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Beaufort Lagoon Ecosystems LTER is a new Long Term Ecological Research* site. We use diverse methods to study lagoons and other aquatic sites along the northern Alaskan Arctic coast. Our interests include land/sea interactions in these unique ecosystems, their biogeochemical and biological makeup, their seasonal dynamics and long-term changes, and using our expertise to serve local communities.

* We joined the U.S. LTER network in 2017. The northernmost in the 28-site network, BLE LTER will address gaps in our understanding of the rapidly changing Arctic. We collaborate closely with other sites to do the best science and to promote open research.

By the numbers

from six universities

field seasons
each year

research nodes
Utqiaġvik, Deadhorse, Kaktovik

of coastline studied

Our study sites

Coastal lagoons are among the most productive habitats and make up more than 10% of the land-sea interface worldwide. The Beaufort Sea lagoons are complex and productive ecosystems. These systems encompass more than half of the Beaufort Sea coast, providing food and habitat for large populations of migratory fish and waterfowl essential to the culture of northern Alaska's Iñupiaq communities. Dozens of rivers, the 'highways of Alaska,' altogether making up a vast drainage basin, flow into the Beaufort Sea through these lagoons.

Zoom in and click to see what makes each lagoon unique.

Seasons in the lagoons

Dramatic seasonality is a big reason why we think the lagoons are so fascinating. The time of year also influences everything we do in terms of field logistics; each season brings its own challenges and rewards.

Scientist works in the Arctic night

Frozen over

In winter, ice completely covers the lagoons. By April, when we sample, the ice is nearly 1.7 m thick. We use snowmobiles to reach our study sites and then drill holes to collect water and sediment.

Our to-do list

Measure sea-ice properties

Sample the under-ice environment

Christina Bonsell walks on broken ice

Ice break-up

Spring comes rapidly to the Arctic once daylight lengthens. Ice break-up may happen in a matter of days and can make field work treacherous. We sample in June to represent spring conditions.

Our to-do list

Sample rivers near their peak flow

Obtain water mixing data in the lagoons

Sampling the lagoons by boat on open water

Open water

In summer, the lagoons exchange materials with the Beaufort Sea freely. Ecosystem productivity peaks around this time. We sample in August via boat trips to represent summer conditions.

Our to-do list

Retrieve and redeploy moored instruments

Sample eroding coastal bluffs

Project news

Opportunity: Mendenhall Research Fellowship Program

This new fellowship program at USGS provides fellows with two year salaried appointments working under research advisors. Of special relevance to the BLE LTER is research project 20-8. Geomorphic and social influences on coastal resilience to climate change. Find more information on the USGS website.

Model results point to increasing freshwater and DOC exports to Elson Lagoon

BLE investigator Michael Rawlins and co-authors in a pair of papers describe an updated hydrological model of the North Slope, which, among other notable results, estimates that in 2019 the amount of freshwater dissolved organic carbon exported to Elson Lagoon is almost triple that of the 1980s. This has widespread implications for the lagoon ecosystems. Read the articles at Environmental Research Letter and Journal of Geophysical Research, or see the news release via UMass-Amherst. The studies were also featured on NSF research news.

New coastal permafrost research shows unexpected results

A new publication, co-authored by BLE LTER investigator James McClelland, uses subsurface mapping to show permafrost to be mostly absent under the shallow seafloor in Kaktovik Lagoon. This research poses implications on sea-land water exchange, carbon dynamics, and coastal erosion. Read the paper on Science Advances or coverage by The University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences.

Graduate student spotlight: Brian Kim

The LTER Network Office recently interviewed Brian Kim as part of an ongoing LTER graduate student spotlight series. Alongside his research in the sediment biogeochemistry of the lagoons, Brian also serves as the LTER-wide graduate student representative and runs an Instagram account documenting student activities. Read his interview here to learn about his research, experience in graduate school, and stories about field work with the BLE team.