Alaskan Native Elders Tell Their Climate Change Story | After the Ice
Climate Change and Alaska
Alaska is home to 229 federally recognized tribes that are already experiencing the impacts of climate change in their everyday lives. Alaska Native peoples depend economically, nutritionally, and culturally on fishing and hunting animals, including polar bears, walruses, seals, caribou, and fish. As the supply of fish and game declines, they are likely to travel onto thinning ice in search of food and are being forced to seek alternative food sources. In addition, Arctic plants and animals, including those harvested as subsistence food, are at higher risk for diseases in a warming climate, further affecting food availability and human health.
Unique Facts about Indoor Air in Alaska
- Building designs are diverse in Alaska; homes in permafrost regions are typically built off the ground on pilings.
- Construction in rural Alaska is challenging and costly due to extreme weather and remoteness – most villages are only accessible by boat or plane.
- Alaskan infants, in select regions, are hospitalized with lower respiratory tract infections at 10–15 times the rates for US infants. Medical transport is often required for treatment.
- 50% of houses in Alaska are relatively airtight and lack mechanical ventilation.
- Alaska Tribes are adapting to IAQ climate change impacts – navigating erosion, increased flooding, and wildfire smoke. Some villages are physically moving housing to safer locations.
- 56% of houses in Alaska have a moderately higher risk of moisture and indoor air quality issues, with some regions of Alaska reaching as high as 69%.
Clean Air, Healthy Villages: Road Dust
Alaska Native Village Air Quality Fact Sheet Series Road Dust
Alaska Road Dust Importance
In most Alaska Native Villages, many dirt roads and even paved roads are often covered with dust. This dust becomes airborne during dry and windy conditions, particularly when the dust is disturbed by vehicles. As a result, homes in rural villages are often built next to roads without vegetation (lawn, shrubbery, or gardens) to buffer the houses from dust made airborne by traffic. Road dust is made of coarse particles that can aggravate heart or lung-related conditions such as asthma when inhaled through the nose and mouth. Although coarse particles do not go as deep into the lungs as fine particles, they can still have adverse impacts on susceptible individuals. Therefore, sensitive individuals or people with respiratory conditions can reduce their health risks by staying indoors or away from dirt roads when there are dry conditions with significant traffic or wind.
Alaska Interagency Coordination Center – The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center (AICC) is the Geographic Area Coordination Center for Alaska. AICC serves as the focal point for initial attack resource coordination, logistics support, and predictive services for all state and federal agencies involved in wildland fire management and suppression in Alaska.
UAFSMOKE– Track wildfires in the State of Alaska in real-time.
Alaska and Wildfires
Wildfires worldwide play an important role in air quality, climate, ecosystems, economy, and many aspects of human life. Despite its high latitudinal location, Alaska experiences an average of approximately 3,760km2 area burned annually. Each summer, these wildfires can endanger life and property if they approach populated areas while at the same time playing an important natural role in the ecosystems of Alaska. The landscape and climate of the Interior make it the prime area where the majority of wildfires occur in the state. Additionally, the climate influences the relative strength of a fire season in terms of the total area burned during the fire season.
Quick Facts About Wildfires in Alaska:
- The number of large wildfires (larger than 1,000 acres) suddenly increased in the 1990s, and the 2000s saw nearly twice as many large wildfires as the 1950s and 60s.
- In the Arctic region, large wildfires increased nearly tenfold in the 2000s compared to the 1950s and 60s. Only three years in the 1950s and 1960s saw large wildfires; there have been 33 large wildfires in the Arctic since 2000.
- The area burned in large wildfires each year is increasing. For example, in just two years, 2004 and 2005, wildfires burned a larger area than in the 15 years from 1950-1964 combined. In particular, there has been a dramatic increase in wildfires larger than 10,000 acres but smaller than 50,000 acres.
- Alaska’s wildfire season is about 40 percent longer than in the 1950s. The first wildfires start earlier in the year, and the last wildfires burn longer into the fall. Overall, the wildfire season has increased by more than 35 days and is now more than three months long, from May through early August.
- Rising temperatures across Alaska have been concurrent with the rise in the number and size of Alaskan wildfires. Years with the hottest May-July temperatures also tend to be years with the most fires and the greatest area burned.
- According to the National Climate Assessment, the area burned in Alaskan wildfires is projected to double by 2050 and triple by 2100 under continued emissions and further warming.
Division of Air Quality MONITORING AND QUALITY ASSURANCE – The Division of Air Quality, Air Monitoring & Quality Assurance Program operates and oversees air quality monitoring networks throughout Alaska.
Air Monitoring in Alaska
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has transitioned to a new data acquisition system and developed this new AQI page. The PM2.5 AQI is visible in the map view below, and more information is accessible by clicking on individual sites using this link. There are 13 air monitoring sites throughout Alaska and a Community-Based Air Monitoring Pilot Project that uses AQMesh pods to collect air quality data in hub communities throughout Alaska. If you have any questions about the data or how to navigate the AQI page, please contact [email protected].