Assessing the Impact of Small, Canadian Arctic River Flows (SCARFs) to the Freshwater Budget of the Canadian Archipelago

website-homepage_banner.jpgMatthew B. Alkire

Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington

Seattle, Washington USA

tel: 206-897-1623


Funding provided by the National Science Foundation


Project Summary



The contribution of small, Canadian Arctic river flows (SCARFs) to the total freshwater export from the Arctic Ocean to Baffin Bay and eventually Davis Strait is currently unknown. To determine the impact of these rivers, their contributions must be separated from those of other freshwaters, including sea-ice meltwater, Pacific water, glacial runoff, precipitation (i.e., rain and snow) and larger North American rivers such as the Mackenzie and Yukon Rivers. Distinguishing among these various freshwaters has typically been accomplished using a suite of geochemical tracers that can be used as fingerprints to identify and separate the individual freshwater components. However, SCARFs have yet to be characterized in this manner. In fact, most researchers have either ignored their contributions or assumed they are geochemically identical to the Mackenzie and Yukon Rivers.



There are two primary goals of this project: (1) determine whether relatively small Canadian Arctic rivers significantly contribute to the total volume of freshwater that drains through Davis Strait and (2) determine if they are chemically distinct from larger North American rivers such as the Mackenzie and Yukon Rivers. To achieve these goals we propose to collect water samples from seven different rivers and their estuaries spanning over Nunavut and the Northwest Territories over a three-year study period (June 2014, August 2015, and August 2016).


Work Plan

We plan to collect water samples from seven rivers and their estuaries throughout the Canadian Archipelago: the Coppermine, Ellice, Back, Cunningham, and Clyde Rivers in Nunavut and the Kuujjua and Thomsen Rivers in the Northwest Territories (Fig. 1). Each site will be visited via small aircraft (Twin Otter operated by Kenn Borek Air) and sampled over a period of 1-5 days during the months of June and July (following the spring floods/melt) or July and August (after break up of the landfast ice cover) depending on the study year (2014, 2015, or 2016). In 2014, we plan to focus solely on river sampling. In 2015 and 2016, both rivers and estuaries will be sampled. Water samples will be collected either by hand or by peristaltic pumps carried by researchers traveling in inflatable boats equipped with outboard motors. Guides and wildlife monitors will be hired from local communities (Kugluktuk, Ulukhaktok, Sachs Harbour, and Clyde River) to support the research team during the main portion of field work. In addition, field technicians in Kugluktuk and Clyde River will be hired and trained to collect river water samples independently on a weekly basis between June and September in order to construct a timeseries that will describe the seasonal evolution of the rivers’ chemistry. We will also meet with local community leaders to discuss and plan presentations that will be given by the scientists to the general public. These presentations will summarize the purpose of the research project and any available results. All data collected as part of this project will be made available on this website along with summaries of the work completed, pictures, and interactive tutorials illustrating the steps taken to collect and analyze the samples and explain the resulting data.



Fig. 1. Map of the Canadian Archipelago. The red stars indicate the mouths of the seven rivers of interest in this study (in order of proposed sampling): (1) Coppermine R., (2) Ellice R., (3) Back R., (4) Kuujuua R. (Victoria Island), (5) Thomsen R. (Banks Island), (6) Cunningham R. (Somerset Island), and (7) Clyde R. (Baffin Island). The Coppermine, Ellice, and Back Rivers are located on the mainland of Nunavut. Inset shows Arctic Ocean with study area highlighted by the red box.