The estuaries, river deltas, lagoons and coastlines along Alaska’s coastlines are small in terms of total land mass but are among the most biologically rich areas in the state. These areas provide a disproportionate share of homes to fish, birds and other wildlife species, and to people.
Impacts in Alaska
Many of these coastal areas are barely above sea level and are vulnerable to changes including loss of protective sea ice, increasing storm intensity, changing sea levels and erosion. Salinization also occurs as sea levels rise, precipitation increases, and permafrost melts, which can alter the chemistry of estuary and near coast riparian habitats. The introduction of salty ocean water into permafrost areas further accelerates the melting process, acting as a positive feedback loop.
Forests are expanding north and west and many tundra areas are seeing a growth in shrubs. Wildfires increase due to warmer temperatures, dryer conditions and an increase in lightning strikes. Wildfires in boreal rainforests are projected to double by 2050. As habitats change, animal species are shifting as well. Caribou populations are decreasing in some parts of the state, possibly due to the loss of lichen and/or winter freezing rain acting as a barrier for them to reach needed vegetation under the snow. Moose, beaver, insects and unwelcome southern latitude creatures like ticks are moving into new parts of the state warm and change.