KDLG Header Banner Image
Public Radio for Alaska's Bristol Bay
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

NOAA Administrator Says Climate Change in Alaska Significant


Climate change is an increasing problem on the global stage, and its effects, including increased droughts and natural disasters, are a cause for concern.  A senior government official recently said not only is climate change present in Alaska.  It’s accelerating.  KDLG’s Chase Cavanaugh has more.

The head of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, is currently visiting the state of Alaska.  While ostensibly present to accompany the Secretary of Commerce, she also took time to check in on state NOAA personnel.  KDLG got the chance to interview Dr. Sullivan, and asked her about NOAA’s role in studying global climate change.  She says its main purpose is to translate scientific data into useful analysis.

“I think of NOAA as America’s environmental intelligence agency. We’re the folks that specialize in collecting the observations and providing the models and the forecasts and the assessments that turn that fundamental scientific information into information products and services and insights that help us understand what’s happening to the planet around us and in a way that we can factor it into our decision making.”

One of the products that NOAA contributes to is the National Climate Assessment.  First published in 2000, it reflects the findings of experts in both the public and private sector.  Sullivan says the third version’s findings, published this May, don’t bode well for Alaska.  

“Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the United States, the latest assessment shows. I don’t have to tell Alaska residents that Arctic summer sea ice is receding, but it’s also receding faster than the earlier scientific projections had indicated and this is already having an impact on our marine ecosystems and exposing coastal Alaska communities to greater hazards of coastal erosions.”

Sullivan adds that the effects aren’t limited to coastal ice.

“The permafrost temperatures in the north are rising. The spring snowmelt is happening faster. Glacier retreat continues. That’s increasing river discharge, which may have a short term benefit in southern Alaska from a hydro power point of view, but if the glacial melt continues in the long run, that bodes for less hydropower resource when those ice sheets and ice floes are dissipated altogether.”

According to Sullivan, NOAA will have a continuing role to play when it comes to climate change, with both scientific studies and analysis for policymakers.