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Southeast Test Case Research Description

The north Pacific coastal temperate rainforest (PCTR) ecosystem, from central British Columbia to Alaska, includes the largest remaining old-growth forests in North America, supports some of the most robust wild fisheries on the continent, and is home to tens of thousands of people who depend on a resource and tourism-based economy for their livelihoods.  The region is characterized by abundant year-round precipitation; a mountainous terrain fragmented by glaciers, icefields and deep fjords; high taxonomic diversity; and complex terrestrial/marine connections.  In Southeast Alaska climate change is impacting this socio-economic system in ways we do not fully understand.  95% of glaciers in Southeast Alaska have thinned and retreated over the last half-century, and glacial retreat strongly affects water discharge, which will in turn alter the stability and fluvial, biogeochemical, and thermal properties of hydrological systems and will have consequences for stream and estuarine ecosystems that serve as reservoirs of biological productivity.  Climate change is also accelerating forest succession, which will alter carbon sequestration potential, the structure of riparian corridors, and the flux of organic biomass to streams.  These climate-driven hydro-ecological processes have the potential to radically alter access to and availability of key resources, such as salmon and the forests and other habitats which support tourism, the Southeast's highest earning sector.  The National Science Foundation funded the EPSCoR Southeast test case, which will focus on patterns of six key variables - ice, freshwater, alluvial forest, estuaries, salmon and plankton - to better understand the consequences of changing environments.  We will evaluate community-level social consequences as well as the adaptive capacity of natural-resource management institutions to respond to projected spatiotemporal changes to these variables.

The initial stage of our test case research will examine the glacier-to-estuary system surrounding the community of Juneau.  Researchers will examine the key societal consequences of climate-mediated dynamics, such as a potential shift in the spatiotemporal patterns of key natural resources that benefit communities.  Three questions will guide our research:

  • Changing Environment: How do changing climate-glacier dynamics alter spatial-temporal features of the environment, including the major indicators of freshwater discharge, alluvial forests, salmon, estuaries, and plankton?
  • Societal Consequences: How do local agencies and affected communities alter their resource management strategies to respond to changes to these indicators and to related ecosystem services?
  • Adaptive Capacity: Does the capacity of economic and resource-management agencies to perceive, project and respond to anticipated change result in more effective adaptive management?

To read more about Alaska EPSCoR and the Southeast Test Case, visit


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