research project

NOSB 2005 Research Project: Effects of climate change upon Alaska's marine ecosystems and the communities they support

2005 student research papers

Temperatures have changed more in Alaska over the past 30 years than they have anywhere else on Earth; winters have warmed by a startling 2–3°C, compared with a global average of 1°C. Although there is still some question whether this warming is due to natural variability or global climate change, the effects on Alaska are significant and accelerating. Some of the observed changes include: earlier breakup of river ice, increased freshwater runoff, thawing permafrost, shrinking glaciers, longer growing season, melting sea ice, and trees and shrubs encroaching on tundra. These changes in turn impact the coastal communities that depend on this changing environment for their livelihood and/or subsistence. Less apparent but no less critical are the changes occurring in marine ecosystems on which coastal economies and people depend.

The Research Project

This project will count as 50 percent of the 2005 Alaska Region NOSB competition. The document will be worth 25 percent and the oral presentation of the project will count as 25 percent toward the 50-percent total.

The Topic

The research project for the 2005 Tsunami Bowl will be to:

  1. Determine the most important problems or hazards facing your coastal community (or a coastal community that your team chooses) as the result of climate change. Teams must consider the interactions among the atmosphere, ice, ocean, and land, and suggest what feedback loops may be responsible for the observed changes in the marine ecosystem most closely linked to their community. Teams should discuss observed changes in their marine ecosystem and likely causes before justifying their choice of the most critical hazard or problem arising from these changes.
  2. Regardless of what is causing the problem, teams should propose policy changes or actions that can be taken now (both locally and internationally) to deal with the specific problem or hazard that the team has identified as most critical. As part of this discussion, teams should consider how and why this problem is significant to the rest of the world.

Regardless of your choice of problem or hazard arising from climate change, here are some suggestions to help your organize your paper and project:

  1. What are the physical setting and unique attributes of your coastal community and the marine ecosystem on which it depends?
  2. What are the key socioeconomic factors that must be considered in viewing changes posed by accelerating climate change?
  3. What are the local observed trends in key issues such as:
    1. What are the influences of thawing of permafrost and melting of glaciers and sea ice?
    2. What are the effects (positive and negative) on forest and tundra ecosystems?
    3. What are the effects on marine ecosystems including commercial, sport, and subsistence fisheries?
    4. What are the effects on subsistence livelihoods (both terrestrial and marine resources)?
  4. What are the interactions between atmosphere, ocean, and land responsible for the observed trends?
  5. What actions can be taken locally, nationally, and internationally to deal with the identified problems and hazards?
    1. What are the priority research areas that need to be addressed and funded? From where should the funding come?
    2. What policy changes (initiatives) need to be made at the local, state, national, or international levels? How do you propose to accelerate the normally very slow policy change process?


This is a contentious topic, so it is very important that you choose your resources wisely. Consult written and electronic publications that have been reviewed or produced by reliable organizations or groups and preferably have been peer-reviewed. Interview elders and your peers in your local community as well as managers at various state and federal agencies dealing with resource management and weather. Independent and international panels of scientists and local experts are often more “balanced” than studies by a specific interest group.

General writing resources

Basic steps in the research process

General writing concerns (planning/writing/revising)

Background resources (PDF):

A large number of background reference materials are available at the password-protected MSL693 site. The required username and password are unchanged from 2004. If you are a member or coach of a new team (or have just forgotten), contact either Susan Sugai ( or Carol Kaynor (

The URL for the resources posted at the MSL693 site is:

Background resources (HTML)

BBC News features & teaching materials on global climate change:

Climate Change: Hileman, B. 2003. Climate Change. Chemistry and Engineering News 81:27-37.

Impacts of a Warming Arctic, from Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Note that the PDF document is available as one file (110 pages) or as sections, highly preferable for downloading.

Near-Realtime Arctic Change Indicator, NOAA Arctic Research Office

Satellite-Observed Changes in the Arctic: Comiso, J.C., and C.L. Parkinson. 2004. Satellite-Observed Changes in the Arctic. Physics Today 57:38-44.

30-yr temperature changes at Alaska weather stations:

U.S. Global Change Research Information Office

Mailing and physical addresses for submitting papers

Mailing address:
Susan Sugai
Center for Global Change
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 757740
Fairbanks, AK 99775-7740

Physical address:
Susan Sugai
Center for Global Change
305 IARC (International Arctic Research Center)
West Ridge
University of Alaska Fairbanks

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