Sunday, January 30, 2011

Alaska seeing impact of climate change in its infrastructure, villages

Molly Rettig in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (Alaska): Climate change has already begun to make life difficult for state transportation managers. And they expect it to become a bigger and more expensive challenge if warming trends continue as predicted.

“With over 6,600 miles of coastline and 80 percent of the state underlaid by ice-rich permafrost, you can certainly imagine we are at the forefront of climate change impacts,” said Mike Coffey, maintenance and operations chief for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Coffey discussed the impact of climate change on transportation in a webinar last week, hosted by the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. New challenges include warming permafrost, coastal erosion and the potential for more dramatic storms and flooding, he said. These could lead to more highways and facilities cracking, icing up or even washing away. The hardest-hit areas are northern, western and Interior Alaska, where roads and structures are built over permafrost and near the coast.

…Melting permafrost is the biggest challenge for roads and infrastructure, Coffey said. “Permafrost is essentially a function of average annual temperature. If average annual temperature goes above the freezing point, eventually you’ll see changes,” said Nancy Fresco, coordinator at Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning…

An undated view of wagons carrying Alaska Road Commission employees, in front of Camp Comfort Roadhouse, Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, Alaska. Photographer's number J354. n.d. Photographer: P.S. Hunt.

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