• Emergent impacts of rapidly changing climate extremes in Alaska

      Lader, Rick T.; Walsh, John E.; Bhatt, Uma S.; Rupp, T. S.; Zhang, Xiangdong (2018-08)
      The frequency and intensity of certain extreme weather events in Alaska are increasing, largely due to climate warming from greenhouse gas emissions. Future projections indicate that these trends will continue, potentially leading to billions of dollars in climate-related damages this century. Expected damages arise from increases in extreme precipitation, severe wildfire, altered ocean chemistry, land subsidence from permafrost thaw, and coastal erosion. This dissertation applies new downscaled reanalysis and climate model simulations from the fifth phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project to enhance current understanding of climate extremes in Alaska. Model output is analyzed for a historical period (1981-2010) and three projected periods (2011-2040, 2041-2070, 2071-2100) using representative concentration pathway 8.5. Unprecedented heat and precipitation are expected to occur when compared to the historical period. Maximum 1-day and consecutive 5-day precipitation amounts are expected to increase by 53% and 50%, respectively, and the number of summer days per year (Tmax > 25°C) increases from a statewide average of 1.5 from 1981-2010 to 29.7 for 2071-2100. Major alterations to the landscape of Alaska are anticipated due to a decreasing frequency of freezing temperatures. Growing season length extends by 48-87 days by 2071-2100 with the largest changes in northern Alaska. In contrast, projections indicate a reduced snow season length statewide and many locations in southwest Alaska no longer have continuous winter snow cover. Changes to these metrics indicate that a climate-warming signal emerges from the historical inter-annual variability, meaning that future distributions are entirely outside of those previously observed. The largest changes to extremes may be avoided by following a lower emissions trajectory, which would reduce the impacts and associated costs to maintain infrastructure and human health.