Arctic Tundra LTER - United States of America
Arctic Tundra LTER
United States of America
The Arctic LTER research site is in the foothills region of the North Slope of Alaska and includes the entire Toolik Lake watershed and the adjacent watershed of the upper Kuparuk River, down to the confluence of these two watersheds. This area is typical of the northern foothills of the Brooks Range, with continuous permafrost, no trees, a complete snow cover for 7 to 9 months, winter ice cover on lakes, streams, and ocean, and cessation of river flow during the winter. Tussock tundra is the dominant vegetation type but there are extensive areas of drier heath tundra on ridge tops and other well-drained sites as well as areas of river-bottom willow communities. The North Slope is divided into the Coastal Plain (6,000 km2), the Foothills (95,000 km2), and the Mountains (40,000 km2).
General Characteristics, Purpose, History
The Arctic LTER project's goal is to understand and predict the effects of environmental change on arctic landscapes, both natural and anthropogenic. We use long-term monitoring and surveys of natural variation of ecosystem characteristics, experimental manipulation of ecosystems (years to decades) and modeling at ecosystem and watershed scales to gain an understanding of the controls of ecosystem structure and function. Through this understanding we hope to addresses an important societal goal of predicting the response of arctic ecosystems to environmental change. The data and insights gained are provided to federal, Alaska state and North Slope Borough officials who regulate the lands on the North Slope and through this web site.
The key event in the development of research in the Upper Kuparuk/Toolik Lake region was the construction of the Alaska oil pipeline and Haul Road (later named the Dalton Highway) in 1974- 1976 . Before that time, access to interior regions of the North Slope was limited by the lack of roads and the small number of widely scattered locations where aircraft (mostly fixed-wing) could land, take off, and be fueled or serviced. Completion of the Haul Road in September 1974 suddenly opened up a magnificent environmental transect across the heart of northern Alaska. Toolik Lake and the Upper Kuparuk River lie near the center of this transect, and ecologists and other environmental scientists were quick to exploit the opportunities for new research in the surrounding area. Intensive research in the Upper Kuparuk/Toolik Lake region began in the summer of 1975, when a group of aquatic ecologists set up a small camp on a disused airstrip near the outlet of Toolik Lake. Most of the members of this group, led by John Hobbie of the Marine Biological Laboratory, had just finished the Tundra Biome Study at Barrow. Toolik Lake was chosen for study because the group was looking for an easily accessible, large, deep arctic lake to compare with the small, shallow coastal ponds they had studied previously. Toolik Field Station, initially set up to support aquatic researchers at Toolik Lake, soon became known as a convenient spot for terrestrial researchers to camp as well. In 1987 the site became part of the US LTER Network. The overall aim of the new ARC-LTER was to develop a landscape understanding of ecological functioning based on the interactions among tundra, stream, and lake ecosystems near Toolik Lake, Alaska. The specific focus evolves continuously and changes with each renewal cycle, as understanding has grown and as new opportunities and questions are recognized.
Affiliation and Network Specific Information