UCAR Communications


staff notes monthly

November 2002

Helping Alaskans adjust to climate change

On the northern edge of Alaska, Barrow-area whalers have narrowly escaped drowning or drifting out to sea twice in recent years when the sea ice has broken up suddenly in the midst of a hunt. Despite the risks, hunting continues because “people are desperate to get their nutritional needs met,” says Arnold Brower Jr., who coordinates volunteer search-and-rescue efforts and also serves as president of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, the regional tribal government.

Team members (left to right) Scott Peckham, Jason Vogel, Ronald Brunner (CU), and Linda Mearns (NCAR) on the beach at Barrow. (Photo by Zhenya Gallon.)

Few places on Earth are more affected by climate change than the Arctic, where the delicate balance among ocean, sea ice, land, and air is shifting dramatically. The resulting uncertainty presents challenges to local communities as residents plan for everything from when to begin the spring or fall hunt for bowhead whales to where to locate new utility lines and expand the airport in Barrow.

Researchers at NCAR, CU, and the Georgia Institute of Technology are working with the Barrow community on the $2.5-million, NSF-funded Integrated Assessment of the Impacts of Climate Variability on the Alaskan North Slope Coastal Region. They hope to better understand and suggest enhancements to local decision-making in response to climate uncertainties—whether natural or human-caused.

One year into the five-year project, members of the multidisciplinary team returned for a second visit this past August to work with Barrow co-investigators, gather data from local experience, and listen to the concerns of a community on the front lines of climate change.

For ESIG investigator Linda Mearns, the interactions with local stakeholders were invaluable. And, she says, “seeing the environment was very important because it made clear to me how very delicate it is.” With RAP’s Matt Pocernich, Linda’s applying extreme value theory “to see if we can come up with more robust estimates of trends in extreme winds,” using data from the last 50-70 years. She and ESIG’s Claudia Tebaldi are also tackling results for the next 20–30 years from climate model runs relevant to the region using mutiple scenarios developed for the last report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

•Zhenya Gallon

Also in this issue...

Space: The never-final frontier

Returning to Center Green


A look back at FL's beginnings

NCAR receives national FAA award

Random Profile: Allen Schanot

Helping Alaskans adjust to climate change

From Bombay to Boulder

Delphi Questions

Short takes

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