Sweeping government climate report warns of rapid warming in Alaska, Arctic

Winter sea ice locking in Nome for the winter. (Photo by Laura Collins/KNOM)

A new government report warns that regions across the U.S. are feeling the effects of rapid climate change, with some of the greatest impacts in Alaska and the Arctic. And it states the evidence that human activity is driving climate change is stronger than ever.

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A final draft of the assessment was posted online by the New York Times, which reported that scientists are worried the Trump Administration might try to change or suppress it.

The report says it is “extremely likely” that human activity is the “dominant cause” of recent warming — adding there is “no convincing alternative explanation.” That contradicts statements from Trump administration officials — and from the president himself.

The report is part of the National Climate Assessment, which is released every four years.

John Walsh is with the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

“It’s a distillation of the latest information about climate change as it affects the United States,” Walsh said.

Walsh contributed to the chapter on Alaska and the Arctic. He said the region has seen changes even in the short time since the last report, four years ago.

“The temperatures and the sea ice in Alaska have really moved into new territory in the last few years,” Walsh said.

Since 2014, Alaska has seen three of its warmest years ever and record-low sea ice.

The report concludes it’s “virtually certain” that human activity has contributed to the loss of sea ice and glaciers, declining snow cover, and rapidly increasing temperatures across the Arctic. And it states that changes in the region could have impacts on the climate around the globe.

Walsh said, whatever fears scientists might have, he’s seen no political interference in the report to date.

“There was no attempt to steer the report one way or another,” Walsh said. “Scientists were free to express what they thought.”

The Trump administration is supposed to review and formally approve the report later this month.

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Rachel Waldholz covers energy and the environment for Alaska's Energy Desk, a collaboration between Alaska Public Media, KTOO in Juneau and KUCB in Unalaska. Before coming to Anchorage, she spent two years reporting for Raven Radio in Sitka. Rachel studied documentary production at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and her short film, A Confused War won several awards. Her work has appeared on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Marketplace, among other outlets. rwaldholz (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.550.8432 | About Rachel

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