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Report examines how warming ocean temperatures may impact Alaska

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch

A new technical report authored by 79 scientists for the U.S. Congress examines how global warming and climate change will impact Americans, more than 50 percent of whom live in coastal watersheds, and makes recommendations about how to better prepare communities and leaders to adapt. The technical report is part of the forthcoming 2013 National Climate Assessment.

The report looks at many factors contributing to climate change along the Alaska coastlines, and notes that the scientific community has "high confidence" that rising ocean temperatures will likely impact coastal communities in the Far North -- contributing to sea ice loss, erosion and releases of the greenhouse gas methane -- more than rising ocean levels, which concern many low-lying communities, especially those along the Atlantic Ocean from Louisiana to Chesapeake Bay.

Warmer oceans also create bigger storms and impact seafood quality, note the report's lead authors, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Among other key findings, according to this USGS summary of the report:

Because of changes in the hydrological cycle due to warming, precipitation events (rain, snow) will likely be heavier. Combined with sea-level rise and storm surge, this will increase flooding severity in some coastal areas, particularly in the Northeast.

Temperature is primarily driving environmental change in the Alaskan coastal zone. Sea ice and permafrost make northern regions particularly susceptible to temperature change. For example, an increase of two degrees Celsius during the summer could basically transform much of Alaska from frozen to unfrozen, with extensive implications.

Read the complete, 230-page report technical report (PDF), and learn more about the 2013 National Climate Assessment, which has been released in draft form and will be accepting public comment until April 12, 2013.