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.

Climate Change Affects on the Marine Food Web in the Area of Juneau, AK


Elizabeth Schoenfeld
Aubrey Reese
Adam Gardner
Matt Mattson
Brandon Wilson


Home Team
Juneau Douglas High School
10014 Crazy Horse Drive
Juneau, AK 99801

Juneau-Douglas Home Team photo

Table of Contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Global Warming
  3. Salmon and Halibut
  4. Phytoplankton
  5. Food Web
  6. Effects on Freshwater Systems
  7. Declining Snow Pack
  8. Hydropower
  9. El Niño
  10. Emissions Effects on the Oceans
  11. The Future
  12. Recommendations
  13. Conclusion
  14. Figures
  15. Sources


Global warming effects Juneau's community in many ways, from the fishing industry to the local food web to the amount of power we receive. The warmer temperatures change the phytoplankton species as well as spawning patterns of salmon and other fish. Warmer temperatures could cause a change in freshwater systems, which will change the ecology of the area, as well as the fishing industry.

Juneau receives a majority of its power from hydropower, which gets its water from nearby lakes. If there is a change in precipitation due to global warming, then the amount of energy this plant produces would be affected.

The Center of Atmospheric Research has found a connection between El Niño and global warming, so this will cause a change in the waters around Juneau. Another problem Juneau is faced with is the rising levels of CO2 in the ocean, that will affect local sea-life.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the United Kingdom Hadley Centre's climate model predict that temperatures and sea level in Alaska will continue to rise. Scientist also predict that greater humidity, caused by global warming, will increase rainfall, on average, by about 1 percent for each Fahrenheit degree of warming, (Hart, 2002).

There are some simple steps that can reduce the amount of gases emitted into the atmosphere and oceans: Driving fuel-efficient cars, recycling, heating homes with electricity, taking public transportation, and conserving resources.

Global Warming


Global Warming is caused by many factors, but recently, it has been attributed to human activity. Global Warming is defined as an increase in the average temperature of the atmosphere, oceans, and landmasses of Earth (Hart, 2002). During the past 4.65 billion years of Earth's history, the planet has heated and cooled many times. But since the Industrial Revolution, global temperatures have increased dramatically, thought to be because of the increase in burning of fossil fuels, (Hart, 2002). These gases from fossil-fuels trap energy from the sun, creating a greenhouse effect.

Global warming was not considered a problem until the beginning of the 1900s. Recently, however, due to human-generated emissions, the greenhouse effect has become a national problem ( The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas, creates a layer in the atmosphere, which traps and reflects heat.

Greenhouse Gases:

The greenhouse effect is caused when atmospheric gases trap energy from the sun. Not all the greenhouse gases are created by humans. There are some natural gases, including water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. But, since the industrial revolution, human-emitted gases have increased drastically, and have sped up global warming. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas for energy is the primary source of emissions (

About 80% of global CO2 emissions, 25% of U.S. methane emissions, and 20% of global nitrous oxide emissions result from the energy used to run automobiles, heat homes and power factories ( The CO2 concentrations have increased from 280 parts per million (ppm) in the pre-industrial times to 368 ppm in 2000. These gases have an atmospheric lifetime of 100 years, (Hillman, 2001).

Since the industrial era, the concentrations of methane gas have more than doubled, going from 700 parts per billion (ppb) to 1,750 ppb (Hillman, 2001). As a result of these increases, the earth's atmosphere has enhanced heat-trapping capabilities, which leads to warmer temperatures.

Global Effects:

For every square mile of Earth's surface, human-made greenhouse gases provide almost 2 watts of heat. These gases have just become a problem in the last century, when global average surface air temperatures have risen, on average, between 0.7-0.88 degrees Celsius (Hillman, 2001). Rising sea levels are also a problem. Since 1900, sea levels have risen 10-20 cm, from thermal expansion and melting glaciers. Global warming isn't just affecting the sea, however it has the potential to alter forests, crops, water supplies and power ( content/ImpactsStateImpacts.html). Fortunately for some, and unfortunately for others, global warming will just affect certain spots on our planet. But regional change will be more substantial than global change.

Alaska Effects:

During the past thirty years, Alaska's temperatures have risen a degree (Fahrenheit, and 0.5°C) a decade (Holst, 1997). These warmer temperatures have affected many regions of Alaska, but especially the Arctic, where the amount of sea ice is decreasing more and more every year. According to Dr. Bruce Wing (pers. comm.), during the past few winters, boats could have made it through the Northwest Passage without any problems.

Local Effects:

Juneau is located in Southeast Alaska and is a port on Gastineau Channel opposite Douglas Island, which was incorporated in 1900. In Juneau, temperatures have increased about 1.9°C since 1970. This increase in temperatures has created many problems in Juneau, including effects on the local food web, especially phytoplankton and how that relates to the salmon fisheries; snow coverage; stream hydrology and hydropower. As a result of all these changes to Juneau's ecology, the economy has and must change too.

Salmon and Halibut

Juneau residents depend on salmon, not only economically but 17% of Alaska Natives rely on salmon for subsistence. There are five species of salmon in Alaska: Chinook (King), Sockeye, Coho, Pink, and Chum. Salmon have played a huge part in native Alaskans lives for 10,000 years and continue to do so even after Europeans colonized Alaska. Salmon fishing has been an important part of Alaska's economy both in the commercial fisheries (fig 1) and to tourism. Unfortunately salmon are extraordinarily sensitive to temperature variations, and global warming as predicted is affecting Alaska first and worst. Alaska is known worldwide for its gigantic Pacific Halibut. There is a thriving commercial fishery for halibut and halibut fishing draws in tourist dollars.

Migration Effects

Pacific Salmon range from Alaska to across the North Pacific, spawning in streams as far south as California in North America and in Asia as far south as Japan. Global warming will likely cause extinction on southern end of each species' range. Changes in the global salmon market due to rising temperature further south will have a large impact in the local economy in Juneau. Many of the rivers south of Alaska are already warm and a number of them would experience complete extinction of salmon with a small rise in temperature. Sara Borok, a biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game said, "Salmon in the Klamath and Trinity Rivers and most of the Northwest would be toast with a five degree Fahrenheit increase." Last July's temperatures are in figure 2 and these temperatures are seen in rivers throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and much of the British Columbia interior. Juvenile salmon cannot withstand temperatures over 75 °F (24°C). Extinction of salmon in rivers further south would create larger demand and greater harvest pressure on local stocks, even though our stocks are capable of surviving slightly higher temperatures. Temperatures in the Taku River near Juneau are cold enough that salmon would not go extinct with a 5 F increase (Figure 3). According to Joe Orsi, a marine biologist at NOAA, 60% of the Chinook salmon caught in the commercial troll fishery in Southeast Alaska originated in rivers south of Alaska. Chinook salmon are the most sought after salmon in the recreational fishery and are a tourist resource. If fisheries collapse in a number of rivers south of Alaska there could be fewer Chinook salmon in Southeast Alaska waters.

Changes in ocean temperature are going to increase some fish populations and decrease others. For example Joe Orsi of NOAA said Pacific Mackerel have been moving north and common off of Vancouver Island. These fish compete with salmon and other native fish to Alaska. According to D.W Welch et al. (2003) the sockeye salmon are shifting towards Russia. This could hurt Southeast Alaska's Commercial Fishing industry drastically. Commercial fisherman, Randy Dobrydnia of Ketchikan, Alaska said, "Most fishermen wouldn't be able to handle as little as a 20% decrease in catch because that's their margin of profit."

Biological Effects

Changes in stream hydrology can affect development of juvenile salmon. Global warming would likely create higher flows in rivers in winter due to lower snowfall and larger amounts of rain. This would create muddier water in the winter while salmon embryos are developing. Researchers at University of Alaska Fairbanks found that chum and pink salmon raised with higher levels of total dissolved solids (silt) were shorter in length and skinnier than those raised in clear water (Stekoll, Wang, Smoker, Failor.2004). Smaller salmon do not survive the first few months of sea life near as well.

Phytoplankton: Introduction

Phytoplankton are one-celled aquatic plants. They grow abundantly throughout the world's oceans and are the building blocks of the marine food chain. Like their land-based relative's phytoplankton require sunlight, water, and nutrients to survive and grow (Earth Observatory). They usually remain in the photic zone, the layer of water near the surface where light is more abundant. Phytoplankton grow through photosynthesis, a process that requires carbon dioxide, sunlight, and nutrients. The upwelling of colder currents greatly increase the supply of nutrients available for photosynthesis. Upwelling occurs when the density of the water in the photic zone and the density at the bottom of the ocean are similar. Storms and currents then can upwell cold nutrient rich water to the surface only when the surface is cool. The densest water is 4 C, the temperature at the bottom of the ocean. Warm water is less dense than cold water and when there is a great difference between the sea surface temperature and deep ocean temperature they stratify into layers.

Phytoplankton are important aspects of global climate. Phytoplankton use 48% of the worlds carbon dioxide and produce dimethyl sulfide (DMS). According to researches from UC Santa Barbra, phytoplankton release DMS when exposed to high levels of ultra violet radiation (Toole and Siegel, 2004). They found that DMS increased cloud formation and speculated that it might reduce global warming.

Affects of Temperature on Phytoplankton

The ocean is a rich source of carbon dioxide, and millions of tons of this gas settle into the ocean every year. However, phytoplankton still require other nutrients, such as iron, to survive. According to Lisa Eisner an oceanographer at the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), when surface waters are warm the ocean stratifies into layers. Colder nutrient rich waters from the bottom of the ocean cannot rise to the surface. The decline of nutrients can cause them to be replaced by new more complex species of phytoplankton after they die. This over time will lengthen and alter the food web (Eisner, pers comm.). Plankton tows with a 243 micrometer net in Auke Bay, near Juneau did not contain detectable levels of phytoplankton in the summer of 2004 (Sturdevant, unpublished data), an unusually warm summer. Sturdevant said that either the phytoplankton had changed to species small enough to fit through a 243 micrometer net or the plankton had disappeared.

Food Web

The adding of new species of algae will have a huge effect on the marine ecosystem, and all sea creatures will be affected by the change. Changes due to global warming are not well understood. It is expected that changes to phytoplankton size will affect all levels up the food chain. Researchers at Auke Bay Lab in Juneau have noted that small copepod species tend to increase in number with warmer sea surface temperatures and larger copepods tend to decrease (Sturdevant unpublished data). Copepods are grazers on phytoplankton and are an important food source for young salmon. Changes in the phytoplankton community lengthen the food web and increase demand for food, making it harder for animals at the top of the food chain to obtain food. This leads to a decrease in Alaskans marine animals.

There could be fewer Salmon, Halibut, and Pollock, which would hurt Southeast Alaska fisheries. It would also hurt populations of Seals, Sea Lions, and Porpoises that in turn would probably affect populations of Orcas. Other marine mammals such as Humpback Whales feed directly on the phytoplankton it is less clear what would happen to the Humpback populations.

Effects on Freshwater Systems

Freshwater systems are an essential part of this planet's biodiversity. Freshwater systems such as streams, rivers, and wetlands provide countless benefits to the earth as a whole. However these systems are in danger of being negatively effected by the increasing climate change, as well as human intervention.

Humans are to blame for the many pollutants that are found inside these systems. Water only flows downhill so it rests at the low points where pollutants collect and come together off the local landscapes. These systems also come under attack by development.

The ecosystems of streams and rivers are easily affected by temperature. The species that inhabit these systems are susceptible to temperature change. An increase in river and stream temperature could kill fish. Due to increases in water temperature, many species would simply not be able to live in the same areas that they do now. They would be forced to migrate or face local extinction. This will have a different effect on more northerly areas, like Alaska. With the raising of temperatures there would be extensive ice elimination, which would make room for cool-water fish to invade. Which would decrease the local population through predation and competition for resources.

The other aspect of increased temperatures is precipitation and runoff in the streams and rivers. The amount of runoff and precipitation influences the species of the system. In places like Alaska, there is an increase in stream flow due to snow melt. One noticeable change due to global warming is that this peak flow may shift to an earlier part of the year which will effect certain species that depend on a later peak flow or would be damaged by the earlier peak flow.

Another problem might result from increased rain in winter, which would reduce the summer stream flow. This might be because excess precipitation can't be stored as snow, which might decrease later runoff in summer. The lower stream and river levels could hamper the progress of spawning fish such as salmon.

These factors will affect the temperatures of streams and rivers in Southeast Alaska. It may drive the cold-water fish to higher latitudes because of the warming water. The increase in temperature might also effect the amount of water in local streams which would in turn either halt or slow down the fish that spawn in these streams.

Declining Snow Pack

Every winter, falling snow forms pack on the mountains, and in the spring, it melts and increases the water flow in streams and rivers. The snow packs are the primary for storing winter precipitation. It helps transfer water from the typically wet winter season to the usually drier summer season. As the weather has steadily been getting warmer in the past 100 years, there has been a shrinking of snow packs. As a result of this decline in snow accumulation, time of peak flow has been pushed back. The snow melts earlier and thus, it flows through the streams earlier than it should. So instead of a June runoff it might become a March runoff. This affects areas with mild winters more than it does with moderate winters because they are less stable.

However, if the streams and rivers are fed by glaciers, they will have higher water levels due to the large supply of melted glacier. This past summer was the highest recorded since 1946. The melting of the Mendenhall Glacier increased the water level in the Mendenhall river. "The Mendenhall River benefited from the glacier melt. In May, the Mendenhall flowed 78% higher than normal. In June, it flowed 40% above normal. In July, it flowed 25% above normal," (Bluemink, 2004).


Eight-five percent of Juneau's electrical power comes from Snettisham Hydroelectic Project, (Dye, 2001). The amount of electrical power this plant produces depends on the amount of water that is in Long Lake and Crater Lake. This plant was bought by the state from the federal government in 1998, and is located about 48 kilometers southeast of Juneau.

The amount of hydropower available to Juneau residents depends on how much water is in the two lakes. If the weather is warmer, and there is a low rainfall, the hydroelectric plant can provide, along with three smaller ones, 323 gigawatt hours of electricity annually. During an average year, the plant supplies about 378 gigawatt hours, (Dye, 2001).

Changes influenced by global warming could change the power supply for Juneau. Based on projections made by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, precipitation in Alaska is estimated to increase about 10% during the springs and summers of the next 50-100 years. This increase in precipitation could boost the power supply of Juneau. On the other hand, this panel also predicts that, by 2100, temperatures in Alaska could increase by 2.7 ° C in the summer and 5.5 ° C in the winter. The warming could lead to less rainfall and thus, less water in the lakes.

El Niño

El Niño is an atmospheric and oceanic phenomenon, where unusually warm ocean conditions cause climatic turbulence. According to The Center of Atmospheric Research, recent global temperature changes have been influenced by the increased sea surface temperatures of El Niño (Trenberth, 2004).

In the past decade, El Niño has been more frequent in Alaska, noticed especially in Juneau. Between the 1950s and 1970s, El Niño usually occurred once every 8-10 years. But in the past ten years, El Niño has become more frequent, occurring every 3-5 years, (Wing, pers. comm.). In January 2003, a NOAA Report stated that, "For 2002, the United States had warmer temperatures and below average precipitation, which led to persistent or worsening drought throughout much of the nation" (Viets, 2003).

Animals do better when El Niño occurs because of the intermediate temperature, (Wing, pers. comm.). During El Niño summers, there is better feeding for salmon due to the warmer waters. However, according to Wing, a sustained change caused by more frequent El Niño wouldn't be good for the ecosystem because the constant change of climate would disrupt the ecosystem.

Emissions Effects on the Oceans

Oceans act as giant sponges for CO2, which is unhealthy for sea-life. If industrial CO2 emissions continue to increase at their current rate, by 2100, the surface waters of the world's oceans are likely to become more acidic. Though the change appears subtle, it could threaten phytoplankton, the key organisms in the food chain. Because without decomposition of phytoplankton, nutrients would not be efficiently recycled.

NOAA conducted tests, and found that the ocean is soaking up about 48% of carbon emitted from human activities, such as burning wood, coal, or gas. Thus, the oceans are currently storing about a third of their long-term potential.

When CO2 mixes with seawater, it forms weak carbonic acid. Over time, erosion has supplied oceans with huge amounts of dissolved calcium from weathered rocks. This provides a natural buffer against acid, creating chemical conditions for which some life flourishes. Over the past few years, evidence has showed that rising CO2 levels could pose major threat to the life forms that thrive in this environment. Increased CO2 levels cause key plankton species to create badly formed or incomplete calcium carbonate shells. In lab experiments, the comparison of shell to the rest of the organism dropped by as much as 52%. With certain forms of calcium carbonate, the shells of tiny plankton start dissolving within 48 hours.

Ironically, the chemistry that threatens the organisms helps the atmosphere. As shells and other calcium-carbonate clothing dissolve, it returns minerals to the seawater that will soak up CO2. Research led by a NOAA oceanographer, Richard Feely, notes that up to 60% of the calcium carbonate formed each year dissolves in the upper 2,000m of the ocean.

The Future

According to a 1998 report on Climate Change in Alaska by the Environmental Protection Agency, "Recent calculations suggest that the global surface temperature could increase an average of 0.8-3.5°C by 2100." The paper suggests that the rate of evaporation will increase, due to the warmer climates. It also projects sea level to rise 15-96 centimeters.

Based on projections made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and results from the United Kingdom Hadley Centre's climate model, by 2100, temperatures in Alaska could increase by 2.7 ° CF, during spring, summer, and autumn, and by 5.5 ° C in the winter. This panel projects that the rise in sea level could lead to flooding of low-land properties, loss of wetlands, erosion of beaches, saltwater contamination of drinking water, and decreased longevity of low-lying roads, causeways and bridges (

Due to the projected increase in precipitation, there could be an increase in water availability in some Interior villages of Alaska. However, affects of global warming could shift seasonal flows that could alter productivity of fish that are adapted to current conditions. Another effect that is more pertinent to Juneau is melting of glaciers. In 1997, glaciologists flew over the Lemon Creek glacier and saw that all recent snow and five or six layers of firn, snow that's survived at least one melt season, had disappeared, (Thompson, 1997). According to Maynard Miller, director of the Foundation for Glacier and Environmental Research and Richard Marston, a professor at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, global warming is causing glaciers to shrink in area and get thinner. "Changes on those two glaciers (Ptarmigan and Lemon Creek Glacier) have been so drastic in the last five years. It's had to believe those changes" (Thompson, 1997).


Government Regulation:

The United States emits 23% of the globe's greenhouse gases, making it the leader in gas emissions, As a result, President Bush directed a Cabinet-level review of United States Climate Change Policy. Along with scientists from groups such as NOAA, and the EPA, the White House released a paper titled, "Current U.S. Actions to Address Climate Change." The United States government is working to reduce carbon emissions in a variety of ways. The government is trying to reduce the use of coal for heat and energy by creating cleaner and more efficient technologies for electricity generation and transmission.

The government is creating partnership programs within industries to reduce emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. For example, the EPA's Voluntary Aluminum Industrial Partnership, which was started in 1995, has achieved a 45% reduction in perfluorocarbon emissions from 1990 levels.

Regulation of Carbon Emissions:

Reduce, reuse, recycle, should be the individual's goal to slowing global warming. At the store, buy products that can be reused or recycled and are in reduced packaging. Avoid individually wrapped foods especially those that can't be recycled. By recycling all of your home's waste: Newsprint, cardboard, glass and metal, you can reduce CO2 emissions by 850 pounds annually, ( In Juneau, there are several recycling centers, where locals can recycle their garbage.

Consider transportation alternatives to cars, or purchase a fuel-efficient car such as a hybrid. And by leaving a car at home just two days a week, it's possible to reduce CO2 emissions by 1,590 pounds per year. Other suggestions include insulating the home, constructing solar panels if in a sunny area, and educate others about the effects of global warming and what they can do to slow down fossil-fuel emissions. Most importantly, however, plant trees. This is easy to do in Alaska because of the climate. Trees absorb carbon-dioxide and can remove up to 50 pounds of carbon from the atmosphere annually, through photosynthesis.


According to EPA's website, the State of Alaska has no action plan for climate change. But in the past thirty years, Alaska's climate has changed significantly, as temperatures have risen about 1 ° per decade. Alaska's glaciers are receeding, which is causing land to rise in Juneau an estimated 6/10 of an inch each year, (Krueger, 2002).

Other affects of global warming include a change to the food web, which changes the economy of Juneau as well as the ecosystem, Juneau's electrical power, snow pack, and stream flow, which then impacts the salmon and halibut population.

There are obvious affects of global warming on Juneau, including changes to the local food web, beginning with phytoplankton, changes to the amount of hydropower the town receives, and quicker receding of glaciers. As Alaskans, we need to work on reducing the amount of fossil-fuels, which includes buying energy-efficient cars, using power alternatives such as hydropower, and reduce, reuse and recycle. The City of Juneau should make sure that they have back-up energy sources incase there is a decline in precipitation.


Figure 1.

Figure 1

Alaska commercial salmon excesses value 1878-2004. All species combined.

Figure 2.

Water temperature of the Trinity River at Hoopa for July, 2004. This river has fairly typical temperatures for Northwest rivers in the summer. Salmon die with prolonged temperatures above 75°F. Fish from these rivers are caught in Alaska.

Figure 3.

Figure 3

Predicted sockeye salmon distribution based on temperature following an increase in ocean temperature. Red on the graph indicates conditions favorable for sockeye. Sockeye populations are predicted to shift toward Russia following warming.


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