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Climate: Increase in Arctic wildfires likely to have big impact on caribou herds

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Alaska caribou. Courtesy USGS.

Shifts in wildlife populations will affect Native American communities

Staff Report

FRISCO — Some big caribou herds in Alaska could lose more than 20 percent of their habitat as growing wildfires destroy critical foraging areas. Those changes will likely affect generations of Native American families whose existence is spiritually linked with the Arctic ungulates, researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey reported in a new study.

Rapidly warming Arctic temperatures are to blame — global warming increases the flammability of lichen-producing boreal forests, which are important winter habitat for caribou herds. Continue reading

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Report IDs ocean acidification threats to Alaska’s coastal resources, Native American communities

Important crab fisheries to suffer as oceans turn warm and acidiic

A nice haul of blue crabs.

Crabs are among the many commercially important species that will struggle as oceans grow warmer and more acidic. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO —Alaska’s economically important crab fishery and other coastal and ocean resources face significant global warming threats, according to a new study led by scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The research findings, to be published online in the journal Progress in Oceanography, show that many of Alaska’s nutritionally and economically valuable marine fisheries are located in waters that are already experiencing ocean acidification.

Communities in southeast and southwest Alaska face the highest risk from ocean acidification because they rely heavily on fisheries that are expected to be most affected by ocean acidification. Some of those Native American communities are also more vulnerable to economic risks because of lower average incomes and  fewer employment opportunities, NOAA said in a press release. Continue reading

Environment: EPA to take hard look at impacts of proposed open pit mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay

Agency likely to restrict mining activities based on concerns about impacts to salmon fishery, other resources

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Proposed Alaska mine gets careful EPA scrutiny.

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Staff Report

FRISCO — A proposed mine in coastal Alaskan waters would spread across an area larger than Manhattan and jeopardize the health and sustainability of one of the world’s great salmon fisheries, the EPA said this week, releasing a draft version of its plan for protecting aquatic resources in Bristol Bay from a vast open pit mine.

According to the EPA, the proposed mine in its present form would have unacceptable impacts on Bristol Bay natural resources. As a result, the agency’s draft lays out common sense rules and guidelines that would ensure the integrity of those resources by prohibiting the discharge of any mining materials into critically important waters of the U.S. Continue reading

Wildlife: Denali wolf packs hammered by hunting

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Wolves draw tourists to Denali National Park.

Death of breeding wolves affects pack size and persistence

Staff Report

FRISCO — Following a steep drop in the Denali National Park wolf population, biologists have documented how the death of breeding wolves affects pack size and persistence. The number of wolves in the 6million acre park in Alaska dropped from 143 in the fall of 2007 to just 55 wolves in the spring of 2013, raising concerns about impacts to tourism.

Many visitors come to Denali with the expectation of seeing wolves, but a recent state decision to allow wolf hunting in area previously deemed a buffer zone has had a big impact on wolf numbers. According to the latest research, the death of a breeding wolf sometimes results in a wolfpack disbanding. Continue reading

Despite global warming, new permafrost forming

New permafrost is forming around Alaska's Twelvemile Lake.

A USGS study finds new permafrost forming near Alaska’s Twelvemile Lake.

Small local variations in temperatures eyed as factor

Staff Report

FRISCO — Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey say they’ve found new patches of permafrost forming in the margins a retreating lake in the interior of Alaska. The findings run counter the conventional wisdom that permafrost will shrink and disappear as the Earth’s climate warms — but don’t jump on the happy train just yet.

The new permafrost patches are small and suggest that the areas of frozen soil are sensitive to small temperature variations and other local factors, the USGS-led study suggests. Especially important is emerging vegetation around the edge of the lake. Thick willows shade the ground to the point that the soil can freeze, the scientists said. Continue reading

Global warming: More coastal habitat for geese in Alaska due to rising temperatures, melting sea ice

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A family of black brant geese in Alaska, Photo courtesy USGS.

Some species may benefit from climate change

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Dwindling sea ice spells trouble for polar bears and walrus colonies, but some other animals are benefiting from global warming — at least for now.

Warming temperatures have resulted in more high quality habitat for geese along the Arctic coast of Alaska, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study.

The research focused on  black brant geese that migrate by the thousands each summer to the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska to undergo their wing molt, during which time the birds are flightless for three weeks. This molting period requires high quality food to give the birds the energy necessary to replace worn feathers and also extensive open water areas where birds can escape from predators. Continue reading

Environment: Arctic scientist resigns after battling his own federal agency over transparency and scientific ethics

 

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Too much oil, not enough science ….

Harassment of prominent researcher likely aimed at stifling scientists

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A scientist who was targeted by a politically driven investigation has retired from the federal agency that is supposed to regulate oil development in the Arctic after settling his whistleblower complaint against the U.S. Department of Interior.

Dr. Charles Monnett, a senior scientist with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, was hectored for several years after publishing observations about drowning polar bears. The witch hunt ended in October with the Department of Interior withdrawing its letter of reprimand and paying Monnett $100,000.

“It’s a relief to be able to speak,” Monnett said, expressing his belief that the investigation was intended squelch scientific evidence that would make it more difficult to issue oil and gas drilling permits in the sensitive Arctic environment. Continue reading

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