Drought and Extreme Weather Events in SE Alaska Workshop

Building collaboration to enhance data, decision making, and adaptation planning 

Context:

In March 2022, a workshop was held in Juneau, Alaska to share the latest research, data decision support tools, and local monitoring efforts conducted by residents of predominantly rural Southeast Alaska communities. The workshop planning team included representatives from the funding agency, the USDA, both the Northwest Climate Hub and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Federal and State agencies, non-profits, community organizations, Tribal representatives, and academic researchers currently working in the region through Alaska EPSCoR.  This includes representatives involved in the regional collaboration, the Southeast Sustainable Partnership.  Participants included agencies, academic researchers, Tribes, and others to assess the potential impacts of both drought and extreme events on natural and built environments.  

The goal of this workshop was to build on existing efforts and assist with the development of community-driven adaptation strategies to serve the specific needs, challenges, and opportunities of remote, temperate rainforest communities. The workshop had 82 participants and included talks and participants who attended virtually, as well as in-person, from across Southeast Alaska.

Background:

“Weather in Alaska is not small talk.”

A temperate rainforest, Southeast Alaska typically receives 62-160” of rain and 33-143” of snow annually. However, this region has been experiencing extreme heat and periods of prolonged drought, and even wildfire smoke arriving from the interior of the Yukon. The recent dry conditions and extreme drought (categorized as D0-D3 by the National Drought Mitigation Center) have had economic impacts, such as the need to increase diesel power generation due to the lack of water for hydropower generation throughout Southeast Alaska. Less precipitation has also resulted in reduced stream flows, higher stream temperatures, and fish die-offs. Concerns with lower stream flow resulted in an early release from fish hatcheries in winter 2019. This region is well adapted for a lot of precipitation and has not adjusted to receiving less.  While these conditions prompted planning efforts to respond to periods of unprecedented drought, precipitation is still projected to increase over the long term in the region, accompanied by a host of additional impacts.  For that reason, the 2022 workshop expanded beyond drought to include all extreme weather events.    

Structure and Methodology:

“We need to work together to create tools that are more powerful.”

The workshop included talks and focus groups covering the topics of weather and climate, the forest environment, socioeconomics, and streams and salmon (including the marine environment).  You can find the meeting agenda here and list of presentations with relevant links here.

A foundational question for the workshop planners and participants was “how do we connect users with relevant information and make it easy to use?”  By bringing together a wide variety of stakeholders in Southeast Alaska to develop adaptation strategies, the goal was to harness the diversity of thought, knowledge, and experience to develop strategies that will provide localized support.  Additionally, this was an applied workshop to focus not only on the science but on the societal impacts of extreme events from a broad diversity of stakeholders across the region. 

Collectively identified data needs:

“Southeast Alaska can be a huge data vacuum due to lack of access”

  • More water data for freshwater and marine environments
  • More snowpack data
  • More locations collecting data to understand impacts at a downscaled level
  • More data relevant to salmon
  • Better flood forecasting at a downscaled level
  • Potential impacts of how the forest environment will respond to extreme events
  • A hub for all new tools associated with climate modeling/projections/analysis

It was identified by workshop planners and participants that some of the above data needs include those that are already available but not broadly accessible.  Therefore, bridging the accessibility gap was identified as a priority.  

Furthermore, social science can generate useful information such as local knowledge of past experiences with extreme events and the impacts to local communities.  This can provide an additional layer of complexity to inform decision makers such as resource managers, policy makers, and local stakeholders.  

Moving forward:

“We desperately need local water temperatures in real time to monitor salmon populations”

In the future, it will be important to find ways to get around funding challenges and other logistical hurdles in order to establish more comprehensive monitoring across Southeast Alaska.  More comprehensive, community-driven monitoring will provide the best opportunity to understand and plan for localized impacts.  

This workshop was narrow in scope covering just three topical areas in depth: weather and climate, streams and salmon, and the forest environment.  At future events, it will be valuable to expand further into areas such as socioeconomics.

Highlighted Resources:

We want to highlight several of the tools shared at this workshop. Below you can find examples with links to our resources section.

Resource-Related Materials

Related Documents: None