Alaska is, in some ways, ground zero for climate change. This is how Daniel Grossman, an award-winning climate change journalist, has described Alaska in his previous interviews. And it makes sense when you really think about it.
Climate change’s far-reaching impacts will be felt everywhere, but Alaska is always the first to experience these effects because of their miles of coastline that extend far into the north. “The Arctic is warming a couple of times faster than the rest of the globe, so Alaska has more to be more concerned about than the rest of us,” Grossman said.
As global warming worsens, we’re continuing to see an increase in extreme weather conditions across the globe such as tornadoes, heat waves, and heavy rain, which can have harrowing consequences like droughts, wildfires, and flooding. Below are three examples of the effects of global warming in Alaska that the region is feeling the hardest, and what they are doing to combat it.
Certain villages will have to relocate
For decades, over a hundred Alaska Native villages have experienced the effects of flooding and erosion. However, one village specifically continues to make it to the top of the government warning list. Considered in imminent danger from the worsening impact of climate change, Newtok will be one of the first to move. In fact, villagers are already counting their last days and preparing to relocate when the moment arises — and it will come quickly.
Relocation plans have been in place for some time, but they’re finally becoming more urgent. While there is nothing they can do to save their village from the rising shoreline, they are building a “template” for other communities that will one day face this same crisis. One project that they’re currently working on, for example, is building new self-sufficient and energy-efficient homes that sit atop movable skids.
Shrinking sea ice
As the sea ice thins, locals worry not only of how this will affect them, but what the impacts on Alaska’s wildlife will be. So far, it seems that Alaskan natives are adjusting to what life amidst melting ice looks like for now, and animals, like seals, are doing the same. But this lifestyle is not sustainable, so action needs to be taken now.
In an effort to thwart shrinking sea ice, which is so important to Alaska’s ecosystem, certain measures have been taken to lessen the impact. One example of this is happening to the North Meadow Lake near Utqiaġvik, where they are sprinkling tiny spheres of reflective sand to see if it will either slow down or, ideally, prevent melting. If this works, there are potential plans of covering 19,000 square miles of sea ice with this sand.
Worsening air quality
Global warming causes spikes in unpredictable weather. As a result, Alaska is experiencing more frequent wildfires, little to no precipitation, higher winds, and lower humidity levels. Not only does this have an impact on the physical environment, but, as you can imagine, more severe wildfires can cause increased respiratory illnesses in the locals who are breathing in higher amounts of smoke.
The Alaska Interagency Wildland Fire Management Plan (AIWFMP) is doing what they can to protect both humans and the land. In doing so, they are anticipating and preparing for these wildfires and have developed several wildfire management options to ensure that all of their valuable resources are being used effectively and efficiently.
This is just a small list of the impacts of global warming on Alaska, but it’s clear that the community is doing whatever they can to protect themselves in these dire circumstances, as well as doing whatever is necessary to preserve the land that sustains them.