UH Hilo marine scientists collaborate with colleagues in Alaska, discover common ground on climate adaptation
The Hawai‘i-Alaska collaboration provides a way for scientists and students to explore steep watershed ecosystems found in both locales that are seemingly different but actually quite similar. The goal is to exchange and grow knowledge in support of climate adaptation.
By Susan Enright.
Scientists from Hawai‘i and Alaska are joining together in cross-regional research and cultural engagement to exchange knowledge in support of climate adaptation. The work is being done through Pacific Island and Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASC) located in Hilo and Juneau.
The nine regional U.S. Geological Survey CASCs—found on the continent, Alaska, and Hawai‘i—are focusing on regional challenges through collaborative programs that team scientists with natural and cultural resource managers and local communities to help fish, wildlife, water, land, and people adapt to a changing climate.
Trip to Juneau
A group of marine scientists from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, who are working closely with the Climate Adaptation Science Center in Hilo, traveled to Juneau this summer to meet with partners from the Alaska CASC to discuss further collaborative work.
Professor Tracy Wiegner, Associate Professor Steven Colbert, Adjunct Associate Professor Tim Grabowski (a unit leader with the U.S. Geological Survey-Hawai‘i Cooperative Fishery Research Unit in Hilo), along with a graduate student, visited multiple sites during the Alaska trip. The graduate student, Walter Boger, is studying with Wiegner and Colbert in UH Hilo’s tropical conservation biology and environmental science program.
Also with the group were scientists from UH Mānoa: ecologist Yin-Phan Tsang from the Natural Resources and Environmental Management program and two graduate students. Yu-Fen Huang is a graduate student with Tsang in UH Mānoa’s NREM graduate program. Dannielle Bartz is a graduate student with Grabowski in UH Mānoa’s marine biology graduate program and the Hawai‘i Cooperative Fishery Research Unit.
The Alaska team members are hydrologist Bob Bolton from Alaska Voices podcast, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the AK-CASC; Jeff Falke, a faculty member at University of Alaska Fairbanks; Jason Fellman, a faculty member at University of Alaska Southeast; Ryan Bellmore, a research fish biologist with the U.S. Forest Service; and Lindsay Call, a graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
The Hawai‘i-Alaska collaboration provides a way for the scientists and students to explore steep watershed ecosystems found in both locales that are seemingly different but actually quite similar. The goal is to exchange and grow knowledge in support of climate adaptation.
While on the trip, the Hawai‘i group observed salmon research in Alaskan watersheds and compared methodologies on cross-regional projects as part of the Pacific Islands-Alaska CASC collaboration. In Alaska, scientists are studying salmon; on O‘ahu, similar studies are underway on invasive suckermouth catfish.
This joint research is one of several linked projects that the group of researchers, students, and staff from the two climate centers discussed in late July 2022 at the Juneau Forestry Sciences Laboratory. The groups shared findings, compared fieldwork sites and methods firsthand, and discussed a shared vision for the collaboration.
For the visiting PI-CASC researchers, the similarities between their home region and the steep coastal watersheds of southeast Alaska were as profound as the differences.
“Hawai‘i and southeast Alaska both have indigenous communities which are closely tied to their environment, and ensuring the health of the environment is paramount to them in the face of climate change and development,” says Wiegner, who serves as a principal investigator of research taking place in Hawai‘i. Wiegner is studying changing hydrologic conditions in Hawai`i and how land-use practices are altering stream discharge and nearshore marine health and productivity.
“Both locations [have] steep slopes and short river systems that rapidly transport watershed materials from the ridge to the ocean,” she says. “Also, both locations receive a lot of rain and have rainforest vegetation. We noticed that our raincoats, which claim to be waterproof, only stayed dried for a while in Juneau; this also occurs in Hawai‘i when we have torrential rain.”
But Wiegner says the role of streams and their importance to local communities also differs between Hawai‘i and Alaska.
“In Hawai‘i, streams are not thought of in the same way as in southeast Alaska, where they are critical habitat for an economically and culturally important fish, salmon,” she explains. “In Hawai‘i, the focus is on catching fish in the estuary and offshore to feed families.”
The seven pilot projects funded through the PI-AK Collaboration aim to aid community-based climate adaptation in each region by growing regional capacity while developing science, knowledge, and management practices.
Scientists working on the project hope to learn from each other on how to best support community-based adaptation efforts through research and communication in the two regions.
Read more about the collaboration at the Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center.
By Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories.