Summer temperature regimes in southcentral Alaska streams: watershed drivers of variation and potential implications for Pacific salmon
Climate is changing fastest in high latitude regions, focusing our research on understanding rates and drivers of changing temperature regimes in southcentral Alaska streams and implications for salmon populations. We collected continuous water and air temperature data during open-water periods from 2008 to 2012 in 48 non-glacial salmon streams across the Cook Inlet basin spanning a range of watershed characteristics. The most important predictors of maximum temperatures, expressed as mean July temperature, maximum weekly average temperature, and maximum weekly maximum temperature (MWMT), were mean elevation and wetland cover, while thermal sensitivity (slope of the stream-air temperature relationship) was best explained by mean elevation and area. Although maximum stream temperatures varied widely (8.4 to 23.7 °C) between years and across sites, MWMT at most sites exceeded established criterion for spawning and incubation (13 °C), above which chronic and sub-lethal effects become likely, every year of the study, which suggests salmon are already experiencing thermal stress. Projections of MWMT over the next ~50 years suggest these criteria will be exceeded at more sites and by increasing margins.
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Title: Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies