Scientists Look to the Past to Predict the Future of Alaska’s Climate

Trend graphs showing the upward trend of extreme warming events, followed by the downward trend of extreme cooling events

Extreme temperature and precipitation events significantly impact Alaska’s land use and infrastructure, which creates more hazardous conditions for Alaskans and the state’s ecosystems.

Peter Bieniek and John Walsh, researchers working with the Alaska Climate Science Center, have discovered a key trend in Alaska’s climate extremes that will help Alaska better adapt to these conditions. 

After examining minimum and maximum temperatures and precipitation over the last 60+ years in Alaska, Bieniek and Walsh observed a noticeable decrease in extreme cooling events in Alaska.

“The number of cold extremes have really dropped off,” say Bieniek. “These extremes actually exhibit behavior that’s tied to these long term global warming trends and also to the [climate variability].”

The research highlights the upward trend of extreme warming events (Figure 2.a) followed by the downward trend of extreme cooling events (Figure 2.b). Depending on the climate variability over the next ten to fifteen years, these trends are expected to continue. 

“Alaska is much more likely to see days with record-breaking warmth rather than record-breaking cold, especially in the winter,” explains Bieniek. 

Bieniek hopes to use this data to assist with future projections and to see how the data might change overtime. 

For further information, the study is available online and on the Alaska Climate Divisions site.

This article was originally posted on the Alaska Climate Science Center website here.

Figure: Decadal counts of the top 10 most extreme monthly (a) high temperature, (b) low temperature, and (c) high-precipitation events stratified by season for all climate divisions. (Bieniek and Walsh)

Published Date: March 9th, 2017
CSC(s): Alaska CSC
Keywords: Extreme Weather