Alaska’s Marine Ecosystem Is Changing ‘Decades Too Early’ Due to Climate Crisis

Yves here. More depressing global warming news from Alaska.

By Jordan Davidson. Originally published at EcoWatch


A harbour seal on an ice floe in Glacier Bay, Alaska. A new study shows that the climate crisis has warmed waters, changing ecosystems and crippling sea ice growth. Janette Hill / robertharding / Getty Images Plus

The climate crisis is accelerating the rate of change in Alaska‘s marine ecosystem far faster than scientists had previously thought, causing possibly irreversible changes, according to new research, as Newsweek reported.

The new study from the University of Alaska Fairbanks shows that the climate crisis has warmed waters, changing ecosystems and crippling sea ice growth. The researchers told Alaska Public Media that now is the perfect time to study Alaskan waters before warmer temperatures become the new normal.

Seth Danielson, one of the researchers on the paper told Alaska Public Media that their team was shocked by the record low sea ice and record high oceantemperatures of the last couple of years.

“It was a bit surprising because we felt like it came a couple decades too early,” said Danielson to Alaska Public Media.

The study published in the journal Nature Climate Change said that 2017 showed signs of “a sudden and dramatic shift,” according to the International Business Times.

This dramatic changes in ocean temperatures will have large impacts on the region, not only to the marine populations, but to the commercial fishing industry and to local populations that rely on subsistence fishing, as the International Business Times reported.

While the study focused on 2017, temperatures over the last two years suggest a lasting change is in the works.

“Many changes persisted in 2018 and even into 2019, suggesting that 2017 was not a passing oddity of brief consequence to social-ecological systems, but a sign of what is to come,” according to the study, as Newsweek reported.

The reduction in sea ice will open up commercial vessel lanes, which could reduce the viability of subsistence fishing, according to Danielson, as Alaska Public Media reported. It also could change the migratory patterns of the whales, walruses, and other species that migrate between the Chukchi and Bering Seas.

“The time of the year that some hunting activities can take place may need to change,” Danielson said to Alaska Public Media. “I think we’ve seen some indications of that already. And the species that people are hunting and fishing for may change as well.”

The Chukchi and Bering Seas lifecycles are driven by seasonal changes in sea ice and in water temperatures.

Whales, walruses and other species move southwards into the Bering Sea in the winter months when the water freezes over. Whales and walruses tend to move south into the Bering Sea during the winter. Then snow melt and algae growth in the spring allows marine species to flourish in summer, providing ample food for those large mammals, as Newsweek reported.

However, the warmer temperatures mean some animals are staying in the north and foregoing their migration down to the Bering Sea. The changes in temperatures mean many of the foods that large sea mammals rely on are dwindling.

Spotted seal pups seemed to suffer terribly, according to Newsweek. They appeared thinner and smaller than normal. Ribbon seals, similarly, appeared to have rapidly declining birth rates and many more carcasses washing ashore in 2018 — about five times the annual average from 2014 to 2017.

The researchers also noted a change in the type of fish found in Alaska’s waters, noting that pacific cod are appearing further north and have the potential to disturb native Arctic cod population, according to Alaska Public Media.

“They’re a focal point through which energy flows to a lot of different components,” said Danielson to Alaska Public Media. “For instance, they’re eaten by the seals. They’re eaten directly by people. The seals are eaten by people and polar bears.”

“You can be fairly confident in attributing these types of unusual events to human-induced causes,” Danielson added.

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  1. Steve H.

    Dr. Peter Carter, Dec 10 2019: Looking at the 2.2 million year ice core, the maximum methane concentration ever was 800 ppb. In Barrow, Alaska it is 2,050 ppb and staying there. It’s been up there for 4 months.

    After he said that, there were several readings over 2200 ppb to close the year. It’s settled down some since then, but I suggest seeing the chart for yourself. Select Parameter = Methane, and choose your time frame, the hit Submit:

    1. LawnDart

      I believe that methane will be the 2×4 that Mother Nature takes to our skulls, asking “Are you getting it yet?!?”

    2. ObjectiveFunction

      Someone in another thread, umm, produced a stat that the average adult human produces 1.2L of CH4 per day. Multiply by 6-odd billion and….

      We haz met the enemy an’ they iz us!

      1. curious euro

        Not us.
        There are about a billion cows on the planet and supposedly each of them produces 250-500 litres CH4 per day.
        Your steak vastly outperforms you in production.

        To the article: I’m sure there will be tons of changes in the arctic ecosystem, but as long as only subsistence fishers aka indigenous tribes, and a few seals are affected, no one will really care. Keyword: subsistence.

        At least it has to inconvenience factory fishing flotillas to even register. And since the lack of ice opens new transport routes or maybe even makes some oil or ores accessible: fat chance.

        1. urdsama

          Sorry, still us.

          There wouldn’t be so many cows (and other food animals) without the humans who purposely increase these animal populations far above what the environment would naturally support.

          In my opinion, it is this type of deflection that enables the climate deniers.

          1. rjs

            no, not us…before we came, the continent supported more buffalo and deer than there are cows now, who produced an amount of methane equivalent to that which domestic cows do today..

            the deflection that enables the climate deniers is the one that blames largely natural processes such as ungulate digestion for greenhouse gas increases, rather than laying the blame on the megatons of fossil fuels which had been sequestered for eons but which we’ve just now dug up and burnt and thus added to the atmosphere…

            i’ve been on this case since the 1970s…blaming meat eaters for climate change was an idea that was first pushed by the US auto industry…

      1. flora

        Methane is not just a highly concentrated greenhouse gas, it is also directly poisonous.

        Elevated levels of methane in the presence of atmospheric oxygen doesn’t mean we’re dropping over. It’s too diluted in the atmosphere for that, so far. But, it may mean the more methane in the atmosphere the less oxygen we take in because our bodies don’t recognize and compensate for the change.

  2. LawnDart

    “Sing, sweet bird, I kneen nat where thou art!”
    This Nicholas anon let fle a fart
    As greet as it had been a thonder-dent
    That with the strook he was almost yblent (blinded)
    And he was ready with iron hoot
    And Nicholas ammyd the ers he smoot.

    The one who said the verse just made the atmosphere worse.

  3. nothing but the truth

    the estimates for 2100 will be met by 2030-2035, unless there is an unexpected exogenous “shock”

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