Researchers Share Data On Climate Change


     This month’s Discovery Lab at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center was focused on the effects of climate change on Kachemak Bay.

     The event brought together researchers working in the Kachemak Bay and Lower Cook Inlet region. Representatives from the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, Kenai Watershed Forum, Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Seldovia Village Tribe were among the presenters.

     There were eight tables set up around the classroom, with the first station providing an overview of what climate change actually is and how it’s been affecting the state as a whole. KBRR Education Coordinator Jessica Ryan was manning that table. 

     “By 2050, we’re going to see an increase in frost free days across the United States,” she said.

     Ryan also was demonstrating the effects of climate change on the polar ice caps. She had a lamp shining down on two pieces of ice in separate petri dishes. One simulated open water and the other a glacier.

     “The ice that’s on the open water is melting faster than the ice that’s sitting on the snow. That’s basically what’s happening up on the poles. The more that that open water’s exposed, the more it absorbs heat, the faster that ice is going to melt,” Ryan said.  

     She also said temperatures across the state have been heating up slightly and over the next few decades, more warmer days are likely. 

     “Out by Bethel, there’s a big expanse of increased temperature there. And what that relates to is if you’ll look at the number of growing days, the frost free days in the state, you can see a pretty dramatic increase in frost-free days,” she said.

     As we experience warmer days more frequently and more ice melts, coastal communities across the state could become a target for rising sea levels. Residents of one Native village in western Alaska called Newtok have been trying to move to higher ground as their town slowly disappears.

     That’s the type of situation KBRR’s Angela Doroff is researching. She’s the principal investigator on a study called Assessing Coastal Uplift and Habitat Changes in a Glacially Influenced Estuary System. Basically she’s trying to figure out if the land is keeping pace with the steadily rising waters. Doroff said understanding how the land and water interact will translate into practical applications. 

     “It’s been a really wonderful project in that we had an opportunity to meet quarterly with people who can use this kind of information in their jobs: City of Homer, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Homer Harbormaster. Bryan Hawkins has been one of our most ardent participants,” she said.

     She said collecting more data over the long-term could help with planning and zoning issues. Homer Economic Development Coordinator Katie Koester was providing updates about the city’s progress with its Climate Action Plan. That measure was approved in 2007 and was the first one developed by an Alaskan community. Koester said Public Works Director Carey Meyer has put together a status update. 

     “We’ve reduced our electricity usage in the last two years by 8 percent. And keep in mind we’ve had a new library come on board since then, and some new buildings that are energy efficient. So there’s been some expansion to go along with that reduction. And the CO2 reductions from electricity is a little over a million pounds per year,” Koester said.

     She said the city has reduced its CO2 from heating oil use by about 54,000 pounds per year. Homer also has made progress toward investigating possible sources of renewable energy by supporting the Tidal Energy Incubator project. 

     The next Discovery Lab is scheduled for Wednesday April 3 at Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.