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visiting Alaska

Visiting Alaska, the 49th State

Often obtaining area info is far more interesting than in depth magazine descriptions. By my count there are not enough guides that consist of all the problems readers have. This analysis is related to options to decide upon for tourists evaluating places to see in Alaska, the northernmost state.

Scientists suspect retreating sea ice is changing the color of Alaska’s tundra

was written by Davis Hovey, KNOM – Nome , 2019-09-21 01:35:28

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Much of the North Slope of Alaska is characterized by low, sweeping tundra hills, and a complete absence of trees. (Creative Commons photo by Paxson Woelber)

Biologists say early retreating sea ice is potentially causing vegetation productivity changes on the tundra across Alaska and the Arctic. Uma Bot, a climate variability expert with the University of Alaska–Fairbanks, says the land warms up more quickly when sea ice recedes earlier than usual.

“‘Cause the tundra is temperature limited and if it has more warmth available during the course of the summer, things can grow more,” Bot said. “That’s the first order effect, but what I think has happened is as the sea ice has gone away even further each year from the coast; there’s more time for open water, and that has led, I think, to increased cloudiness.”

Bot says more cloudiness can cool temperatures and potentially reduce plants’ photosynthetic activity or “greening.”

According to a publication recently released by the University of Alaska–Fairbanks and the International Arctic Research Center, the tundra on the North Slope has shown the most “greening” over the last five years than any other region in the state.

“But if you look at the Arctic as a whole, it’s greening, and the productivity is increasing,” Bot said. “But there’s a lot of spatial variability, and we think it has to do with what the permafrost is doing locally. If things are drying out locally, or if the snow patterns are changing, that’s going to affect what the vegetation is able to do.”

As Bot alluded to, there doesn’t seem to be one specific factor or explanation for the trend of significant greening, but on the North Slope increased shrub growth, general warming of the tundra, and more available moisture are possible contributors. According to climatologist Rick Thoman, sea ice extent near the North Slope in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas is still shrinking. It’s currently less than 400,000 km, which is 37% of what used to be the average seasonal minimum.

In stark contrast, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta has seen a decreasing Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), or measured greening.

According to Skip Walker with UAF’s Institute of Arctic Biology, the lack of “greening” in the YK Delta doesn’t necessarily mean that the tundra and vegetation is “browning.”

“What is the actual cause of that is a mystery right now,” Walker said. “I don’t think we really understand it fully. And so that seems to be an area that really needs some research, as to what is the cause of that persistent trend and negative NDVI in the YK Delta.”

Walker has been working with Uma Bot to study tundra greening in the Arctic for more than a decade. Even though they are focusing on a larger area, Bot says the Seward Peninsula seems to be transitioning between the “greening” North Slope and the potential “browning” in the YK Delta.

Across Alaska and areas that Walker refers to as the low Arctic, satellite imagery shows an increasing number of shrubs popping up on the landscape. He says in the near future he expects to see shrubs growing in areas where they weren’t seen before. 

“I think overall the increase in shrubs will eliminate a lot of the species’, what we could call, diversity,” Walker said. “The species diversity tends to go down when you have a lot of shrubs in the landscape, and that seems to be happening.”

And if shrub growth continues to increase eventually, Walker says the Alaska tundra will totally transform, but through a gradual process which may not finish during his lifetime. 

According to Walker, these landscape changes, such as more shrubs and increased greening, will affect everything in Alaska. To see how wildlife, vegetation and humans living on the tundra could be affected down the line, Walker suggests keeping an eye out for the yet-to-be-released 2019 Arctic Report Card.

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a trip to Alaska, America's icebox

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Denali National Park and Preserve. First intended to protect wildlife, the views are having said that dazzling. Denali consists of 160 miles of the Alaska Range and dominating this skyline is North America’s greatest peak; 20,320 foot Mount McKinley easily one of the most incredible sights in Alaska, if not the world. Yet it’s not just the mountain which makes Denali National Park an extraordinary place. The park is also where you can 37 species of mammals, ranging from lynx, marmots and Dall sheep, to foxes and snowshoe hares, and 130 different bird species have been spotted here, which include the impressive golden eagle. The majority of visitors, however, want to see 4 animals in particular: moose, caribou, wolf and everybody’s favorite: the grizzly, bear. Denali, in contrast to the majority of wilderness areas in the country, it’s not necessary to be a backpacker to see this kind of wildlife, they can be seen right next to the famous Denali Park road. Not surprisingly then, visitors come here in droves; the park is a favorite destination, attracting 432,000 visitors annually. Over time the National Park Service (NPS) has developed unique visitor-management strategies, such as closing its only road to most vehicles. For that reason Denali National Park is still the terrific wilderness it was two decades ago. The entry has changed, but the park itself hasn’t, and a brown bear meandering on a tundra ridge still provide the same quiet thrill as when the park very first opened up in 1917. While generations of Athabascans had wandered through what is presently the park, the first permanent settlement was founded in 1905, when a gold miners’ rush established the town of Kantishna. A year later, naturalist and hunter Charles Sheldon was stunned by the beauty of the land and mortified at the reckless abandon of the miners and big-game hunters. Sheldon returned in 1907 and explored the region along with guide Harry Karstens in an effort to create boundaries for a proposed national park. Sheldon was successful and the area was identified as Mount McKinley National Park in 1917 with Karstens serving as the park’s very first superintendent. As a result of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the park was enlarged to more than 6 million acres and re-named Denali National Park and Preserve. Denali now includes an area somewhat bigger than the state of Massachusetts and is usually rated as one of Alaska’s top points of interest.

traveling to Denali National Park in Alaska, the Last Frontier

Going To Denali National Park in Alaska