Climate change in Alaska has the potential to create serious physical and mental health problems for Alaskans, according to a new report from state health officials.
Melting permafrost that damages infrastructure, increased wildfire smoke, disturbances in the harvest of wild fish, game and plants, and an expanded list of diseases, including tick- or mosquito-borne diseases, are the potential downsides, the Alaska Division of Public Health said.
Climate change’s effects on Alaska wildlife have been well documented. Polar bears and their main prey, ringed seals, were declared threatened because sea ice — their primary habitat — is shrinking.
The 77-page report released this week was compiled so Alaskans could monitor anticipated changes affecting people and prepare strategies.
“Our hope is that communities and decision-makers could look through the document, see what applies to their jurisdiction and develop their own assessment of that health impacts may result,” health specialist Sarah Yoder said.
Climate change affects Alaska differently than other states. Permafrost — a layer of soil below the surface that stays frozen throughout the year — underlies 80 per cent of the state. With proper construction techniques, it provides a stable foundation for buildings, roads and runways, but thawed soil could lead to weakened foundations and accidents, the report said.
Sea ice, along with permafrost, provides crucial protection against coastal erosion when savage winter storms crash in from the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas. However, warming already has thawed soil and eroded coastlines, leading at least three villages, Kivalina, Newtok and Shishmaref, to consider relocating.
The latest National Climate Assessment…