Matthew Berman and Jennifer Schmidt, faculty members at ISER, recently completed a study titled Economic Effects of Climate Change in Alaska. Findings from that research were also included in the Alaska chapter of the recently released report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP).

Alaska Annual Average Temperatures and Projected Change

(a) The graph shows Alaska statewide annual average temperatures for 1925–2016. The record shows no clear change from 1925 to 1976 due to high variability, but from 1976–2016 a clear trend of +0.7°F per decade is evident. (b) The map shows 1970–1999 annual average temperature. Alaska has a diverse climate, much warmer in the southeast and southwest than on the North Slope (c) The map shows projected changes from climate models in annual average temperature for end of the 21st century (compared to the 1970–1999 average) under a lower scenario (RCP4.5). (d) The map is the same as (c) but for a higher scenario (RCP8.5). Sources: (a) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency and U.S. Geological Survey, (b–d) U.S. Geological Survey.

In their economic effects study, Berman and Schmidt classified effects into categories based on the nature of the effect, level of certainty, timing, and magnitude of economic impact. They also provided estimates of larger, near-term and more certain effects for which data were available. The largest economic effects were associated with costs to prevent damage, relocate, and replace infrastructure threatened by permafrost thaw, sea level rise, and coastal erosion. Costs to infrastructure were offset somewhat by reduced costs for space heating due to shorter and milder winters. Overall, they estimated that five, relatively certain, large effects that could be readily quantified would impose an annual net cost of $340-$700 million, or 0.6 to 1.3 percent of Alaska GDP. Notably, many of the costliest effects, such as village relocation, are located in rural Alaska; the benefits of lower heating costs are more concentrated in urban Alaska, where more people live, and heat their homes and businesses.

The study will soon be published in the journal Weather, Climate and Society. A summary of the findings is included in the chapter on Alaska in the recently released Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States. The Global Change Research Act of 1990 requires the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to report on its work every four years. Volume 1 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), published in 2017, focused on a detailed analysis of how climate change is affecting the physical earth system across the United States. Volume 2, published last week, draws on that science to assess the human welfare, societal and environmental elements of climate change, including observed and projected risks, impacts and mitigation strategies.

Dr. Berman and Dr. Schmidt’s work was funded by the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy.