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.

Tough Times for Wainwright


Sarah Dawkins
Myriam Wells
Alonzo gage
Reno Hyde
Lucas Hyde


Mat-Su Career and Technical High School
2472 North Seward Meridian Parkway
Wasilla, Alaska 99654


Changes in Wainwright's economy and environment have been taking their toll on the villages, the industry and the wildlife that make their home there. Erosion has caused the Arctic shores to shrink. Thick ice shelves have been thinning away become weak which is causing almost irreversible destruction, loss of habitat for the mammals, communities, plankton and various sea life. The loss of ice and earth has limited the living places for these organisms. The walrus and polar bear are two species that spend most of their lives on these shelves. The polar bears leaving their normal habitats to hunt for food is having an effect on the human population by creating destruction, however, these polar bears are also becoming targets for many hunters. The walrus population is having many problems adapting as well, a lack of food resources and the threat of becoming stranded on these ever changing ice shelves are putting them at risks they have never faced before. The bow head whales are becoming victims of hunting because they are out in the open waters due to the loss of ice. The plankton and other benthic organisms are dying out faster because of the sun's rays going deeper in the water shelves due ice to melting away. The human population of Wainwright has been having difficulties coping with these changes that impact their hunting and fishing patterns, shipping, trading, tourism, and their daily lives. Some of the effects that all the economy of Wainwright is facing have to do with global warming, the albedo and the greenhouse effects, as well as not practicing necessary mitigation skills.


Through recent years temperatures have been rising, ice has been shrinking, animals have been forced out of their natural habitats, trading, hunting, shipping and fishing have all around been tough for Wainwright. The negative effects of temperature and weather have on the land; the wildlife, the human population, and the industry are creating many difficult obstacles for the whole of Wainwright, Alaska. Wainwright's history is brief, consisting mostly of their hunting and fishing habits and what effects could potentially play out. The ice is melting and shrinking down in size causing many problems, such as limited space and hunting ground, for Arctic species of wildlife and the effects the shrinking ice is having on the community. The albedo and the greenhouse effect, though slightly differing, put together as they both occur from the same basic principles and ideas as global warming. Shipping, trading, hunting and fishing are essential aspects of Wainwright's survival but have been currently causing problems for wildlife. The need for hunting and fishing go up as the shipping and trading get harder, due to wildlife issues, and they can't get all the items and supplies they need, so subsistence hunting is highly important for them to get food. Because of the rise in hunting and fishing there is the possibility that these fish or animals die out, which would cause even more devastation on the rest of the environment and the community's economy. All three mammals, the bow head whale, the polar bear and the walrus are vital to the Arctic's environment and way of life, without them the structure would spiral out of course, many problems are arising and problems are taking their toll on these species of wildlife. Mitigation will be the only way to clue in the villagers and common folk on what they can do to try to take action to save the environment and economy before it is too late. To bring mitigation to light, that by going into depth on the states issues that they may be sorted out and may be restored once again.

History of Wainwright

Wainwright was named by Captain F.W Beechey after his favorite officer Lt. John Wainwright, in 1826. However, the Inupiat's that inhabit Wainwright called it "Olgoonik." Wainwright is located at approximately 72 miles Southwest of Barrow upon the Chukchi Sea coastline. The population is around 534 people. Wainwright gets an average of five inches of precipitation per year. Wainwright is the third largest village on Alaska's North Slope and is inhabited mostly by Inupiat Natives whose lives rely on subsistence for their main source of food. They hunt caribou Rangifur tarandus (Arthur 2008) and bow head whale Balaena mysticetus regularly. (Carroll 1994) The caribou is hunted throughout the year and the bow head whale is hunted during springtime when it can be found in the thin ice and open waters just off shore. Other sources of food have been the beluga, minke whale, walrus, seals and fish which can be aged, dried, boiled, roasted and stored. These were ways which the Natives were fond of using since they first in habited Northern Alaska. The Natives learned that the ivory of the walrus was a fine trading item and the oils and baleen from the bow head whale proved their worthiness in the trading market along with many other goods. (

The Greenhouse Effect

In the early 1800s, atmospheric scientists first used the term "greenhouse effect" to describe the naturally occurring functions of trace gases in the atmosphere. These gases, mainly water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) act as a sort of insulating 'blanket' around the earth's atmosphere, which has just enough thickness to allow sufficient solar energy to enter through it and prevent the energy which has been converted into thermal energy from escaping the atmosphere. Without the green house effect, the Earth would be like a frozen wasteland. (

The Albedo Effect

The most essential factor is the type of radiation, ray, surface or light coming from the sun that comes across the atmosphere first. Every type of sunlight will reflect, be absorbed and radiate in a different manner and degree than each other. Albedo, measure of how much light a surface reflects, is most prominent in snow and ice, where 70% of the solar energy hitting these surfaces bounces back to the sun or space. Open water reflects less than 10% of the solar energy emitted by the sun. The amount of dark water and land is increasing due to the disappearance of sea ice fueled by rising temperatures. The increased absorption of the solar energy, by bear land and open water, warms the earth. (

What's Causing Global Warming?

Humans contribute to global warming through industrialization, deforestation, pollution and neglecting green living practices. These anthropogenic factors have increased atmospheric concentrations of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, which are all greenhouse gases keep the Earth safe from damaging solar energies and also trap heat inside. As greenhouse gases increase more heat is built up inside the Earth's atmosphere leading to a rise in global temperature. (

The Consequences of Global Warming

The world's largest island, Greenland, is covered by a massive ice sheet that has an average thickness of 2.3 kilometers (1.6 miles). If Greenland's ice sheet were to continue melting due to global warming, then the Earth's global sea levels will be expected to rise about five meters (16 feet). NASA scientists estimate that it would take centuries to melt all of the ice but they have observed massive ice loss around the southern fringes of Greenland's ice sheet. (Allianz 2009) From 2003 to 2005 Greenland lost about 101 billion tons of ice. This goes to show what effects global warming and the green house effect are having upon the ice in the Arctic.

In August 2007, thermokarst lakes in northeastern Siberia were noticed to have been melting, causing thousands of years worth of suspended decomposing animal matter and plant matter to release toxic gases. Russian scientists believe that these gases will significantly accelerate global warming. (Allianz 2009)

Effects of Shipping and Tourism in the Beaufort Sea

Shipping, trading and tourism ships cruising through the Arctic seas come into conflict with large aquatic mammals frequently, putting these large mammals in dangerous and harmful situations which often cannot be undone. Since the rural villages on the Northern coasts of Alaska need supplies to arrive by ships, these ships cannot be stopped, this is causing more problems for the Arctic mammals who live there. Because many of these mammals are losing their habitat to the ships and barges, the amount of ships going through these areas are pushing the wildlife into other areas, they are starting to go to more shallow areas in which they are becoming victims of over hunting. The barges and ships that go through these areas often pollute the water with oils and gases that are unhealthy for the Arctic wildlife and cause many to die, making the environment in which they live unstable and unpredictable.

Phytoplankton and Zooplankton

Over the past 30 years scientists have noticed and have observed an abnormal phenomenon, the temperature of the Arctic region has risen almost six degrees Fahrenheit. In 2007 the extent of Arctic ice hit an all time record low. Arctic plankton are built to survive the extreme near-freezing, non-turbid waters of the Arctic seas and make their homes among the ice sheets, but with the rising temperatures they are losing their habitat and their source of food. The Arctic plankton is at risk for being pushed away by intruding species of algae which can thrive in the increasing temperatures. Since turbidity and pH have a large part in the growth and health of zoo plankton and many phytoplankton, many species cannot survive outside a one unit or less pH ranged environment. (Hinga, Kenneth R. 2002) Due to industrial and residential pollutants, such as fertilizers, the pH of some coastal areas witnessed large blooms of plankton followed by population depletion because of pH reaching levels too high for them to survive. (Yoo 1991) Turbidity, (amount of light through water due to suspended materials), is very important to proper plankton growth. Alaska's Department of Fish and Game stated that there was a definite negative correlation between turbidity and the population of zoo plankton. The more turbid the water, the less light reaches the organisms in the water and the less life can be supported. Due to the decrease in the plankton population many arctic mammals are being forced back into the ever-shrinking ice sheets and are being forced to look for other possible sources of food.

The Bow Head Whale

Topping out at 150 tons, the bow head whale Balaena mysticetus is the second largest mammal and whale in the world. The bow head whale is a 'baleen' whale, a whale with millions of filters in their mouth, these filters look like long pale strands and are used to filter the food that the bow head intakes before it eats, the filters strain the food for microscopic organisms such as plankton and separate them from the seaweeds they are often found on. For one full grown bow head whale to survive it must consume approximately two tons of plankton and other small organisms in a single day. ( The bow head is not as sensitive to the environment as the frail plankton, if the plankton can survive then the bow head whale should be able to do the same. Whales have been facing many reoccurring issues in the past years, ones that could indeed put their existence at risk. These issues are not only the threat of plankton going scarce but they face threats from barges and other large sea vessels, such as oil tankers and shipping liners. These massive ships can be more than 300 feet long and weigh over 100 tons, and carry large a battering ram, used to clear out ice that blocks the path, type protuberances on the fronts and centers of the vessels. These protuberances can be very dangerous for whales, since whales must surface to breath and they may come into contact with these large and hazardous ships. When a whale sees one of these liners or tankers they tend to try and dive back into the seas depths and get caught on the ram and get brutally slammed and sometimes even dragged along until the whale slips off or dies from severe injuries.

The Polar Bear

Native to the Arctic Circle and the largest land carnivore, they are undoubtedly one the largest mammals of the Arctic; males range from 770 to 1,500 pounds and females are about half the size of the male. Though polar bears are born on land they tend to be called marine animals because they spend most of their lives on the northern ice packs and ice sheets hunting for seals, fish, and other sources prey. Polar bears have always been a part of the native culture and considered a key role in their spiritual ways, their material needs and cultural stories and legends. However, the polar bear was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (May 14, 2008). Before 2004, the polar bear population was gradually increasing but during 2004 the polar bear population started to decrease by 25%. The loss of ice, which the polar bear uses to live and hunt on, has increased the polar bear mortality rates. Another problem polar bears face in addition to global warming is the fact that a female polar bear only reproduces about every three years after she turns six years old. The melting of the ice has caused the polar bears to starve, drown, and at the most drastic times, perform cannibalism. So, the polar bears are reproducing less and less because there isn't enough to sustain new life, let along old life. Of the 19 different subpopulations of polar bears, eight are declining, three are stable, one is increasing and the other seven have not yet been studied. Both of Alaska's polar bear subpopulations are declining and the U.S government shows through studies that the polar bear may become extinct if no actions are taken. There is still a chance to save the polar bear population but it will take more effort than confining or moving their populations, the start of the healing would best be with fixing global warming and the loss of ice sheets in the north. (Madin 2009) (Wikipedia 2009) (Byers 2005)

The Walrus

The walrus Odobenus rosmarus, is a large sea and land mammal, that spend their lives on the northern ice sheets foraging for food. Since walrus are about ten feet in average and weigh between 2,700 pounds (females) to 3,700 (males) they require a large amount of food a day. They can live up to 40 years but changes in their environment have been lowering the typical life expectancy. Starving and dying females and calves have been putting a hold on the rising of the walrus population. Though the walrus population totals about 200,000 individual pacific walruses rus the loss of food sources, the loss of habitat, and the increase of dangerous situations and predators have been taking their tolls on the walrus population and within time, the walrus may become a victim of extinction. Calves getting stranded, mothers dying to rescue and protect their young, walruses getting killed off by hungry predators and hunters while the walrus strives to forage food for themselves are also major factors in the survival of the walrus. Walrus depend on the benthic organisms found in the sea, which are also becoming at risk for being pushed away from their natural habitat. (Defenders of Wildlife 2009) ( (Alaska Department of Fish and Game 2009) (

Carbon Mitigation

Many simple and easy ways to help ease the pains of global warming have been developed, recorded and researched; a few of these ways can help the atmosphere, the ice melt and the wildlife that is being put in danger by the effects of global warming. Planting trees in yards or replanting forest loss can help absorb extra carbon dioxide; a single tree is capable of absorbing one ton of carbon dioxide in a lifetime. Some trees, if planted in a yard, can create shade which keeps houses cooler in the summer and the hotter times of the year, this shade can help lower air conditioning bills greatly, about 10% to 15%, but is great for the environment as it reduces electricity usage. Taking shower instead of baths can also help; taking showers take one-fourth less energy than baths because it uses less hot water. Warm water should be replaced with colder water, as it takes less energy for cold water than warm. By replacing a regular inefficient shower head with a low flow shower head an individual can save up to 350 pounds of carbon dioxide, and by washing laundry in cold water an individual can save 500 pounds of carbon dioxide. These changes can rapidly help the release of CO2 to slow down, which will help the atmosphere get back on track and protect our Earth and all the living creatures that inhabit it. Even putting clothes on a clothing line instead of in the dryer can save 700 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. All of these simple ways of conserving energy are often over looked, but with the recent research all can hope to start seeing more positive changes in our environment. The Alaskan industry must also make changes to better the environment; they can accomplish this feat by using electricity only when necessary, instead of having lights going or machines working all the time. (Petrone 2009) (


In conclusion, changes must be made before it is too late. The atmosphere, the earth, the wildlife and our communities depend on these changes. All of Wainwright has been slowly suffering these past years, the wildlife, the environment and the community has all witnessed the devastating effects global warming can have upon the earth. The albedo and the greenhouse effects play major roles in the outcome of global warming and the survival of many Arctic and non-Arctic species of wildlife, including the bow head whale, the polar bear, the walrus, and even the plankton.