According to the International Arctic Research Center, Alaska is heating up twice as fast as any other state in the U.S.1. The ramifications of this excessive warming will have catastrophic effects on Alaskan lives, wildlife, and economic stability.

Climate change in Alaska has and will continue to manifest itself in multiple ways including marine mammal and seabird die-offs, subsistence threats, increased wildfire frequency and size, endangered coastal villages, and threatened fisheries. These events will only increase in intensity and frequency over time if we continue to burn fossil fuels. The climate in Alaska is changing now and is undermining the health, safety, livelihoods, and future of Alaskans across the state.

Do you like to fish or rely on the fishery as a food source or income?

With a constantly warming and acidifying ocean, it doesn’t take much imagination to understand that climate change will have large impacts on Alaska’s fisheries. With stream and air temperatures increasing, certain streams will be harder for salmon to spawn in. A study conducted in 2016 documented changes in recent summer stream temperatures for Alaska salmon. They found that the temperature of most stream sites in Alaska “exceeded the established criterion for spawning and incubation (13 degrees C),” meaning that salmon are currently experiencing thermal stresses across the state to a point that compromises their health and reproduction2.

Ocean acidification is a process where the excessive carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is being absorbed by the ocean, making it more acidic. According to a study conducted by NOAA and UAF scientists, Alaskan seas are projected to experience “strong global change” including rapid warming, acidification, and more. These changes will affect the health of Alaskan commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries. Red King crab and Tanner crab have already exhibited negative responses to the increasingly acidic oceanic environment; King crab specifically showing lower survival, growth, and calcium content in response to ocean acidification3. Both deep-water and high-latitude species, including those found in the Arctic, have less ability to respond to changes in acidity and are at a high risk of declining. In order to save our fisheries, we need to address climate change now.

Scientists suspect heat stress killed a large number of summer chum salmon migrating through the Koyukuk River, a tributary of the Yukon. The carcasses held underdeveloped eggs and sperm, indicating that the salmon were far from their spawning grounds, where salmon usually die.

Photo Credit: Stephanie Quinn-Davidson/Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Photo taken from

Do you live on the coast or by a river? Get ready for erosion and/or flooding.

Alaska state officials have begun identifying growing impacts of climate change. 80% of Alaska is covered by permafrost, which plays an important role in holding the land together4. As air temperatures rise to new records throughout the state, more permafrost is thawing. This means villages by the ocean and rivers, ones that have existed for centuries, are now susceptible to erosion and flooding. The U.S. Government of Accountability office has declared that “most of Alaska’s more than 200 Native villages are affected to some degree by flooding and erosion.” In addition to melting permafrost, since the average Arctic sea ice extent and quantity is decreasing every year, coastal villages are at an even higher risk of washing away from the ocean waves and surges due to the lack of sea ice protection.

Yedoma Permafrost exposed along Arctic Coastline. Photo Credit: National Park Service

This time series shows the maximum ice extent in the Bering Sea during April between 2013 – 2018. The year 2018 set the record for the least amount of sea ice dating back to 1850. Photo Credit: NASA Earth Observatory, Joshua Stevens

Worried about wildfire season? Wildfires are going to last longer and intensify

With air temperatures increasing and shifts in the precipitation regime, the time frame, area, and intensity of wildfires will continue to increase. Living vegetation can sequester and hold carbon, acting as a carbon sink. Wildfires take the sequestered carbon in the vegetation, which may have been stored for hundreds of years, and release it in a matter of hours. This creates a positive feedback loop because many gases, including carbon dioxide, are released during wildfires; therefore, as more fires burn, the effects of climate change will increase, causing more fires.

Apart from contributing to climate change and destroying thousands of acres of precious habitat, the increased concentration of wildfire smoke has negative impacts on human health. There is a strong connection between the emissions from burning vegetation and human morbidity and mortality, as indicated by epidemiological and toxicological investigations.

Wildfire smoke forecast showing PM2.5 levels, short for Particulate Matter and considered a good proxy for air quality, over the state of Alaska in July, 2019. Pink, purple, and red areas are unhealthy for sensitive groups like children and older adults. Forecast and Photo credit: UAF Smoke

The heat is on – it’s time to act!

Alaska’s political leaders dangerously lack the political will to design a future beyond oil. We need to hold Alaskan political leaders accountable, urging them to promote legislation to address the climate crisis. This means divesting Alaska’s Permanent Fund and public employee retirement funds from fossil fuels. And this means that Alaska must transition to our bountiful supply of renewable energy.