Defense Dept. says climate change is a threat to bases around the country

Iced over equipment at the Tin City radar site overlooking the Bering Strait and Seward Peninsula. The Defense Department’s new report makes frequent mention of how reduced sea-ice in the Arctic is likely bring more vessel traffic, and with it a need for search and rescue capabilities (Photo by Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

A new report by the Department of Defense outlines how climate change is already threatening military installations around the country. That includes some large facilities in Alaska. In the decades ahead, the Pentagon expects the problems to only get worse.

The document, “Report on the Effects of a Changing Climate to the Department of Defense,” was released earlier in January. Under a 2016 directive, the DoD is required to incorporate climate considerations in its planning for operations and infrastructure. That work is getting trickier as increasingly variable weather across the globe complicates the U.S. military’s core mission set.

The report looks at 79 major military installations around the country, assessing both the current and future risks of flooding, drought, wildfires, desertification and thawing permafrost.

The findings paint a pessimistic picture: two-thirds of the facilities will face flooding in the years ahead, and more than half will likely face drought. This poses liabilities not only for existing infrastructure, but environmental changes are already affecting the military’s overall readiness. It’s harder to stage outdoor training missions with live ammunition, for example, if dry conditions increase the risk of starting a wildfire. That is exactly what happened in 2013, when live ordinance used in a drill close to Fort Wainwright in the Interior kicked off the Stuart Creek Two Fire, burning 87,000 acres.

The report mentions three Alaska installations facing problems. Fort Greely near Fairbanks is dealing with melting permafrost. Clear Air Force Station, also in the Interior, is facing increasing threats of wildfire. And Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage is at risk for worsening floods as well as wildfires. The document makes frequent mention of changing sea ice conditions in the Arctic that the Pentagon anticipates will lead to more marine vessel traffic. That, it forecasts, brings a growing need for more infrastructure, supply-chains, as well as search and rescue capabilities.

The report is intentionally high-level, focused only on major installations. It leaves out smaller facilities, like fifteen long range radar sites scattered in remote areas of the state, or dozens of semi-abandoned National Guard armories in bush communities.