Arctic Science (Mar 2020)
Oceanographic, ecological, and socio-economic impacts of an unusual summer storm in the Mackenzie Estuary
With increased warming and open water due to climate change, the frequency and intensity of storm surges is expected to increase. Although studies have shown that strong storms can negatively impact Arctic ecosystems, the impact of storms on Arctic marine mammals is relatively unknown. In July 2016, an unusually large storm occurred in the Mackenzie Delta while instrumented seabed moorings equipped with hydrophones and oceanographic sensors were in place to study environmental drivers of beluga habitat use during their summer aggregation. The storm lasted up to 88 h, with maximum wind speeds reaching 60 km/h; historical wind data from Tuktoyaktuk revealed a storm of similar duration has not occurred in July in at least the past 28 years. This provided a unique opportunity to study the impacts of large storms on oceanographic conditions, beluga habitat use, and the traditional subsistence hunt that occurs annually in the delta. The storm resulted in increased water levels and localized flooding as well as a significant drop in water temperature (∼10 °C) and caused belugas to leave the area for 5 days. Although belugas returned after the storm ended, the subsistence hunt was halted resulting in the lowest beluga harvest between 1978 and 2017.