Alaska Climate Change

Climate Chaos 2019

In perhaps Alaska's most unpredictable weather year yet, in 2019 Alaska experienced:

Wildfire activity way beyond normal

Record-breaking smoke levels in Anchorage. 

Record-shattering 90-degree temperature in Anchorage. 

 Record-shattering heat in Anchorage, for every number of days from 1 to over 150 in a row.  

Anchorage's worst drought on record.

Further spruce bark beetle outbreak.

Flooding on the Kenai River (during a drought and wildfire!) from a lake bursting past Snow Glacier.

Fires and flooding around Fairbanks.

Fires blocking access to Denali Park.

Mudslides trapping hundreds of visitors in Denali Park overnight, due to melting and flooded permafrost.

Salmon dying in too-hot streams before having a chance to spawn.

Alaskan seas 9 degrees F warmer than normal.

No sea ice in Alaskan waters in late July / early August.  

Virtually no pack ice in the Bering Sea for two straight winters.

Complete loss of the Bering Sea "cold pool" habitat in 2018 and 2019, crucial for Arctic cod and king crab

Other, longer-term changes in Alaska:

Ongoing Climate Changes in Alaska

1) Alaska is America's fastest-warming state.

2)  Alaska sets far more records for heat than it is for cold.

3) Many areas have permafrost at 31.5 degrees or warmer. A fraction of a degree warmer turns stable ground into goop that can't support roads and buildings. Most of the North Slope is expected to have thawing permafrost by the year 2100, if we don't cut our greenhouse gas emissions (Romanovsky, UAF).

4) Much of Alaska gets much its winter precipitation when it's 26 to 32 degrees. Recently we see more freezing rain, which is very different from snow.

5) The high temperature in the two or three days after a snowfall is typically above freezing in Anchorage nowadays, meaning skiing and driving conditions are worse.

6) Alaska's internationally-known event, the Iditarod, now routinely brings in snow for the ceremonial start and/or moves its official start location.

7) Disappearing sea ice fosters coastal erosion during the autumn storms, which is literally washing away towns.

8) Disappearing sea ice threatens the food supply for Native Alaskans. They depend on ice for safe travel in the winter and proximity to hunting animals that haul out onto the sea ice.

9) Rivers are, for much of Alaska, winter roads. People are dying on those roads because the warmer temperatures have left holes in the ice.

10) Wildfire acreage has doubled over the past generation, using a 10-year running average to smooth out anomalous years.

11) Spruce bark beetles have twice as many generations now, and more of them survive the milder winters, and spruce trees are drier and more vulnerable to attack because the winter snowpack has to stretch across a longer summertime.

12) Tuna, thresher sharks, and ocean sunfish in Alaskan waters.

13) Mass die-offs of seabirds, sea lions, and whales show a changing ecosystem.

14) The extremely warm ocean "blob" was caused by California's "ridiculously resilient ridge," which itself was, according to scientists, made more likely by a strong "teleconnection" with dwindling Arctic sea ice extent.

  15) Alaska weather is very sensitive to the location of the jet stream, which is wandering farther now, due to slower circumpolar winds because of decreased thermal gradient from Arctic areas to temperate zones, allowing more frequent and loopier Rossby waves, the undulations in the jet stream.

16) Ticks, carriers of diseases, are moving into Alaska now for the first time, since it's no longer too cold to kill them off during the winter.

  17) Glaciers are thinning, shortening, and disappearing. Portage, Columbia, Muir – 75 cubic kilometers disappears each year, often leaving unmapped shoals underwater for tour boats to discover by trial and error.

18) Climate refugees. As Native villages are eroded away, the people who have lost everything now need to leave the only home they've ever known and start somewhere else. Oftentimes, that means they have little training to live in an urban environment.

  19) Although 80-degree days are getting more and more common, most Alaskans do not have air conditioning, leaving people vulnerable when the low-angle sun beats in through the windows.

20) As an oil state on the front lines of climate change, we are frequent recipients of the fossil fuel disinformation campaign, which argues it's not happening, or it's happening but not fossil fuel's fault, or at the very least, we mustn’t address it because we’re an oil state.