Awaiting the Thaw
After tuning a fish tracking antenna on Oksrukuyik Creek, we flew over the Kuparuk River on our way to the I-Minus outlet stream, visiting all three study rivers in one day. While our tagged fish have remained corralled in overwintering habitats by layers of ice and snow, we have successfully installed and tuned fish tracking antennas along all three river systems to better understand how river connectivity and habitat fragmentation influence fish movement patterns. Before fish movement occurs, however, these rivers must thaw. Pooling water on the Kuparuk River indicates snow melt from the surrounding hill slopes. As white snow gives way to underlying brown tundra, changing albedo alters the balance of reflected to absorbed heat and the tundra thaws even more rapidly. If warm conditions prevail, winter will soon give way to spring, ushering along the Arctic grayling annual spawning migration.
Although not very pretty, the Oks-0.5 antenna promises to track tagged fish as soon as winter stasis abates.
An areal view down the Kuparuk River suggests surface runoff from over-land snow melt pooling atop river anchor ice.
I-Minus outlet stream remains locked in winter over-flow ice at the Jane Creek confluence.
Although situated on relatively high ground, our IM3 antenna appears small and vulnerable to spring flood waters.
Anchor ice on the mighty Itkillik River, submerged under flowing melt water from surrounding catchments, won’t hold much longer.
A pocket of ice-free river appears dark against persistent anchor ice on the Itkillik River. Could this area remain ice free during winter and if so, could it support overwintering fish?
Snow machines tucked away for the night, yet poised for another day on the Arctic tundra.