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ION-Yukon River Manuals


The Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council’s Indigenous Observation Network (YRITWC’s ION)

The materials include:

  • Survey protocols

  • Indigenous research protocol

  • Reports to communities

  • Scientific publications

  • Information about the associated research project SNOWY

  • Datasets


The Field Manuals are user-friendly tools to ensure that high quality data is collected consistently across the Yukon River Watershed. 


The water quality monitoring field manual is a reference tool for Indigenous Observation Network environmental technicians conducting surface water sampling under approved United States Geological Survey protocols. The YRITWC water quality monitoring manual  was developed using the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) protocols and methodology as a benchmark for all quality assurance and quality control (QAQC) procedures (USGS, TWR Book 9). The structure set forth here focuses on standardized methodology across the Yukon River basin to ensure consistency and reliability of high quality data collection. Use the button below to see the water quality monitoring field manual.







The Active Layer Network Field Manual is a reference tool for technicians participating in the Active Layer Network (ALN) under Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council - US Geological Survey (YRITWC-USGS) protocols. These protocols were adapted and modified from the Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring (CALM) protocols, which can be found at: and through communication with Dr. Romanovsky and Dr. Yoshikawa of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Throughout the manual key points are noted with special characters and text boxes in the body of the text. This highlights essential materials and provides resources for additional research. Use the button below to see the Active Layer Network Field Manual.







The program has prepared an example agreement between researchers and Indigenous Peoples based on research and discussions with First Nations and Alaska Native Tribal members. It outlines expectations that Indigenous Peoples may have of researchers when collaborating on projects. 

Indigenous Research Protocols (IRPs) are agreements between Tribes/First Nations and third parties. These agreements are to be established prior to permitting research projects that focus on indigenous communities—particularly projects that directly or indirectly relate to intellectual property or an aspect of traditional lands (i.e. wildlife, water quality, etc). IRPs present an opportunity for Tribes/First Nations to develop information management systems and safeguards to better protect their local and traditional knowledge. Ultimately, IRPs aim to ensure that knowledge is used in an appropriate and respectful way, and that research is conducted in a manner that benefits the Tribe/First Nation. Use the button below to see the Indigenous Research Protocol. 


The plain language reports are important for communicating the collected data back to the community to use for its purposes (e.g. community planning). 


Water quality plain language reports: Thirty reports that summarize each community’s and/or region’s measurements and findings from water quality measurements.






Active layer network plain language reports: Thirteen reports that summarize findings from Active Layer Measurements (permafrost) in each community that has an Active Layer site. 







Other plain language reports: There is a plain language report for the communities by Nicole J. Wilson, based on her dissertation research which included an evaluation of YRITWC’s Indigenous Observation Network. The reference is: Wilson, N. (2017) Indigenous Observation Network: Evaluating Community-Based Water Quality Monitoring in the Yukon River Basin. University of British Columbia, Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, Vancouver, BC.



The water-quality data available here have been collected as part of a collaborative monitoring project between the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council (YRITWC), and Yukon River Basin communities known as the Indigenous Observation Network. Since 2006, the USGS National Research Program (NRP) and YRITWC have been partnering to collect water-quality samples from the Yukon River and tributaries with the assistance of trained community members living in the Yukon River Basin. 

The YRITWC provides support for this project through sample collection, sample processing and shipment logistics with communities and the USGS. The USGS provides water analysis and data interpretation support. Through this partnership over 300 community members have been trained in water sample collection, which has resulted in over 1,500 samples collected at more than 50 sites covering the entire 2,300 mile reach of the Yukon River since the program began. The program has allowed the USGS to create and maintain a baseline record (long-term at some sites) of water-quality in the river basin, critical for understanding climate change impacts. 


Through these efforts, the YRITWC has successfully worked with partners to create scientifically defensible data collected by community members trained on USGS approved sampling methodology and quality standards. The ION has contributed to a better understanding about water quality changes occurring on the Yukon River over the past 12 years.

The program has prepared a user-friendly interface called FieldScope. This online platform allows community members to enter physical water quality, environmental observation and photographic data, conduct data analysis, and create data products (maps and graphs) based on selected sampling locations (community-based) or watershed (large-scale). The interface was sponsored by the National Geographic.

FieldScope offers the opportunity to share water quality data between an indigenous transboundary network and provides the capacity to environmental samplers to learn and understand water quality  conditions in their region. In addition, it provides a platform for communities and scientists to share large datasets and work together to effectively address community concerns, incorporating both IK and science.


Active Layer Network data: The active layer data available here have been collected as part of a collaborative monitoring project between the United States Geological Survey, Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council, and Yukon River Basin communities known as the Active Layer Network (ALN). The active layer is the layer of soil above the permanently frozen ground (permafrost) that thaws during the summer months and freezes again in the autumn. By measuring the depth of the active layer in the late summer at the time of maximum thaw, we are able to better understand the effects of a warming climate on permafrost. ALN monitoring sites were installed across the Yukon River Basin, in Alaska and Canada, in 2009 and 2010. Each monitoring site consists of a 45 meter by 45 meter grid and sensors. Active layer depth measurements are taken every 5 meters across the grid resulting in 100 measurements made each year. Sensors installed at each location include soil moisture, soil temperature, and air temperature sensors. Sensor data is collected throughout the year and downloaded annually. Active layer depth measurements and sensor data are presented here. Use the button above to link to homepage with active-layer measurements from the YRITWC and USGS partnership ION. 


Active Layer Network data could contribute to community resilience and adaptation planning. It can do so by improving our understanding of landscape changes caused by permafrost degradation and their impacts on essential community infrastructures across the Arctic and Sub-Arctic region.



Wilson, N.J., Mutter, E., Inkster, J., Satterfield, T. 2018. Community-Based Monitoring as the practice of Indigenous governance: A case study of Indigenous-led water quality monitoring in the Yukon River Basin. Journal of Environmental Management. 210:290-298. 


Toohey, R. C., N. M. Herman-Mercer, P. F. Schuster, E. A. Mutter, and J. C. Koch 2016. Multidecadal increases in the Yukon River Basin of chemical fluxes as indicators of changing flowpaths, groundwater, and permafrost, Geophys. Res. Lett., 43, doi:10.1002/ 2016GL070817.


Herman-Mercer, N.M., 2016. Water-Quality Data from the Yukon River Basin in Alaska and Canada: U.S. Geological Survey data release,


Herman-Mercer, N. 2013. Community-Based Water-Quality Monitoring in the Yukon River Basin and Kuskokwim Watershed.  Witness the Arctic vol. 17 no. 2 arctic/2013/2.


Schuster, P.F. and Maracle, K.B. 2010. Studies of Climate change in the Yukon River Basin: Connecting community and science through a unique partnership.



Strategic Needs of Water on the Yukon (SNOWY). An Interdisciplinary Approach to Studying Hydrology and Climate Change in the Lower Yukon River Basin. Funded by the National Science Foundation, Strategic Needs of Water on the Yukon (SNOWY) is an interdisciplinary community-based research project that attempts to understand and map historical and current environmental conditions within the Lower Yukon River Basin and Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska. The SNOWY team is made up of a diverse group of researchers from different backgrounds and organizations. This partnership between scientists trained in different disciplines (hydrology, geography, and social science), government agencies, nonprofit organizations, universities, Lower Yukon River Basin and Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta communities provided an opportunity to study the effects of climate change using a holistic approach. The Arctic and Sub-Arctic are experiencing environmental change at a rate faster than the rest of the world, and the lack of historical baseline data in these remote locations makes understanding and predicting regional climate change difficult. In an effort to fill in these data gaps, the SNOWY project applied both quantitative and qualitative methods, using snow distribution and water chemistry data in conjunction with narrative from the people. These data help tell the story of environmental change in this region as told by the physical data and those that rely on this landscape. The information represented by this atlas was shared with us by the community members of the villages of St. Mary's, Pilot Station, Chevak, and Kotlik Alaska and is shared with you with their permission. The SNOWY project combined qualitative social science methods with quantitative physical science methods in order to produce a holistic understanding of environmental changes observed in Sub-Arctic regions. 


OTHER SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATIONS (papers that discuss or use data from ION):   

Herman-Mercer, N. M., E. Matkin, M. J. Laituri, R. C. Toohey, M. Massey, K. Elder, P. F. Schuster, and E. A. Mutter. 2016. Changing times, changing stories: generational differences in climate change perspectives from four remote indigenous communities in Sub-Arctic Alaska. Ecology and Society 21(3):28.


Herman-Mercer, N.M. and Schuster, P.F., 2014. Strategic Needs of Water on the Yukon: an interdisciplinary approach to studying hydrology and climate change in the Lower Yukon River Basin. U.S. Geological Survey, Fact Sheet 2014-3060, 4p.


Herman-Mercer, N.M., Toohey, R., Laituri, M., Matkin, E., Schuster, P.F., Massey, M., Mutter, E. A., and Elder K., 2016. Seasonal Vulnerability of Subsistence Harvesting in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta: A Case Study of Two Rural Indigenous Alaskan Communities.  Human Ecology, in review. 



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