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Climate change could doom Alaska's tundra

cover huge areas of Alaska.
  • The only large area of remaining tundra in Alaska 100 years from now will be on its north coast.
  • Because of increases in precipitation and despite an increase in statewide biomass, forest fires should become less frequent overall and could shift from central Alaska to the northeast.
  • Insects and pathogens, which can adapt more readily to changing environmental conditions, may cause massive epidemics of plant disease and insect attack in some cases causing large forest die-offs that could then lead to more fires, adding complexity to the picture.
  • The average annual temperatures in much of Alaska could increase by more than 13 degrees above a 1920-2000 average by the last decade of the 21st century, according to the most extreme climate scenario, and 8 degrees under a more conservative scenario.
  • There are some variables that could affect these projections, Bachelet said, such as major changes in ocean circulation patterns that could have unpredictable effects on regional climate. One such change that has been suggested a shutdown of a major ocean current and circulation pattern in the North Atlantic ocean that currently is responsible for warming much of Europe might have other ripple effects that would cause regional climate impacts to vary.

    "You'll always have some uncertainties when you are trying to predict the localized impact of global climate change," Bachelet said. "But it's pretty certain that our global climate is warming up, and at this time, it looks like one of the major impacts will be on the tundra ecosystem of Alaska."


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    Contact: Dominique Bachelet
    bachelet@fsl.orst.edu
    360-570-2015
    Oregon State University
    3-Aug-2004


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