This paper was written as part of the 2010 Alaska Oceans Sciences Bowl high school competition. The conclusions in this report are solely those of the student authors.

Effects of Polar Ice Melt on Ocean Chemistry and Kodiak Island's Economy and Energy Technology


Bradley Hoyt
Rachelle Medina
Nique de la Fuente

Weapons of Bass Destruction

Kodiak High School
722 Mill Bay Rd
Kodiak, Alaska 99615

Kodiak, Alaska aerial photo


Global and regional climate change will lead to major changes that will affect Kodiak. One of the changes will be in chemistry, more specifically the composition of the ocean water, concerning density, temperature, and the thermohaline cycle. Another change will be with the economy of Kodiak, dealing with tourism and the fishing industry. In reaction to these changes, Kodiak has become a leader in energy technology and developed new ways to power homes and businesses, including wind turbines and hydropower. Interviews were conducted with experts in the fields of ocean chemistry, Kodiak wildlife, and energy technology and for each interview a set of questions was developed. These changes make up the overall change that will occur with Kodiak due to global and regional climate change.

I. Introduction

Within the last 30 years, scientists have called attention to global climate change and the melting and destruction of the polar ice caps. With the melting of ice caps come the changes in chemistry of the ocean, economical impacts, and energy technology. Different regions of the world will be affected in their own way. The island of Kodiak is among the areas that will be affected by polar ice melt and changes in ocean water chemistry. Changes in water chemistry, particularly ocean acidification and ocean surface temperature, are going to influence the economy by limiting Kodiak fisheries resources. The declining fish populations affect bear populations, which in turn affect hunting and tourism opportunities. Technology is moving forward with renewable resources to power the island of Kodiak by the use of hydroelectric power and wind turbines. The Kodiak 2010 Tsunami Bowl team collected information by interviewing local experts on the subjects of ocean chemistry, wildlife and tourism, energy technology, and by conducting online research. This paper gives the aspects of how polar ice melt affects Kodiak and discusses some possible repercussions of global climate change.

II. Methods

Interviews were conducted with experts in the fields of ocean chemistry, Kodiak wildlife, and energy technology and for each interview a set of questions was developed. Research assistant professors Clara Deal and Jessie Ellen Cherry from the University of Alaska Fairbanks were interviewed on the topic of ocean chemistry. Supervisory wildlife biologist William Pyle from Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge was interviewed about Kodiak's salmon and bear populations. Chief executive officer Darron Scott from Kodiak Electric Association was interviewed about Kodiak's renewable energy technology. Their answers were included in the results and discussion of this paper.

II.1 Chemistry

  1. How will the melting of the polar ice caps affect the "ocean conveyor belt" process?
  2. If the conveyor belt process would stop would that directly affect Kodiak? Could this affect the salmon or crab fishery in Kodiak?
  3. How would oxygen levels in and around Kodiak be affected with the melting of polar ice caps? If so, how would that affect life in the ocean?
  4. Would the salinity and density be affected, and if they are, what effect do they have on the ocean and life involved in the ocean?
  5. What is your opinion on the polar ice cap melting rate and when will the ice caps be gone, or is there no sufficient ice cap melt and is this just a cycle the earth is in?
  6. Will the climate change in Kodiak with polar ice melt and global climate change, if so, how?
  7. Will there be regional changes that affect only Kodiak and not the main land Alaska such as the far north places like Nome or Barrow, if so, how?

II.2 Wildlife and Economy

  1. Do you think brown bears in Kodiak will be affected by the melting of the Arctic ice cap?
  2. How will that affect economy in Kodiak?
  3. The melting of the Arctic ice cap impacts the climate of Kodiak; we think it might have an affect on the salmon runs. How do you think changes in salmon runs will impact Kodiak's brown bear populations?
  4. Do you know what the revenue into Kodiak through bear viewing tourism and hunting is? And how might that change?

II.3 Technology

  1. Kodiak currently has three wind turbines as one of our renewable energy sources, is it possible Kodiak will be adding any more wind turbines?
  2. Terror Lake is also another one of our renewable energy resources, how does it work? Will it be affected by the melting of the polar ice caps/climate change?
  3. Are there any other renewable resources Kodiak can add to decrease the use of fossil fuels or diesel?
  4. Do you know of any other coastal communities that are switching over to renewable resources?
  5. I heard that before the wind turbine project started, our generators would supply us with 20% of our energy using fossil fuels. How much energy do the generators supply now?
  6. I found a powerpoint that you did online and it said that the project goals for the wind turbines were to lower fuel costs, lower emissions and reduce power cost. How exactly is that going to happen?

III. Results and Discussion

III.1 Chemistry

Polar ice cap melt is happening in the Arctic Ocean and this melting causes effects in the chemistry of the water. The major changes in the water focused on in this paper are temperature changes, salinity and density, and the effects on the thermohaline circulation, also known as "ocean conveyor belt."

III.1.1 Ocean Temperature Change

The melting of polar ice caps with ocean temperature rise is a cause for concern. The ocean surface water temperature influences density and salinity, and the overall sea level depends on the temperature of the ocean water. With the warming of ocean water the temperature will eventually begin to rise, which cause a rise in sea level, not because of the melting polar ice caps, but because warmer water is less dense than colder water. The ocean water will spread out and increase in volume, and cause the rise in sea level. A one degree change will cause the oceans to rise a small but noticeable amount.

III.1.2 Salinity and Density

Salinity is the measure of the quantity of dissolved salts in the ocean water, and density is the mass per unit volume of a substance. The salinity of the waters in and around the Arctic Ocean will be affected by the melting and depletion of the polar ice caps. The average ocean salinity is 35 parts per thousands at 0 degrees Celsius, the density is 1.028 g/cm3. With melting ice caps cold freshwater is being added to the ocean, which causes the cold water to sink because it is denser than the surrounding ocean water. Research assistant professor Jessie Cherry, from the International Arctic Research Center UAF, said "It [freshwater] could form a dense layer that sinks to the bottom, even though it is fresher than the warmer water it displaces. That forces warmer water to move up and around." This small change of adding cold freshwater into the ocean causes a change in the salinity and density of ocean water, which can result in stronger stratification. This leads to limited nutrient supply for larger plankton, because exchange with deeper water is limited. In this situation smaller plankton have a competitive advantage over larger plankton.

III.1.3 Thermohaline Circulation

The thermohaline circulation is caused by differences in density and temperature of the water causing an underwater "conveyor belt system" to move water from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and back again. The thermohaline system is responsible for moving the colder oxygen rich waters down and for carrying nutrients to the surface, and dispensing heat energy. The system is driven by the sinking of cold water in the Greenland Sea; the cold water drives the rest of the system into circulation. Due to the recent climate change and the melting of ice caps Jessie Cherry of the International Arctic Research Center UAF said "changes in freshwater content in the ocean caused by melting sea ice and glaciers change the buoyancy of the ocean, which in turn impacts the circulation." If the cold waters of the north were to warm up due to polar ice cap melt and overall climate change, the buoyancy of the water would alter due to the change in salinity from the fresh water being added causing a disruption in the circulation of ocean water. Since the mid-1970s the ocean circulation system that brings cool water from ocean depths to the surface has been slowing down. There would also be a reduction in the amount of nutrient upwelling. With the loss of the nutrient rich upwelling marine life will be forced to find feeding grounds elsewhere. For example, in the summer of 2009, the baleen whales that have been seen around Kodiak for years have not been sighted in their usual numbers. According to Kodiak marine mammal expert Kate Wynne, with a loss of plankton and nutrient rich waters from upwelling, the baleen whales have been forced to look for new feeding grounds. Changes in the chemistry of ocean water will directly affect Kodiak and with changing ocean water the social aspects of Kodiak must also change to adapt to a new environment.

III.2 Changes in Kodiak's Economy

Kodiak Island is well-known for its commercial fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing tourism. William Pyle, Supervisory Wildlife Biologist of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, said that Kodiak is a vulnerable place to climate change. The northern areas of the globe may first experience the effects of the Arctic ice melt. Kodiak is subject to be affected as well soon after other parts of the northern areas. We are only now starting to realize the outcomes that global warming will have for our economy, wildlife and natural resources since it's only now starting to happen. There is no direct relation between climate change and salmon survival and distribution (according to Pyle), but it does have an effect on the abundance of salmon; leaving a chain reaction from the fishing industry to the bear population, also a big part in Kodiak's economy through hunting and wildlife viewing tourism.

The area around and surrounding Kodiak Island is naturally higher in acidity than other Alaskan places because of the upwelling of deep, nutrient and CO2 enriched water from the ocean conveyor belt. Because of the increasing CO2 buildup near Kodiak, more and more plankton that the salmon feed on may be disappearing. The calcium carbonate in the "shells" of the phytoplankton deteriorates or becomes less likely to form because of the CO2, highly decreasing the phytoplankton's population. Phytoplankton provides food for zooplankton which is the preferred food source for salmon along with other small fish. Since salmon and other commercial fish prefer to eat this specific type of plankton, their food source is decreasing. Areas have been closed down to commercial fishing as a result of declining salmon returns. There will be a change in the value of commercial fish because they are becoming less abundant.

Currently, there is no significant fishing in the Arctic area, but mangers of fisheries expect it to become a major target for commercial fishermen. "As Arctic sea ice recedes due to climate change, there is increasing interest in commercial fishing in Arctic waters," Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a statement August 20th, 2009. "We are in a position to plan for sustainable fishing that does not damage the overall health of this fragile ecosystem. This plan takes a precautionary approach to any development of commercial fishing in an area where there has been none in the past" (New York Times). Since the Arctic ice is shrinking, there has been debate about expanding commercial fishing to the Arctic, which could also hurt Kodiak and surrounding towns' economy. The majority of jobs in Kodiak are fish-related; either fishing, or cannery work. If the commercial fishing industry moves north, there will be less commercial fishermen in Kodiak and surrounding communities, many people will lose their jobs, causing economic hardship. While salmon fishery plays a big part in Kodiak's economy and social life, the brown bears of Kodiak do as well. They bring in tourism, as well as hunting. The bears feed on the salmon that inhabit Kodiak's rivers and other natural resources such as salmonberries. Bear populations will likely survive without the salmon, but bears will become smaller and their population will decrease a noticeable amount when the salmon population decreases. Fewer and smaller bears will create less revenue for hunting and wildlife viewing businesses.

III.3 Technology to Slow Down Cimate Change

While there is no sure way of completely stopping global climate change, there are little steps into slowing it. There need to be more studies and research on what climate change can do to our communities. The people of Kodiak are aware and concerned about the potential effects of climate change. Kodiak's community has made an effort to become more informed with this matter and has started to take action. Even though there is no action possible to completely stop CO2 emissions, Kodiak has begun to hold back on non-renewable energy sources and focus on what is renewable; hydroelectric energy and wind power.

Climate change is a contributor to the melting of the ice caps in the polar regions. The burning of wood, the use of fossil fuels and many other human activities create an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases cause the surface of the earth to heat up. As the earth's surface gets warmer, it causes the ice in the polar regions to melt.

Our community has taken some steps in trying to slow down the changes in the climate; technology is a way to help in the process. A few technological advancements in Kodiak that help to reduce CO2 emissions are: the wind turbines and the Terror Lake hydroelectric power plant. Currently in our community, 11% of our energy comes from diesel; the remaining 89% come from renewable resources.

The wind turbines are located close to town, on Pillar Mountain. The Kodiak Electric Association (KEA) started using the wind turbines as a source of energy in August 2009. At this time, there are three 1.5 megawatt wind turbines in operation, each producing enough energy to power 330 homes. According to chief executive officer of KEA, Darron Scott, Kodiak is permitted for six turbines to be installed. In a presentation to the Alaska Power Association, he said that he expects the turbines to save 800,000 gallons of diesel each year. Having the wind turbines lowers our fuel and power costs. Also, it cuts the need of diesel powered generation by almost half.

Terror Lake is a high altitude lake approximately 25 miles southwest of the city of Kodiak. A tunnel inlet at the bottom of the lake goes through the mountain for about five miles and transports high pressure water to the hydroelectric plant. The plant then takes the water and spins the turbines to make electricity. It is Kodiak's primary source of power. Kodiak is supplied with 80% of energy from Terror Lake.

Diesel generators are used to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy. This form of energy is an exceptionally reliable source, especially when the power demand increases during peak consumption, for example, during fishing season, when the local canneries are at their busiest. The disadvantage to this form of energy is that it uses too much diesel that produces CO2 that goes into the atmosphere. Presently, with the limited supply of fossil fuels, we need to find a new and more efficient way of providing energy that won't harm the earth more than it already is, and one that is practical and clean. Before the wind turbine project started, the generators supplied 20% of Kodiak's energy using fossil fuels.

Around the state of Alaska, the use of alternative energy sources is increasing. These include: wind energy, hydroelectric energy, geothermal energy, tidal power, and solar power. At this time, Kodiak has the highest percentage of renewable energy sources of any Alaskan coastal community.

IV. Bibliography


Clara (Jodwalis) Deal
Research Assistant Professor
International Arctic Research Center
University of Alaska Fairbanks

Jessie Ellen Cherry, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor
International Arctic Research Center and
Institute of Northern Engineering
University of Alaska Fairbanks

Kate Wynne
Marine Mammal Specialist
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Fishery Industrial Technology Center


William Pylebr
Supervisory Wildlife Biologist
Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge


Darron Scott
Chief Executive Officer
Kodiak Electric Association

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