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Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5102

Prepared in cooperation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Chickaloon Village Traditional Council

Distribution, Persistence, and Hydrologic Characteristics of Salmon Spawning Habitats in Clearwater Side Channels of the Matanuska River, Southcentral Alaska

By Janet H. Curran, Monica L. McTeague, Sean E. Burril, and Christian E. Zimmerman

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (4.5 MB)Abstract

Turbid, glacially influenced rivers are often considered to be poor salmon spawning and rearing habitats and, consequently, little is known about salmon habitats that do occur within rivers of this type. To better understand salmon spawning habitats in the Matanuska River of southcentral Alaska, the distribution and characteristics of clearwater side-channel spawning habitats were determined and compared to spawning habitats in tributaries. More than 100 kilometers of clearwater side channels within the braided mainstem of the Matanuska River were mapped for 2006 from aerial images and ground-based surveys. In reaches selected for historical analysis, side channel locations shifted appreciably between 1949 and 2006, but the relative abundance of clearwater side channels was fairly stable during the same period. Geospatial analysis of side channel distribution shows side channels typically positioned along abandoned bars at the braid plain margin rather than on bars between mainstem channels, and shows a strong correlation of channel abundance with braid plain width. Physical and geomorphic characteristics of the channel and chemical character of the water measured at 19 side channel sites, 6 tributary sites, 4 spring sites, and 5 mainstem channel sites showed conditions suitable for salmon spawning in side channels and tributaries, and a correlation of side channel characteristics with the respective tributary or groundwater source water. Autumn-through-spring monitoring of intergravel water temperatures adjacent to salmon redds (nests) in three side channels and two tributaries indicate adequate accumulated thermal units for incubation and emergence of salmon in side channels and relatively low accumulated thermal units in tributaries.

First posted August 5, 2011

For additional information contact:
Director, Alaska Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
4210 University Dr.
Anchorage, Alaska 99508-4560

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Suggested citation:

Curran, J.H., McTeague, M.L., Burril, S.E., and Zimmerman, C.E., 2011, Distribution, persistence, and hydrologic characteristics of salmon spawning habitats in clearwater side channels of the Matanuska River, southcentral Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5102, 38 p.




Description of Study Area

Methods of Study and Data Collection

Distribution and Persistence of Side Channels and Their Use by Salmon

Hydrologic, Physical, and Water-Quality Characteristics of Side Channels

Summary and Conclusions


References Cited

Appendix A. Description of Matanuska River Clearwater Side Channel Geographic Information System Products

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