and the controlling influence of this sediment on glacier motion and glacier erosion, has been acknowledged for decades. However, despite the importance of subglacial sediments, their occurrence, distribution, and residence times remain largely unknown. Results of this project, which couples glaciology, fluvial sedimentology and lacustrine sedimentology with geophysical methods will determine how thick sediments in the Kennicott valley are, how the sediments along the valley were deposited, when sediment deposition occurred, and whether or not sediments resided beneath the glacier and for how long. From these data, I will reevaluate the presence, amount, and influence of basal till beneath glaciers, and its dynamics during changes in glacial extent, depositional environment and transport capacity, which will impact our understanding of the subglacial environment and glacial erosion.

I will first conduct TEM surveys to measure sediment thickness at strategic locations along and across the valley. I will then measure multiple decimeter-scale vertical stratigraphic columns along the bluffs and identify and correlate lithofacies. Special attention will be given to the identification of glaciotectonic deformation features, which are indicators of deposition and/or reworking of strata beneath a paleo-ice-flow. The stratigraphic analyses will be accompanied by detailed sampling for organic carbon, which will be used to date specific sedimentary and deformational features and estimate deposition ages (in fluvial / proglacial paleo- environments), sediment residence times beneath the glacier, and subglacial denudation rates.

For more info email

Iceberg Lake and glacial valley
Iceberg Lake and glacial valley

Maarten Van Daele

The Eroding Iceberg Lake Sediments: A short-lived opportunity to obtain a paleoseismic record.

Ghent University, Belgium, Dr. Maarten Van Daele
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Dr. Michael Loso 2022

The Yakutat - St. Elias Mountains region (in which Iceberg Lake is located) has been historically struck by several large earthquakes, such as the 1899 M8.1 Yakutat Bay, the 1958 M7.9 Lituya Bay and 1979 M7.4 Saint Elias earthquakes. To better estimate the seismic hazard for such earthquakes in the future, we need records of past earthquakes that reach further back in time then historical records. However, paleoseismic studies (that identify evidence of past earthquakes based on geological records) on and around the Yakutat region are scarce and incomplete. Lakes have proven to provide valuable archives of earthquake shaking: earthquakes cause a.o. sediment sliding and slumping deposits of which intercalate the normally laminated sediments. Here we study the exposed lake sediments of Iceberg Lake by cleaning and describing sediment exposures that naturally developed since the lake drainage in 1999. We will further use geophysical methods to study the local site response (amplification) of earthquake shaking and image the sedimentary infill of the Iceberg Lake basin.

Geological fieldwork: enhancing about 10-15 natural exposures with a height of up to a few meters and further expose earthquake deposits for several meters horizontally. Main activities include digging the already slumped sediment out of the way, describing and imaging the enhanced exposure, and sampling the sediments by hand-carving "cores". Geophysical fieldwork: (1) temporarily setting out 10 nodes in the area that will record ambient noise for seismic site response; (2) acquiring shear-wave velocity (Vs) profiles (for site response) by striking a sledge hammer onto a metal plate and recording the waves on 48 geophones laid out on the ground surface; and (3) repeating the previous along transects to obtain a seismic profile of the sediments.;;

Tracing Mercury researcher with Lake Trout in hand
Researcher on a boat holding a Lake Trout

Sarah Laske & Krista Bartz

Tracing Mercury Through Lake Food Webs in Alaska's National Parks.

USGS Alaska Science Center & NPS Southwest Alaska Inventory & Monitoring Network, Sarah Laske & Krista Bartz 2022

Mercury bioaccumulates in lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush)from the environment, including from the foods that they eat. Individual lake trout may have high levels of mercury in their tissues, which could pose health risks to people or to wildlife that consume them. We ask several key questions:
1) Are different feeding areas (open water or lake bottom) related to mercury contamination in lake trout?
2) Do lake trout specialize in certain lake habitats or eat foods that cause greater mercury contamination? Can highly contaminated lake trout be identified based on their body shape or habitat?
3) Does mercury at the bottom of the lake trout food chain (e.g., in aquatic insects) differ among the sampled lakes? What drives those differences? Does that mean there will be more or less mercury in the lake trout?

As part of a multi-park study, sampling will take place in Copper Lake and Tanada Lake for two weeks beginning in mid-June. We will sample lake trout, prey fishes, aquatic insects, zooplankton, algae, and water to measure the amount of mercury at each link in the lake’s food chain. From each lake trout, we will remove muscle tissue for mercury analysis and otoliths (ear stones) for age analysis. We will also assess stomach contents to determine what lake trout are eating. Based on the stomach contents, we will target known food items (e.g., kokanee [Oncorhynchus nerka]) for collection and laboratory analysis of mercury.

For more info email

Stream in the Kennecott Mines area for water samples
National Creek in the Kennecott Mines area for stream samples

Brandon Briggs

Characterization of Microbial Communities Involved in Cold-adapted Bio-weathering and Mineral Liberation.

Unverisity of Alaska Anchorage, Dr. Brandon Briggs 2022

Critical minerals (CM) are vital to the U.S. economy but the supply chain is tight and easily disrupted. For example, CM are used in a variety of applications including computers, batteries, cell phones, fluorescent lighting and are critical in defense and healthcare industries. China is the principal supplier of rare earth elements (REE) to the world; 72% of U.S. imported REE comes directly from China and many REE imports from other countries ultimately originated in China as well. This scenario leads to a high risk of supply shortage. Current hydro-metallurgical technologies are energy and cost-intensive, inefficient, and have environmental and safety issues associated with concentrated acids and solvents. Microbes that are adapted to cold environments may hold the secret to new sustainable and efficient process that can extract CM.This project aims to characterize the microbes and the processes and determine if the minerals can be developed for biotechnolgical applications.

Two different types of samples will be collected from samples from the glacial terminus of both Kennecott and Root Glaciers will be collected. Additional water samples will be collected at National Creek or water seeps near the tailings. Microorganisms within the water will be collected by filtering 5-6 L of water. Tailings will be collected from six locations. Three on either side of National creek below the leach plant and General Store. All samples will be transported back to the UAA for laboratory analyses. The microbial DNA will be sequenced to identify the types of microbes present. Microbes will also be cultured and characterized.

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Mesozoic history of convergence, paleoenvironmental change, and mass extinction: a prolonged record from the Wrangellia Terrane of southern Alaska
Research area in Contact Gulch near Grotto Creek

Andrew Caruthers

Mesozoic history of convergence, paleoenvironmental change, and mass extinction: a prolonged record from the Wrangellia Terrane of southern Alaska.

Western Michigan University, Dr. Andrew Caruthers 2022

The Wrangellia Terrane of southern Alaska represents an oceanic plateau located at tropical latitudes during Triassic time (~200 Ma) in the now vanished Panthalassic Ocean. As the Panthalassic seafloor was gradually destroyed (i.e., tectonically sinking into the Earth’s interior), the terrane traveled northeastward to eventually collide with Alaska (Cretaceous; 145–66 Ma). The sedimentary rocks exposed in the present-day Wrangell Mountains represent ancient environments of deposition in which sedimentation was sufficiently continuous to record this extraordinarily long ~ 80 Ma time interval.

Studying this thick sequence of sediment is important for two reasons: (1) the sediments were deposited across at least three intervals of time that witnessed severe biotic demise and paleoclimatic upheaval, known as mass extinction events (i.e., end-Triassic; Early Jurassic; and Cenomanian/Turonian in the Cretaceous); (2) rocks were deposited in a constantly changing environment that was being physically transported from tropical (i.e., location during the Triassic) to boreal (i.e., location during the Cretaceous) latitudes. Determining the effects that this journey (through climate belts) had on the seawater chemistry and marine biota that surrounded Wrangellia is critical toward understanding the controlling mechanisms of these mass extinction events.

This study will focus on generating multiple lines of data from five areas of the WRST. This work is an integral part of our recently awarded NSF grant (2026882) and will build upon results generated from two previous WRST permits (2018-SCI-0005; 2017-SCI-0004). The purpose of this study is to facilitate a more holistic understanding of the paleoceanographic and paleontological response(s) that took place in Panthalassa during this ~ 80 Ma interval of time that spans the Late Triassic–Cretaceous.

Fixed-wing aircraft transportation will be used to fly camps with sample collection to take place over several days at a time. A diverse set of physical (i.e., rock) and visual data will be collected from five areas of WRST designated wilderness. Rock samples / specimens will be collected from composite stratigraphic sections. Each section will detail relevant changes in lithology and intervals of fossil collection and geochemical sampling. Samples collected for paleontological analysis will be described by PIs Caruthers, Golding, Aberhan, Haggart, and Cordey at their respective institutions and curated with WRST; samples for geochemical analyses will be performed by PIs Gill, Owens, Them, and Marroquín at their respective institutions; and samples for sedimentological, paleomagnetic, and petrographic analysis by PI Trabucho-Alexandre. To expand our three-dimensional understanding of the environment in which these sediments were deposited (i.e., during the Late Triassic to Early Jurassic time interval), an assortment of visual photograph will also be collected from designated study areas. This will consist of digital media from the use of fixed-wing surveys to generate 3-D models of the selected areas showing basic dimensions, orientation, and physical distance of large- scale sedimentary structures.

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Researchers installing monitoring equipment on Malaspina Glacier
Researchers installing monitoring equipment on Malaspina Glacier

Martin Truffer

The Demise of Malaspina, the World's Largest Piedmont Glacier

University of Alaska Fairbanks, Martin Truffer 2022

Malaspina Glacier is the world's largest piedmont glacier, located on the coast of Southeast Alaska. It is rapidly thinning and retreating into a series of proglacial lakes, some of which are separated from open ocean by only a narrow moraine barrier. The glacier bed is located well below sea level and all indications are that retreat and thinning will continue, and most likely accelerate, even with little future climate change. This has the potential to be the largest loss of ice in Alaska from one glacier in the next several decades and is likely to result in a newly opened landscape with a series of lakes and/or marine fjords. This will be among the biggest modern changes to Alaska's and the nation's coastlines with large impacts to both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. These changes would also constitute the largest single removal of terrestrial land cover from the National Park system in modern US history.

Our proposed work consists of the following measurements that require field work: Mass balance, GPS velocities, temperature, supraglacial debris thickness and temperature, ice penetrating radar, transient electromagnetic (TEM) surveys, active seismics, timelapse cameras, sediment sampling, and a weather station. The map provides an overview of the proposed locations.

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Last updated: July 1, 2024

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Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
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