Alaska Monitoring and Assessment Program 2015 Arctic Coastal Plain Estuaries

In the summer of 2015, Alaska Monitoring and Assessment Program (AKMAP) participated in EPA’s National Coastal Condition Assessment (NCCA). NCCA is an ongoing national survey to assess the condition of coastal waters, determine trends, and assess the relative importance of key stressors such as nutrients or contaminated sediments. AKMAP, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences partnered to survey estuaries on the arctic coast from Icy Cape east to Smith Bay. Thirty-five sites were sampled during August from the NOAA ship Ronald H. Brown. This project was a part of a six year series of work in the arctic which included surveys of lakes, wetlands, estuaries and coastal waters. Using the data collected in this survey, we will obtain a clearer picture of the general health of estuaries, detect contaminants and learn about aquatic insects.

Sampling in this project included the following indicators:

Water: temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, nutrients, chlorophyll-a, phosphorus, salinity, and water clarity

Sediment: stable isotopes, mercury, trace metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, chlorinated hydrocarbons, and carbon

Biological: benthic macroinvertebrates, fish tissue contaminants, lipid content, trace metals

Physical habitat: grain size

These relatively shallow estuaries experience harsh conditions throughout the year. The average depths of the stations sampled is 3.3 m. Variable salinity, high winds that can in effect drain the estuary, landfast ice scouring the sea floor, repeated freeze thaw cycles, and a short summer season may account for the biotic scarcity we experienced in the trawls and benthic samples. Very little is known about arctic estuaries and we hope that our work will contribute to the overall understanding of these important environments. Although the biota sample collections were not as diverse or abundant we would have preferred it was noted that several of the estuaries did appear to contain numerous juvenile species. Once the taxonomic work is complete it will be interesting to see if some of the estuaries are nursery grounds for certain species.