Impacts of Arctic Environmental Change on Northern Communities

Saturday, February 18, 2017: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Room 313 (Hynes Convention Center)
John Walsh, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK
Northern communities are experiencing both direct and indirect effects of Arctic environmental change. Direct effects include striking changes in coastal sea ice, which is forming later, retreating earlier, and becoming more mobile and less stable. The changing character of coastal sea ice has increased risks associated with subsistence activities of coastal communities. In addition, the loss of sea ice as a protective barrier has made coastal communities increasingly vulnerable to flooding and erosion from intense storms. Downscaled climate model simulations indicate that storm activity in the Alaska coastal waters has indeed been increasing in recent decades, compounding the risks to coastal communities. The increased storm activity during autumn and early winter can, in turn, affect the timing of freeze-up in coastal waters. Among the indirect effects of the loss of sea ice is increased ship traffic, including cruise ships for which the Northwest Passage has already been utilized in 2016. Opportunities for resource extraction, both onshore and offshore, are also changing with the reduced duration of snow cover and sea ice. For northern communities, an increase in resource extraction has economic, social and cultural dimensions.