Report: Juneau will get warmer, wetter

Assembly reviews climate outlook

Posted: Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Juneau's climate will become warmer and wetter in years to come, according to a report presented Monday to the city's Committee of the Whole.

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A team of experts predicted an eventual 10-degree increase in temperature, the loss of glacial ice, possible changes to salmon runs and winter sports, and ever more precipitation.

"That is what it looks like right now. More rain events in the winter and more rain at higher elevations," said Eran Hood, assistant professor of Hydrology at University of Alaska Southeast.

The report was requested by Mayor Bruce Botelho last year as part of an effort to better understand what global warming means locally and how lawmakers can shape policy to prepare for potential effects. It was presented Monday to the committee's nine Assembly members by Hood, National Weather Service meteorologist Tom Ainsworth and Douglas Boyce of the U.S. Forest Service.

The report declares that temperatures around the globe are rising largely because of an increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

"Temperatures in Juneau have increased as much as 3.6 (degrees) during the twentieth century, with the largest increase occurring during the winter months," the report states.

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With increased temperatures comes more precipitation.

"Warmer atmosphere has a high capacity to hold moisture," Ainsworth said, predicting that snowpack at higher elevations will also increase.

Experts also predicted that the average temperature in Juneau will increase by roughly 10 degrees by 2100. By that time, shrubs and trees will have begun to grow at elevations that are now considered to be alpine or tundra habitat in the region. Some plants and animals might not readily adapt and face extinction.

Fishermen may see differences in salmon runs, which could experience changes as a result of changes in levels of precipitation.

Snow sports enthusiasts will see a decline in opportunities as winter snow cover will be reduced in years to come.

Yet not all the impacts of a warmer climate are intuitive, experts say.

For example, while global sea level is projected to rise .3 feet to 3 feet during the next century, Juneau is expected to experience an increase in land surface.

The land surface is rising because of a loss of glacial ice, also known as "isostatic rebound."

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"Over the next century, the relative sea level in (Juneau) likely will decrease between one and 3.6 feet," the report states.

Also, yellow cedar trees are dying at alarming rates as a result of freezing during springtime. Warmer temperatures have decreased the insulating snow cover that helps protect exposed roots.

Many potential impacts are still unknown, such as how far certain insect species will extend. One example discussed Monday was an aphid species that can be particularly detrimental to Sitka spruce trees.

"We anticipate as it continues to warm that the aphid will move in this direction and will have an impact on the trees. We don't know exactly how pervasive it will be," Boyce said.

Assembly members may use the report to shape future policy.

"One of our challenges is to translate everything we know into policy, and policy really means dollars," said Assembly member Bob Doll.

The report is slated to be heard during the next regularly scheduled Assembly meeting, which is May 14.

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