Losing ground: Coastal erosion seen as big threat in Alaska

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A NASA Earth Observatory image shows part of Alaska’s coast.

New USGS study measures North Slope shoreline losses

Staff Report

FRISCO — In the eternal battle between land and sea, the sea appears to be winning in northern Alaska, where much of the coastline is retreating at a rate of more than three feet per year, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The region has some of the highest shoreline erosion rates in the world, according to the research, which analyzed more than 50 years worth of measurements.

“Coastal erosion along the Arctic coast of Alaska is threatening Native Alaskan villages, sensitive ecosystems, energy and defense related infrastructure, and large tracts of Native Alaskan, State, and Federally managed land,” said Suzette Kimball, acting director of the USGS. Continue reading

Wildfires burn record 1.8 million acres in Alaska

Nationally, fires have scorched more than 2.5 million acres

Spot fires show as small puffs of smoke ahead of the main fire front as the fire moves toward the New Town of the village of Nulato on June 22 Credit: Ben Pratt

Smoke from spot fires ahead of the main fire front as a fire in the Galena Zone moves toward New Town Nulato on June 22, Credit: Ben Pratt/Alaska Interagency Coordination Center.

Staff Report

FRISCO — U.S. Wildfire activity has surged above the 10-year average in the past few weeks, primarily because of what will be a record-breaking fire season in Alaska.

After months of mostly above-average temperatures, Alaska’s vast forests and brushlands were primed, and the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center is reporting that more  600 fires have burned across more than 1.8 million acres in the state.

Fires have caused evacuations, highway closures, and rail and flight disruptions. More than 350 structures have been damaged, including about 70 homes.

Above-average temperatures and a longstanding drought in the western U.S. are big factors in the wildfires burning in parts of Washington, Oregon and California.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there are currently 26 major fires burning in Alaska. Nationally, the NIFC is reporting that about 26,000 fires have burned across more than 2.5 million acres for the year to-date, the highest number since 2011, when fires had already scorched more than 4.8 million acres by this time of year.

Climate: Ocean acidification threatens Alaska’s burgeoning shellfish hatchery industry

Costly seawater treatment may be needed by 2040

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Shellfish are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Ocean water around parts of Alaska is acidifying so fast that shellfish hatcheries may soon have to use costly treatment systems to continue commercial operations.

“Our research shows there could be significant effects from ocean acidification on Alaska’s emerging shellfish hatchery industry in a matter of two and half decades,” said Jeremy Mathis, Ph.D., an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and a co-author of the study, published this week in PLOS ONE.

“We need to continue to partner with industry and other stakeholders to make sure we’re providing the environmental intelligence needed by industry to answer key questions and make decisions to meet these challenges,” Mathis said. Continue reading

Alaska’s coastal wolves facing multiple threats

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Alexander Archipelago wolf, Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Wildlife advocates say proposed hunt on Prince of Wales Island is unsustainable

Staff Report

FRISCO — A rare breed of wolves living on coastal islands in southeast Alaska is under the gun more than ever before, according to wildlife advocates who are protesting a state plan to allow hunting and trapping of an Alexander Archipelago wolf population on Prince of Wales Island.

The hunt is being permitted even though scientific data shows a 60 percent decline in the population in just one year. Based on the report, wolf advocates say there may only be about 50 wolves remaining on the island. Continue reading

Environment: Scientists investigate unusual spate of endangered fin whale deaths in coastal Alaskan waters

9 whales died about the same time around Kodiak Island

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The first of several dead fin whales, later named FW01, floats outside Marmot Bay on May 23. Credit courtesy of MV Kennicott crew and NOAA.

Why did a large number of endangered fin whales die in the waters around Kodiak Island? Map courtesy Wikipedia.

Why did a large number of endangered fin whales die in the waters around Kodiak Island? Map courtesy Wikipedia.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Marine researchers in Alaska are investigating the death of at least nine endangered fin whales in the ocean between  Kodiak to Unimak Pass since late May.

“It is an unusual and mysterious event that appears to have happened around Memorial Day weekend,” said Kate Wynne, an Alaska Sea Grant marine mammal specialist and University of Alaska Fairbanks professor. “We rarely see more than one fin whale carcass every couple of years.”

Fin whales, an endangered species, grow to 70 feet long. They use baleen in their mouths to strain copepods, krill and small fish from seawater. The whales feed in tight formations, so Wynne thinks the dead whales could have consumed something toxic around the week of May 20. Continue reading

Climate: Alaska glaciers a big factor in sea level rise

Photograph of the calving terminus of Tyndall Glacier, located at the head of Taan Fiord, Icy Bay, Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, Alaska. Photo courtesy USGS.

Photograph of the calving terminus of Tyndall Glacier, located at the head of Taan Fiord, Icy Bay, Wrangell – St. Elias National Park, Alaska. Photo courtesy USGS.

New study helps quantify glacial meltdown

Staff Report

FRISCO — Global warming is melting Alaska’s glaciers so fast that the water would cover the entire state a foot deep every seven years, scientists report in a new study. The melting won’t slow down anytime soon and will be a major factor in global sea level rise, the researchers said.

“The Alaska region has long been considered a primary player in the global sea level budget, but the exact details on the drivers and mechanisms of Alaska glacier change have been stubbornly elusive,” said Chris Larsen, a research associate professor with the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Continue reading

Environment: New high-resolution USGS mapping shows changes in Alaska land cover

Map of the northern US Atlantic margin showing the locations of newly-discovered methane seeps mapped by researchers from Mississippi State University, the US Geological Survey, and other partners. (High resolution image)

Map of the northern US Atlantic margin showing the locations of newly-discovered methane seeps mapped by researchers from Mississippi State University, the US Geological Survey, and other partners.

Detailed mapping can help plan climate change adaptation

Staff Report

FRISCO — Huge wildfires have driven the conversion of Alaska forests to grass- and shrublands, and the state’s perennial ice and snow fields, as well as its vast wetlands are also shrinking, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The changing face of Alaska is revealed in a new land-cover data set, which provides detailed information useful to land use planners and decision-makers. Continue reading

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