Alaska is Rapidly Thawing, US Experts Warn

May 07, 2014 11:07 AM EDT

Alaska has been subject to increasing evidence of global climate change. According to a recent report from the Unites States Global Change Research Program, Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the US, resulting in shrinking glaciers, thawing permafrost and a disappearing sea ice.

Being so close to the polar region - where the effects of global climate change are most apparent - allows Alaska to serve as the nation's first warning system for increasing changes.

According to the National Climate Assessment report released by the US Global Change Research Program, Alaska's average air temperature has increased by nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.6 Celsius) every year. The region's winters have also warmed by an estimated six degrees.

Based off findings from a comprehensive assessment of a multitude of peer-reviewed scientific literature, a team of more than 300 experts and a 60 member Federal Advisory Committee also detailed predicted temperature changes by 2050. According to the report, if global emission continue to increase, temperatures in the approaching decades are projected to increase by 10 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit in the northernmost parts of Alaska, and 8 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the central regions.

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Interestingly, this means that Alaska's spring has grown longer. Researchers have found evidence that the duration of the "growing season" in interior Alaska has increased by 45 percent over the century, improving agricultural conditions, but also resulting in a greater likelihood of insect overpopulation and extensive wildfire spread in the state's more aired regions.

The report also details how these continuing changes in the seasons affect how Alaska's economy functions, with rapid glacier melt and frost melt changing the temperature and chemical composition of the regions surrounding waters. Shellfish and key plankton species have already been on a decline, with increased acidity levels in the water affecting how they form their exoskeletons. The regular migration of fish has also been interrupted by changing waters, negatively influencing the region's fishing industry.

Lastly, melting permafrost - or frozen ground - has resulted in the sinking of buildings and pipelines that were built on what was once thought to be solid foundations. According to the report, it is projected that the resulting damage will cost the state between $3.6 billion - $6.1 billion in repairs.

The authors of the report conclude that while Alaska must quickly adapt to these changes, these changes also can serve as a reminder to the rest of the nation, especially in the north, to prepare for similar effects of climate change.

The National Climate Assessment report: Alaska was released this April by the US Global Change Research Program.

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