NOSB paper

This paper was written as part of the 2005 Alaska Ocean Sciences Bowl high school competition. The conclusions in this report are solely those of the student authors.

The Greening of Alaska...Or Not?!


Grace Malone
Kelsey Logan
Mallorie Kee
Katie Humphrey
Victoria Sheffrey


Team Flying Squidettes
South Anchorage High School
13400 Elmore
Anchorage, AK 99516

South Anchorage Squidettes team photo

Table of Contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction
  3. Hazards and Feedback
  4. Physical Setting
  5. Socio-economic Factors
  6. a. Permafrost and Glaciers
    b. Forests and Tundra
    c. Marine
    d. Subsistence
  7. Atmosphere, Ocean, and Land Interactions
  8. a. Research and Solutions
    b. Initiatives and Changes
  9. Figures
  10. References


The largest city in Alaska, Anchorage, is an interesting place because it relies on the rest of the state for finances. Global warming threatens this economic security in many ways. The major problems affecting Anchorage are economy of the rest of the state. Some physical attributes that Anchorage has are unique, such as the mudflats. Some of the socioeconomic factors that must be taken into consideration are oil, tourism and fishing. The thawing of permafrost is causing a large problem. The roads that were built on permafrost are going to need a lot of repair. It also threatens the stability of the Trans Alaska pipeline. Both the forest and tundra are adversely affected by global warming. Marine ecosystems are one of the most affected ecosystems on the planet. Many people depend on subsistence to survive; without adapting to the movement of their game, they will not prosper. Global warming is caused by excess carbon dioxide that is not absorbed by land and ocean. The main areas that need to be funded are things like hybrid cars and other environmental friendly products.

There are many policies and actions that need to be changed at local state and national levels, such as signing the Kyoto Protocol. People can help diminish global warming if they would just be more conscious about the fuel and energy they use, and help 'guide' our government into financing research and "scientifically sound" policies.


Anchorage's economy is dependent on the welfare of the entire state. Over 80% of the state's income comes from the oil industry and services to support this industry. Many of these jobs are spread throughout the state, so our concern is located throughout the state. Global warming is easily noticed within Alaska, and change is occurring rapidly all around us. As the snow, permafrost and glaciers melt, the problems spread on ground that was once frozen. The land may be getting greener, but the influences of global warming are NOT 'growing' the economy in Anchorage, Alaska.

Hazards and Feedback Loops

Of the many problems global warming has created, some are more critical than others. The melting of ice caps, thawing tundra and permafrost, are problems that will cause havoc in the future ( So many problems happen with just these three things melting. There are also many feedback loops created by global warming.

The melting of the polar ice cap is detrimental to subsistence fishermen if the migratory patterns of main fish populations move. The melted polar ice cap would also affect the sea level, if it rises only one meter, the effect will be disastrous to many native Alaskan villages who have their towns right at present sea level. State aid money will be needed to help bail out the town to move it or build sea walls to protect them.

It will also change the temperature and salinity of the ocean, in turn, affecting the numerous species that live there. It will have a domino affect that will change each trophic level for marine species. Many of the smaller oceanic organisms such as zooplankton may be affected by the availability of nutrients in the water. The melting of the polar ice cap will cause fluctuations in the deeper oceanic currents.

There are also many feedback loops in global warming that can either amplify or dampen that will affect global warming as a whole. If the soil warms so that it is drier from global warming, there will be an increased frequency of forest fires. These forest fires will create smoke that will add to the CO2 levels, causing more global warming. Another type of feedback is that as the oceanic temperature increases, again, from global warming, the oceans will start to release more CO2 into the atmosphere. Both of these ideas are called a positive feedback (

As the global temperature increases, the sea ice is diminishing. This lack of shore-based ice causes coastal erosion and vulnerability to storm surges in Alaska ( Over all having the sea ice melt is a major problem that will affect all Alaskans in some way.

Physical Setting

Anchorage is Alaska's largest city situated in a wide glacial valley surrounded by Turnagain Arm and the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet. The area is marshy with the terrain rising slowly to the east. The Chugach range borders the city, continuing east for many miles. These mountains shelter Anchorage and form a barrier for the moist air coming in from the Gulf of Alaska, making Anchorage's precipitation up to 15% less than at areas on the other side of the mountains. Just as they stop precipitation, the mountains will block freezing air from the north in the winter. The coldest winter temperatures range from 15 degrees F to –30 degrees F in Anchorage compared to the –60 degree F weather in Fairbanks (

Another reason the winter temperatures are warmer than those in interior cities is the water lying next to Anchorage. The ocean acts as a big heat sink. In the fall months, the average water temperature of the Cook Inlet is 52.07 degrees F, warmer than the average air temperature of 27.9 degrees F. (Papineau, 2003) The water heats the air, keeping it relatively warm.

The Anchorage coasts are mud flats. Almost totally barren of life, these broad expanses of silt and mud contain only decaying matter and a few marine worms. Bacteria are the main organisms here, decomposing the debris that settles on the shore. Clams, an important source of income for many fishermen, also make the mudflats their home further south on the Kenai Peninsula. In the Anchorage area, they are absent.

Many shorebirds come to the flats to feed, including gulls and plovers. In the spring and fall, some migratory birds stop on the mudflats to feed before moving on ( Due to the high silt content in Cook Inlet, the water is very murky. This makes it so that phytoplankton cannot photosynthesize. Without that basis of the food chain, there is virtually nothing to eat in the Anchorage waters. Because of this, most of the marine life is transient. Smelt, or "hooligan," pass through Inlet waters to freshwater streams to spawn. Pods of beluga whales can sometimes be seen in the waters of the Turnagain Arm. Copious amounts of salmon are caught in the Cook Inlet watershed after passing up through the Turnagain and Knik Arms. These salmon are incredibly important to both subsistence and commercial fisherman, and especially Alaska Natives whose subsistence lifestyle depends on the health of the watershed (

Socioeconomic Factors

The loss of permafrost has already begun to be noticed. This thawing has already started to impact ecological and socioeconomic ways. The thawing of permafrost is starting to cost maintenance fee for repairing roads built on this now unstable ground. The same could be said of houses, airfields, pipelines and other infrastructure built on the no longer existing permafrost. Slope instabilities will also increase along with forests and grasslands converting to bogs ( As stated above the oil pipelines that run across our state are being affected by the loss of permafrost. Also the ability to find new oil fields within their season, when the ground can withstand the heavy machinery, has gone from over two hundred days in 1970, to less than one-hundred and three in 2002 (

According to a study done by Defenders of Wildlife and NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council), "Habitats for some species [of coldwater fish] could shrink as much as 17 percent by 2030". The study included brook, cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout and pink, chinook, chum, and coho salmon. Because these fish are so sensitive to temperature changes, the slightest shift can be catastrophic. By 2030, scientists estimate that the water temperature will warm by an average of 0.7 to 1.4 degrees F in 2000 sites across the U.S. Though this may seem small, it could be enough to wipe out whole spawning grounds, depending on their location. The same study states, "An estimated nine million U.S. recreational anglers spend nearly 100 million days fishing each year creating an economic ripple worth billions of dollars." If the populations of these fish were to decline, the economic impact could be incredible. The billions of dollars spent on trips, guides and fishing equipment would be lost (

With the temperatures rising, the seasons will change in length. There will be a much longer growing season for farmers because the favorable conditions last longer. This would make a larger profit form the farming industry, but not nearly enough to make up for the other losses.

Shishmaref is a native village with only 600 people. It is located on the Bering Sea. Because of the warming climate, the sea ice isn't forming as soon as it should, so the coast is eroding much more quickly than it should be. The permafrost that their village is built on is not refreezing. Because of this, they can't continue living there as some of their houses are falling into the sea, and many more are crumbling. The cost for the army to relocate the village is $100 million. ( This is a major strain on the Alaskan economy, and there will be more villages like it (Hufford and Partain, 2004).

Permafrost and Glaciers

One of the biggest problems facing Alaska is the melting of permafrost and glaciers. Under approximately 80% of the ground in Alaska is permafrost (Figure 4), even in the major cities ( Any slight change in temperature or amount of sunlight could melt permafrost, causing vegetation and grazing animals to suffer by creating bogs and soggy grazing lands ( When the permafrost melts, the ground surface begins to sink. In town this can cause damages to roads and airport runways. Twenty five percent of all the paved roads in Alaska are built directly on permafrost (

There are, however, ways to deal with this. The site where the road will be built can be protected with layers of gravel between the road bed and the ground. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline is built entirely on permafrost. If the ground were to sink, the pipe would sink with it, which would at the very least disrupt the oil flow. This would also cause environmental damage and be a great blow to Alaska's economy (

There are instances where even whole towns have sunk. The small native village of Kipnuk is sinking due to the melting of permafrost and polar ice sheets. (Nybakken, 2003) The hospital in Kotzebue had to be relocated because it had already started sinking into the ground ( Thawing permafrost also releases carbon dioxide and methane into the air. Where the tundra used to absorb carbon dioxide and methane, it is now releasing it into the atmosphere ( Native hunters know that the sea ice is melting because the ice no longer supports their weight ( They used to be able to stand on it to hunt seal. The ice is also changing in color (Figure 1, 2).

With the glaciers receding so much and the sea ice melting, much more water is being put into oceans and other places. Five percent of the state (about 29,000 square miles) is covered by glaciers ( As the glaciers recede, the land under them rises after the enormous weight of the glacier is lifted (

Sea levels will rise, in some areas the water will flood cities and all over storms are more likely to occur. Sea levels could rise up to 18 cm in 40 years ( Some areas are protected from erosion and flooding by permafrost along the shoreline. Once this permafrost has melted, there will be no defense. Many of Alaska's water reservoirs are filled by runoff that comes when the snow and glaciers melt in the spring and summer. Increased evaporation causes there to be 30% less runoff, which in turn causes water shortages (

With the sea ice and permafrost melting, the seawater is rising at an alarming rate (Figure 3). With the increase in heat, some of the freshwater on land will evaporate and cannot be used anymore. This water will then be stored in clouds, and when it rains it will rain much more than it previously did. This increase in rain will cause much more severe floods and droughts. In the last 50 years, water use has quadrupled ( Many beachfront towns are in danger of being flooded and erosion is occurring faster than is normal. Water distribution systems are strained in some areas because of so much growth (

Forests and Tundra

There are many signs that global warming is starting to affect the forests and tundra with both positive and negative results. It seems that with global warming the forests of Alaska are starting to advance up through other landscapes, such as mountains and tundra. Alaska's changing climate has begun to affect the growth and conditions of forests, and the loss of the tundra biome. These are sure signs that global warming exists (

Through the forests, which cover one-third of Alaska, scientists are seeing signs that global warming heavily affects these natural biomes. Since forests contribute to the economy though commercial and subsistence harvesting, Alaskan scientists are able to get a more elevated view on how global warming is affecting are trees. Some positive changes influenced through global warming include: the trees' faster growth and advancing tree ranges. Evidence for this is in the tree ring studies and species range maps (

With the warming climate trees are growing faster than ever. This was great for the loggers and pulp industries as the timber harvest increased from six hundred and eighteen to the one thousand, one hundred million board feet in Alaska just between 1986 and 1990 ( Forest ecosystems indirectly affect are economy in other ways. With larger growths in trees, soils are renewed and given more fertility, and they cycle the movements of nutrients.

Though the advancing tree ranges help our logging industry greatly these boreal forests also affect many of the organisms that drew within these ranges. Alaska trees have a beneficial affect to purifying the streams young salmon fry grow in, tying in anadromous fish that depend on these trees. Forest ecosystems also contribute to sport fishing opportunities. If the trees are advancing further into Alaska, forest dwelling animals, such as caribou, goats, and moose, will gain a larger winter range and more food in the process. This may prevent Alaskan moose and other animals from wandering into urban areas where they can injure themselves and the human populace of the city.

While there tend to be positive changes pertaining to global warming there are also many downsides. As our climate heats up, there are more droughts and windstorms, larger spruce bark beetle infestations, and a loss of flora that need the winter. temperatures. Many of these negative attributes will continue to increase as global warming continues (

The tundra biome really doesn't seem to be gaining anything by global warming. In fact, we as the state of Alaska are losing so much money due to the melting of permafrost under the tundra. The Energy Department is providing a $270,000 grant to find out if drilling equipment can be used on tundra when it isn't covered by snow. This tundra is important since pipeline runs through this area. Any buildings built in the tundra will start to sink in the ground as the tundra melts (

Arctic plants living in the tundra are becoming confused with the warmer temperature, by "thinking" (responding) the seasons have returned to spring. This tends to be bad since most arctic plants in Alaska only shoot out seeds once a year. The earlier these plants send their seeds out the bigger the chance these seeds will be killed by frost ( Alaska is starting to lose much of its native flora due to southern plants making their way farther up north along with the temperatures. The tundra biome will have a hard time adapting to the new world. The loss of species diversity will be a loss to the world, and is something money cannot repair.


Fisheries in the Bering Sea region are among the most productive in our world and they are the largest in our nation. The fishing industries would be one of the first to know if global warming and our changing climate affect marine ecosystems. Global warming has a major affect among these marine ecosystems, which in turn affect commercial, subsistence fisheries, and the ecosystems themselves. Sport fishers will also be affected, but not as bad as the first three. Many people need marine ecosystems to survive off of, if not for food than money and jobs.

In some ways commercial fisheries will gain benefits from what global warming has to offer. First off, Pacific halibut and Pacific salmon stocks have increased. Some salmon stocks have decreased. ( Sharks are appearing in explosive numbers never seen before in the Gulf of Alaska ( Many other types of fish have also increased their numbers due to warmer waters and food (

Since the ice cap is melting, it is believed that commercial fisheries will have a better chance at catching more fish without the need of fisheries population growth. Other marine species are rapidly declining such as the king crab; over fishing and too many environmental changes to this creature are adding up to its plummeting population. Forage fish, whose stocks are declining (herring and capelin), are starting to cause huge distortions in marine ecosystems.

Small fatty fish may not seem like they are a big deal, but they are low on the food chain and feed multitudes of species. Many types of seabirds that would normally feed on these fatty fish have had to substitute their diets with other fish that don't provide nutrients these birds need. In some species there has been a fifty to ninety percent decrease in populations since the 1970's. (


Global warming will have a major effect on subsistence in Alaska. For the main part it will affect natives living in rural villages, but it also affects people living in urban areas like Anchorage. There are around 117,000 rural residents, who collect close to 43 million pounds of food each year. In most of these communities, fish make up 60% of the annual diet (

Hunting is more difficult now than ever before. Open water instead of ice, soggy ground instead of frozen land both interfere with easy travel. It is also dangerous and less productive. Populations of herding animals, such as caribou and moose, are diminishing because forests are invading on the tundra. When the tundra vegetation changes, it has profound effects on grazing animals. The zones will shift northward, causing the animals to go with them, so the native people will have to either follow them or find something else to eat ( Animals such as walruses and whales are being affected as well. The walruses are becoming thinner and their blubber is less nutritious ( This is because the sea ice is farther out in the deeper water. Therefore they have to dive deeper to find less food, which causes them to be weak. Some killer whales have even begun eating sea otters because their normal food, fish and seals, have greatly reduced population numbers. If whales begin eating sea otters, not as many sea otters will be eating sea urchins, causing a boom in the sea urchin population, which would mean less kelp and fewer fish ( Native Alaskans depend on these fish and other animals to survive. Salmon are very susceptible to change. They are adapted to very specific thermal regimes in all environments ( New animals are showing up in places they have never been before. Ice that hunters used to be able to stand on is now not stable enough. The temperature in Alaska could increase by 5 degrees in the upcoming years ( This could significantly affect the economy, resources, wildlife, water, and human health. Most of the fish and main seafood in America come from Alaska ( Alaska fisheries have constantly been declining over the past 30 years, with the exception of pollock and salmon in most areas ( If the permafrost continues to thaw, the amount of silt in rivers could make it harder for some fish to survive. Many populations of different types of salmon could be affected by the warming of lakes. All these changes can be noticed during one lifetime, and are certainly not getting any better.

Atmosphere, Ocean, and Land Interactions

Here in Alaska, scientists expect that higher average global temperatures will create a chain reaction in weather patterns. Northern regions are expected to heat up most quickly, melting glaciers and leaving fewer icebergs floating in the northern oceans, raising sea levels around the world. With more water in the oceans, there will also be more water vapor rising, creating a higher level of humidity in the atmosphere. What scientists cannot determine at this time is what effect this rise in humidity will have. More water vapor would create more clouds, which in turn would reflect some of the sun's rays back into space, cooling global temperatures. On the other hand, water vapor is a greenhouse gas. Its increased presence might produce more insulation in the atmosphere, increasing temperatures even more. An increase in humidity may also bring an increase in rainfall by about 1 percent for every degree Fahrenheit of warming. Storms may be more intense and less predictable as global warming continues (Microsoft Encarta Dictionary).

One trend potentially responsible for the changes occurring due to global warming is the recent strength of the positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation. This is a pattern in which atmospheric pressure varies between positive and negative phases. When it is in the positive phase, its low atmospheric pressure brings wet weather to northern polar parts of the world and high pressure to northern hemisphere land masses, bringing warmer and drier weather. When it is in the negative phase, it is the other way around. Polar regions have higher pressure and middle latitude areas have lower pressure. This involves global warming because there is evidence of a large, spinning ring of air across the polar region. This ring is believed to have caused warmer winters and thinning of the ozone layer in northern areas (

With so many changes going on in the atmosphere the number of pests and insects is also expected to rise dramatically. Pests proven to have been affected by global warming include bark beetles and fish parasites. As the south central Alaskan area continues to warm, bark beetles are able to reproduce faster, going through a one-year life cycle instead of their normal two-year cycle. On the Kenai peninsula, these beetles have eaten almost 4 million acres of trees ( Also, due to warmer water, more Yukon River king salmon are getting a parasite called Ichthyophonus, causing salmon populations to fall (

Reserach and Solutions

Although there has been lots of research done on global warming and the causes thereof, more research could benefit us in many ways. If we know all the causes and effects, it will make the difficult task of stopping or reversing this trend easier.

Also, new technology will be needed to deal with the Trans-Alaskan pipeline as more permafrost melts underneath it. If the Natural Gas Pipeline is strung across the state, research will be needed to ensure it is stable, too.

Since cars are one of the main producers of carbon dioxide, more money and energy should be put into decreasing dependence on fossil fuels. Alternative energy such as wind power, ocean and tidal power needs more research. Hybrid cars' fuel cells could significantly decrease our emissions. We will only be able to reverse the process if we can stop it.

According to Cornell University , there are many ways to reverse the effects of global warming. Large mirrors could be placed on the Earth's surface to reflect the sunlight back into space so that it wouldn't heat up the Earth even more. Iron could be injected into the ocean, and the CO2 would be trapped by it. Dust could also be used to absorb the CO2 if it was injected into the outer atmosphere, according to current research suggestions (

Furthermore, the government should crack down on our major corporations. Instead of allying with them, they should evaluate their air pollution emissions. If factories cut down on the burning of fossil fuels, it could also help to begin to reduce the damage that has been done by blatant disregard for our planet. President Bush has loosened the Clean Air Standards in the name of economic growth. It has harmed the air.

If the government made the environment a priority, it could find the funds needed to for these studies. Although some things would have to be cut (perhaps the war on Iraq ?), we feel that it would be beneficial to the country as a whole. Some environmental groups such as Defenders of Wildlife already participate in global warming effect studies. Many citizens are worried about global warming and funds can be raised by soliciting donations. Public awareness campaigns may be needed to increase donations. If some defense funding could be diverted, then plenty of money would be available.

Initiatives and Changes

The policies that the country has concerning pollution, which affect the rising risk of global warming, are not up to date and not effective. Senators McCain and Lieberman developed emissions permits for greenhouse gases which would require U.S. emissions in 2010 to be no more than 2000 (Kunzig, 2004). This ideal trade is unpractical in some ways because our government is so dependent on petroleum products. "Now the challenge is to update the policy positions to be consistent with the science." (Kunzig, 2004) We feel that the government needs to be more concerned and involved in the practice of having cleaner environment. One way of getting involved would have been signing the Kyoto Protocol. ( Unfortunately, the U.S. and Canada are the last superpower countries that haven't signed it...yet. Other state and local ways could be to encourage emission programs state wide, not just in Anchorage . Give state bonuses to hybrid car users ( Hybrids use half the gas and half the batteries of normal cars ( Carpooling, taking the bus, and using fireplaces less will cut down on the pollutants put into the air. Stop using new paper products and switch to recycled paper, recycled plastic or other non-paper products.

Alaskans can be the leading role models for the rest of the nation for the reduction of global warming causes. We believe that through commercials, press conferences, petitioning, and by our actions, Alaskans could make a huge impression and help educate the country about effects of petroleum combustion exhaust and other causes of the greenhouse effect, and the possible solutions being researched and developed. Hopefully people will realize the affect global warming has on their vicinities before it becomes too late to stop it.

The economy of Anchorage, our area of study, is dependent on the whole state of Alaska. If something affects one part of the state, Anchorage is hit with the repercussions whether good or bad. To keep Anchorage prospering, steps must be taken to keep all of Alaska healthy and in good working order. If the state falters, and the normal, logical and scientific ways of increasing Anchorage's economy become obsolete, there are the "alternative ways" with which we can try to bring in money. For example, since the waters do seem to be getting warmer and species from southern waters are coming north, there is the hope that "flying squid tourism" will boost our economy, and line our pockets with green (


Figure 1.

Fig. 1, Portage Glacier 1914

Figure 2.

Fig. 2, Portage Glacier 2004

Figure 3.

Fig. 3, Projected sea level rise due to global warming

Figure 4.

Fig. 4

Click to view larger image.


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