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Climate Change


Adaptation Examples in Alaska

Key Points
  • The City of Homer, Alaska developed a Climate Action Plan and established a Sustainability Fund to implement mitigation and adaptation measures.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers is helping to relocate Kivalina, Newtok, and Shishmaref-Alaskan villages threatened by erosion, storms, and thawing permafrost.
  • Alaska presented a climate change adaptation strategy in January 2010 that addresses impacts on infrastructure, public health, cultural resources, and natural systems.
  • The U.S. Navy is preparing for a potential increase in shipping and other maritime activity near Alaska due to declining sea ice under warmer conditions.

Efforts to prepare for climate change are underway in Alaska, a large state with a wide range of climatic and ecological conditions. Alaska is already experiencing the impacts of climate change due to the fact that, over the last fifty years, the state has been warming at a rate twice the national average. [1] Alaska will likely continue to face impacts from climate change, including the thawing of permafrost and increased coastal erosion from the loss of sea ice. Learn more about climate change impacts on Alaska here.

Below are examples of ongoing efforts to adapt to climate change impacts in Alaska at the local, state, and federal level. Following the examples is a list of links to a number of adaptation plans, reports, and studies specific to the region. Both the examples and links are intended to be illustrative — they are not intended to be comprehensive.

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Homer, Alaska takes a local approach to climate adaptation

Homer, Alaska is a small city that lies along the shore of Kachemak Bay, 125 miles southwest of Anchorage. At the end of 2007, the city's Global Warming Task Force released the Homer Climate Action Plan Exit EPA Disclaimer . The Plan identifies several climate change concerns for the city, including negative impacts on local fisheries and fresh water supply, severe storms, and increased risk of wildfire. [2] The Plan's adaptation strategies cover steps for fostering a resilient local economy, incorporating climate change impacts into emergency preparedness, and incorporating climate change into building and maintenance plans, especially along Homer Spit.

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Coastal Alaska Native Villages plan for relocation

The impact of climate change on sea ice threatens to worsen flooding and erosion which have historically been problems for many Alaskan communities. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers identified 178 Alaskan communities that are threatened by erosion and 26 that are "Priority Action Communities." [3] Many of these communities are Alaska Native Villages. [4] Although sea walls and similar structures may protect some communities, other communities are forced to relocate. Severe erosion in Shishmaref, Kivalina, and Newtok has already driven these communities to develop relocation plans. [3]

Coastal communities in peril from flooding and erosion: Flooding in Newtok, Alaska

Coastal communities in peril from flooding and erosion: Flooding in Newtok, Alaska. Source: Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

  • Due to substantial ongoing erosion, Kivalina Exit EPA Disclaimer , is working with several federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Transportation, to determine the best option for relocation.
  • In 2006, the Newtok Planning Group Exit EPA Disclaimer (comprised of state and federal agencies and non-governmental organizations) assisted the village of Newtok in making the decision to move to a new location (Mertarvik), several miles away.
  • Shishmaref, a contemporary Inupiaq community located on a small barrier island, is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to relocate to the nearby mainland (see Shishmaref Erosion & Relocation Coalition Exit EPA Disclaimer ).

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Alaska State Government plans for climate change

In 2007, Governor Sarah Palin established the Alaska Climate Change Subcabinet to develop recommendations for a state climate change strategy. The Adaptation Advisory Group within the Subcabinet released Alaska's Climate Change Strategy: Addressing Impacts in Alaska Exit EPA Disclaimer in January 2010. In addition, other efforts are underway to respond to and prepare for various state climate impacts. For example, the 16 National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska are identifying and protecting lands that will provide critical resources for species migrations and reproductive activities in the future. [5]

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Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St. Laurent (left) and U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (right) on the Arctic Ocean

Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St. Laurent (left) and U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (right) on the Arctic Ocean". Source: "Jessica K. Robertson, USGS, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

As sea ice declines, the Arctic Ocean will become more accessible for trade and the extraction of natural resources. In November 2009, the Navy released an Arctic Roadmap that provides a timeline of actions including assessment of readiness to operate in Arctic conditions, disaster relief response exercises, promoting partnerships with other stakeholders, and improving environmental understanding. It is a five-year plan that will be revised in 2013 in accordance with guidance from the next Quadrennial Defense Review.

Other Climate Change Concerns for the Navy

In addition to the Arctic Roadmap, the Navy released a Climate Change Roadmap in May 2010. This document outlines the Navy approach to assessing, predicting, and adapting to climate change in regions other than the Arctic. It emphasizes collaborative partnerships and adaptation to reduce risk associated with sea level rise and changing environments.

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[1] USGCRP (2009). Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States . Karl, T. R., J. M. Melillo, and T. C. Peterson (eds.). United States Global Change Research Program. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, USA.

[2] City of Homer, Alaska (2007). Homer Climate Action Plan Exit EPA Disclaimer .

[3] U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2009). Alaska Baseline Erosion Assessment . Exit EPA Disclaimer

[4] U.S. General Accounting Office (2003). Alaska Native Villages — Most are Affected by Flooding and Erosion, but Few Qualify for Federal Assistance (PDF) (pp. 91, 5.25 MB). GAO Highlights

[5] CCSP (2008). Preliminary Review of Adaptation Options for Climate-Sensitive Ecosystems and Resources . A Report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research. Julius, S.H., and J.M. West (eds.). U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, USA.

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