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LTER Sites > Bonanza Creek LTER > Caribou-Poker Creeks Research Watershed Research Site

Caribou-Poker Creeks Research Watershed - Primary

Principal biome/main communities:
Cold Climate Forest (biome)
The Caribou-Poker Creeks Research Watershed (CPCRW) is a 104 km2 basin north of Fairbanks, Alaska. The watershed is reserved for ecological, hydrological, and climatic research. It is owned jointly by the State of Alaska and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Much of the research is done by the Bonanza Creek Long Term Ecological Research Program and the Water and Environmental Research Center.

The entrance to the Research Watershed is located on the Steese Highway about 31 miles from Fairbanks. Access is restricted, and permission for access or to conduct research can be obtained by contacting the lead Principal Investigator, Terry Chapin, or the Site Coordinator, Jamie Hollingsworth.
Site Characteristics
Location Single Point
Latitude: 65.1814690
Longitude: -147.4999130
Location - Bounding Box
Latitude1: 65.2709890
Longitude 1: -147.2684750
Latitude 2: 65.0891630
Longitude2: -147.7244460
Area (HA): 10,400
  High Low Mean
Elevation (M): 837 168 466
Research Site History
Following the 1967 Fairbanks flood, it was realized that very little was known about the precipitation and hydrology of upland headwater streams in interior Alaska, and that all the USGS gages were on major rivers and did not predict the 1967 flood. The Inter-Agency Technical Committee for Alaska (IATCA), which had been set up under the president's Water Research Council, had a mandate to "develop a comprehensive plan for use as a general guide by all agencies in establishing hydrologic stations required in connection with developing the water resources of Alaska" (Slaughter and Lotspeich 1977). A research coordination committee was created to, among other things, identify an upland taiga watershed for designation as a research watershed for "long term studies of complete catchments in permafrost-dominated uplands" (Slaughter and Lotspeich 1977). The Caribou and Poker Creek watersheds were identified as the most likely, because they would provide ease of access, were of manageable size, had a lack of human influence, and were owned by state and federal agencies. In 1969, a Cooperative Agreement between the IATCA and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was written and signed, designating the basin as the CARIBOU-POKER CREEKS WATERSHED for a period of 50 years, and outlining the responsibilities of the signing parties. This document says that DNR will "recognize research into water and land/water related resources... being the presently known highest and best use of these lands, and to permit only compatible uses." The agreement was amended to delegate to the Institute of Northern Forestry (INF), USDA Forest Service, "authority and responsibilities" set forth in the original agreement. INF has been managing the site since the early 1970s under the assumption that the agreement of 1970 essentially constituted a lease, much like that between DNR and INF for the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest. Much effort has gone into improving the infrastructure of CPCRW over the years. In the initial years of the early 1970s, access was by foot or by helicopter. Various structures and instruments were donated by cooperating agencies, including a laboratory trailer that was airlifted onto site by a Chinook helicopter and another laboratory trailer donated by the Geophysical Institute and airlifted in with a Sikorsky skycrane helicopter. Trails were cut during the early 1970s for snow machine and off-road vehicles, and the primary access was over Haystack Mountain from the Elliott Highway. Several miles (perhaps 10) of gravel roads, including four bridges, passable by four-wheel drive pickup truck were constructed in the late 1970s. These roads and one bridge are in need of repair. Since the construction of the road "system," the main access to CPCRW has been by fording the Chatanika River at about mile 31 Steese Highway. As one might imagine, access was limited or impossible during spring breakup and summer storm events. A steel cable and a basket on pulleys provided limited access in times of high water. In 1995, with cooperation from the US Army and CRREL and funding support from the US Forest Service, a Bailey bridge was constructed across the Chatanika River, immensely improving access to CPCRW. Since it's inception, research at CPCRW has focused on hydrology and climate. Initially, streams were gauged by manual methods on a circum-weekly schedule by personnel that hiked into the watershed. In the mid- to late 1970s, fiberglass Partial flumes with water level recorders were installed at five sites, and water level recorders were installed at several other sites with streams too large for flumes. Many of the large capacity rain gauges were installed by helicopter. Hydrology and climate data have been collected continuously since 1970, although individual sites may not have a complete record. Also, due to logistical difficulties, discharge data for snowmelt runoff are often missing. In December of 1993, the leadership of the Bonanza Creek Long Term Ecological Research (BNZ) program requested of the National Science Foundation that CPCRW be added to the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest (the main site for BNZ), and that the name and acronym be changed to BNZ-CPW to reflect the additional site. The addition was approved, but the name change was not, so now the BNZ LTER actually includes both the original site at the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest (BCEF) and the CPCRW site even though the name does not reflect that. Thus far, most of the LTER-related research in CPCRW has been aquatic, but there are plans to expand terrestrial research to CPCRW, especially research on the effects of large-scale disturbance such as wildfire and timber harvest.
More Info  
Sub-research sites
Boston Creek - Stream Station
C1 - Stream Station
C2 - Stream Station
C2_STRM - Gauge Station
C3 - Stream Station
C3_STRM - Gauge Station
C4 - Met Station
C4 - Stream Station
C4_STRM - Gauge Station
CB - Stream Station
CJ - Stream Station
CPEAK - Met Station
CRREL - Met Station
CT1600 - Met Station
CT2100 - Met Station
HELM - Met Station
HR1A - Met Station
P1 - Stream Station
P2 - Stream Station
P4 - Stream Station
P6 - Stream Station
PC - Stream Station
PJ - Stream Station
Jamie Hollingsworth
Caribou-Poker Creeks Research Watershed image