Climate change prolongs Interior Alaska growing season

August 1, 2010 

FAIRBANKS -- Researchers say higher temperatures have given Alaska a longer growing season.

According to the Alaska Climate Research Center, Fairbanks is 2 1/2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer and 11 percent drier than it was 100 years ago.

The changes have stretched the growing season from 85 days in the early 20th century to 123 days.

Gerd Wendler, director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks research center, says every change in climate will have positive effects and negative ones.

For example, warming might produce more pumpkins and potatoes, but it also could wipe out tree populations.

Agriculture is one beneficiary, but a discrepancy existed among growing seasons in the just past five years. In 2006, the last hard freeze struck June 6, while last spring, the final frost came May 15, according to the National Weather Service.

"The thing about agriculture is we can have really high temperatures or long seasons, but if you have a hard frost in the middle of August that wipes out everything, you can have another month that's really good but you can't take advantage of it because the crops are dead," said Meriam Karlsson, professor of horticulture at UAF.

Last summer was the longest growing season in the 37 years that Michelle Hebert, horticulture specialist at the Cooperative Extension Service, has gardened in the north.

"Within the last few years, especially last summer, I had, in my garden, 120 days," she said. "We just had that Indian summer that went on forever."

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