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How Global Warming Will Change Alaska

We've written about how global warming will change the states of California and Washington. Alaska is warming up more quickly than anyplace else on Earth, meaning big changes are in store for the people?and animals?living there.

John Whitfield writes that in Prince William Sound, boats now have to navigate around calved icebergs from the Columbia Glacier. If the temperature warms up any more in Fairbanks, a city built on permafrost, the streets will turn to slush.

In Barrow, the northernmost town in the United States, the sea ice has retreated so much that the land is exposed to the sea for longer periods of time, which has caused erosion. So much land has been lost that there are plans to dismantle and move two entire villages at a cost of more than $100 million, which is over $100,000 per resident. However, other parts of Barrow are actually gaining new land, and future building will concentrate in those areas.

The forests of Alaska are turning brown, due to the spruce bark beetle, which over the past 15 years has killed more trees there than any other insect in North America's history. The beetle population increased due to warming temperatures. Ecologist Ed Berg says, "We had a really long run of warm summers." That's affected the mosquito population as well, which is spreading further north.

The shrinking of the sea ice is affecting seals and polar bears, and the Inuit who depend on them for food. Helicopter rescue plans have been put into place for hunters stranded on melting ice.

The weather is much more variable in areas like Alaska, which are close to the poles. The weather is affected by albedo, which is the Sun's reflection off ice and snow. Less snow and ice leads to a cycle of less albedo and faster global warming. "Small differences in the value of ice albedo can produce large differences in [computer] model outputs," says climate researcher Filippo Giorgi.

Also, global warming in any part of the world produces effect which are intensified at the poles, due to winds and the curvature of the Earth. Atmospheric scientist Judy Curry says, "The Arctic could be a dumping ground for errors elsewhere."

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