Tools to model present and projected freshwater fluxes in high-latitude regions and application to Cook Inlet, Alaska

FY 2014 | 3 – Inform | 14-10-07

Tools to model present and projected freshwater fluxes in high-latitude regions and application to Cook Inlet, Alaska

T. Mosier, Oregon State University
Contract Term: 04/01/13 – 03/31/14
Award: $25,000

Scope of Work:

Salinity gradients between freshwater discharged into the Gulf of Alaska and relatively well-mixed coastal ocean water drive nearshore ocean currents in the region. Knowledge of the nearshore circulation in the Gulf of Alaska is important to the Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI) since it determines the flow path of oil, were a spill to occur. Circulation patterns also significantly affect the distribution and vitality of important biological systems, including salmon populations. Additionally, oil spill preparedness and ecosystem understanding are intertwined since the well being of Alaska depends on both oil production and the maintenance of high quality ecosystems. Significant work has been undertaken to understand freshwater inputs into the Gulf of Alaska. These projects have ranged in spatial extent from modeling for a particular inlet to modeling discharge into the entire Gulf of Alaska and have provided valuable insights; however, many of the methods have been either scale-dependent or not easily portable to other high-latitude regions of interest. The current graduate research fellowship proposes to develop novel, spatially-distributed hydro logic modeling tools appropriate to high-latitude regions which are characterized in part by their data scarcity,significant contributions to annual runoff from seasonal snow pack, and importance of glacier mass balance. These tools will be coupled to down scaled climate data inputs for both the historic time period and projected future scenarios (based on general circulation model future climate representations),to assess not only current freshwater fluxes but also a plausible range of future freshwater flux scenarios.

These tools will be demonstrated by applying them to Cook Inlet, Alaska. The tools will be designed to be robust across temporal and spatial domains, and will be validated in ways that assess this. The production of the tools themselves are a significant output of this work, but additionally this work will produce a historical model of freshwater fluxes into Cook Inlet, Alaska and an ensemble of plausible future freshwater flux scenarios.