Impacts of global warming in Alaska

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More than anywhere else in the United States, Alaska has experienced widespread, adverse impacts from global warming, which are well documented and representative of some of the substantial costs associated with human-caused climate change.

While the earth has warmed approximately 1°F in the last 50 years, according to the National Assessment Synthesis Team, Alaska has warmed approximately 4°F during this same time period. In many ways, Alaska is the “Paul Revere of Global Warming”, and serves as a sentinel for the impacts of global warming. In the Last Frontier these impacts are pervasive and include damage to Alaska’s aquatic systems and wetlands, vegetation, ice, glaciers, permafrost, animals, infrastructure, health, economy, quality of life, and indigenous cultures.

Water bodies throughout almost all of Alaska are shrinking. In an exhaustive study of closed ponds, scientists have documented a significant loss in the number of ponds in key ecological areas in the last half of the 20th century, including: Copper River Basin (54% loss in number of ponds); Minto Flats (36% loss); Innoko Flats (30% loss).

Similarly, wetlands in studied areas in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge have decreased by 88% from 1950 to 1996. According to evidence from peat core samples, woody plants are now in areas in the Kenai where there were no trees or shrubs during the last 8,000 to 12,000 years. These and other scientific studies confirm reports of disappearing and shrinking ponds from Alaska Native elders, with many ramifications including adverse impacts on migratory birds.

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