Alaska continues to warm at twice global rate

The world is warming, but Alaska is warming faster, according to Jeremy Littell, lead research scientist at the Alaska Climate Science Center.


At Monday night’s Many Voices, Shared Vision meeting held at the Soldotna Public Libary, Littell discussed climate change and how it pertains to the Kenai Peninsula using data from weather stations along the western Kenai Peninsula and into South Central Alaska that dates back, reliably, to 1925.

With these measurements, Littell has found that the Cook Inlet region has warmed at twice the global average since 1970.

“We have enough data to ask ourselves what the change in temperature over that time is,” Littell said. “The rates of change are lower for the planet as a whole than they are for Alaska, but no matter how you slice it, they’re going up.”

The average temperature in Alaska is increasing at about .2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1925, Littel said, with changes at over three times that in the past few decades.

“So, the latter part is warming faster than the earlier part and it is warming faster than the planet as an average, roughly double depending on whose numbers you go by,” Littell said.

Climate projections anticipate future increases in temperatures over the next 100 years, and although the projections are “uncharted territory,” because they rely on predictions versus measurements, Littell said they are “quite good at estimating change in climate” with computer models.

“For 2030 to 2059 … you’re looking at something like a 5 degree Fahrenheit change for a lot of Alaska and more than that, up to 8, on the North Slope,” Littell said.

Past increases in temperature have been evident on the peninsula and the impact will grow as temperatures further increase, Littell said. He pointed to treelines, shrub levels, fire season length, snow pack duration and ocean and stream temperatures as examples.

“If you need any further convincing, it has effects on a number of things that are iconic in this region,” he said. “In particular, fish and their river and habitat. It also affects them in the ocean in terms of ocean productivity and the things that they eat when they’re in that part of their cycle. … Their habitats are all affected by climate change.”

To prepare for these changes, Littell recommends having a plan and preparing for the changes.

“It won’t be the climate that we’re familiar with and that we depend on,” Littell said. “We’ll have to adapt. All the information is there, this is where we’re going. … You plan for it, you have to adapt because it’s here now. But in the long term, the way to change the direction of the compass needle on this is to affect policy on mitigation.”

Even though some effects of climate change may be beneficial to the Kenai, it’s important to not ignore the changes, said John Morton, the supervisory biologist at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

“Agriculture has gotten much better. Why? Because the temperatures are warmer,” Morton said. “But that is just thinking on the short term horizon. To us, to the biologists, we’re talking about the beginning of a sixth extinction where we’re going to lose 40 percent of our species, so that’s a big deal that we need to plan for in the long term.”

During the meeting, Kaitlin Vadla of Clam Gulch said Alaska needs to adapt its economic base away from fossil fuels if its citizens want to help mitigate climate change.

“I have been really feeling at a loss for what to do in Alaska in terms of policy,” she said. “But I think, something we can do as Alaskans is, in our state budget right now… there is a chance to ask for a reduction in emissions. … I’m going to ask that they support an income tax and a changed oil tax credit system. This is one small step where we can say that we know oil and gas is part of Alaska, but how can we transition to a new economy and one way we can do that is have less of our state budget be paid for by oil and gas.”

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