Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2017AK134B

Characterization of Groundwater Hydrology in Two Thermokarst Lake Systems

Institute: Alaska
Year Established: 2017 Start Date: 2017-03-01 End Date: 2018-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $20,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $40,000

Principal Investigators: David Barnes

Abstract: With the ongoing industrialization of Alaskan communities, ensuring the safety and sustainability of Alaskan drinking water resources is an important topic for researchers and regulatory agencies alike. The complexity of groundwater flow in discontinuous permafrost regions, however, poses difficulties in estimating groundwater quantity and quality and poses challenges in contaminated groundwater remediation efforts. To further the complexity of this system, changing climate conditions also drive permafrost thaw, which affects groundwater connectivity in discontinuous permafrost regions in the interior of Alaska. The thawing of permafrost promotes the formation of open-taliks which connect the suprapermafrost and subpermafrost portions of the aquifer. Few studies to date have sought to characterize flow of groundwater within an open taliks. Knowledge of groundwater dynamics in these complex systems is crucial to groundwater sustainability and the future of groundwater modeling in arctic and subarctic regions of the world. We seek to characterize seasonal groundwater flow dynamics of supra- and sub-permafrost groundwater within two thermokarst lake systems in a discontinuous permafrost aquifer in Interior Alaska. We will utilize chemical and physical tracers to determine flow direction and sources of mixing water within the lake. Analyzing the chemical composition of various water sources contributing to the lake dynamics will allow for an estimation of seasonal contributions. Monitoring water pressure in the lake sediments will help to resolve trends in chemical data. The project will provide valuable data and a tested conceptual model for the flow of groundwater within thermokarst lake systems that can be used as a baseline for groundwater models in discontinuous permafrost regions. The proposed effort will strongly integrate with and complement a funded National Science Foundation project (ARCSS 1500931; 2015-2018), which pays the summer salary of MSc student Bridget Eckhardt. The funds from this proposal will support Ms. Eckhardt’s 2017 Spring semester salary, tuition and insurance, which are not covered by the existing NSF award. The proposed effort would allow Ms. Eckhardt to fully focus upon her course work and thesis research during her second year and ultimately speed-up the delivery of a quality product.