Rivers And Streams In Alaska Turning Rusty Due To Climate Change: Study

by | May 23, 2024 | Daily News, Environmental News

Home » Environmental News » Rivers And Streams In Alaska Turning Rusty Due To Climate Change: Study

Dozens of rivers and streams in Alaska are turning rusty orange, likely due to thawing permafrost. The Arctic is warming faster than any other region in the world. As the ground thaws, minerals previously locked in frozen soil are now seeping into waterways.

Brett Poulin, the study author, referred to this situation as an impact of climate change. He remarked, “It’s an unforeseen impact of climate change that we’re seeing in some of the most pristine rivers in our country.

Rivers and streams in Alaska turning rusty

Thawing permafrost exposes minerals to oxygen, leading to a process called weathering. This increases the water’s acidity and dissolves metals like zinc, copper, cadmium, and iron. The most noticeable of these is iron, which gives the rivers a rusty color visible even from space.

This study highlights the potential degradation of drinking water and risks to Arctic fisheries. “When mixed with another river, it can actually make the metals even more potent [in their] impact on aquatic health,” Poulin explained.

Researchers first noticed the milky orange rivers in 2018 in northern Alaska’s Brooks Range. This was a stark contrast to the crystal-clear waters seen the year before. By the following year, a tributary of the Akillik River in Kobuk Valley National Park experienced the complete loss of two fish species. One is the dolly varden and another is the slimy sculpin.

Poulin noted, “Our data suggests that when the river turned orange, we saw a significant decrease in macroinvertebrates and biofilm on the bottom of the stream, which is essentially the base of the food web. It could be changing where fish are going to be able to live.

The rusting of rivers is a seasonal phenomenon. It occurs in the summer months of July and August, when the soil is most thawed. Researchers aim to understand the long-term implications of these changes in areas with continuous permafrost.

This includes Arctic regions such as Alaska, Canada, Russia, and parts of Scandinavia. “It’s an area that’s warming at least two to three times faster than the rest of the planet,” said Scott Zolkos. He’s an Arctic scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center who was not involved in the study. “So we can expect these types of effects to continue.

The research team is also working closely with tribal liaisons in Alaska. They are ensuring that local communities receive accurate information about this developing phenomenon.

This collaboration is crucial as young Alaskans have sued the state over fossil fuel projects they claim violate their rights. It further emphasizes the urgency of addressing climate impacts on local ecosystems.

The rivers and streams in Alaska turning rusty shows the impact of climate change. It underscores the significant changes occurring in Arctic environments due to climate change. As these impacts become more visible, understanding and mitigating their effects on water quality and ecosystems will be critical.

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Author

  • Sarah Tancredi

    Sarah Tancredi is an experienced journalist and news reporter specializing in environmental and climate crisis issues. With a deep passion for the planet and a commitment to raising awareness about pressing environmental challenges, Sarah has dedicated her career to informing the public and promoting sustainable solutions. She strives to inspire individuals, communities, and policymakers to take action to safeguard our planet for future generations.

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