Tribal Profiles
Alaska - Alutiiq/Aleut Region

Alaska Peninsula

The southern region of Alaska has not experienced the same dramatic impacts of climate change as the more-northerly reaches of the state. Here, however, differences in oceanic processes are proving to be significant.

In general, ocean life is less tolerant of change than terrestrial life-any change in ocean conditions can have a big influence on sea creatures. Oceans tend to have a slow response rate when outside forces exert influences; thus, it's harder for humans to comprehend the kinds of changes that can occur in marine environments over time.

The warming of the oceans is a good example of this phenomenon. "Even if greenhouse gas emissions were stabilized today, warming would continue for at least two more decades due to the slow response of the oceans" (Hanna, 2007). This leads one to wonder: How much change can we expect in the coming decades? Joined with other human influences (such as oil spills, fish hatcheries, and the impacts of other new technologies), what will our environmental future bring?

Uncommon occurrences in the natural world are being attributed more and more to climate change. However, through our rapid development of new technologies, and our often careless practices around those technologies, the causes of various impacts are often obscured-is a particular impact due to changes in climate or the result of other human, or even natural, impacts?

The herring crash in the mid 1990s presents a good example. It might have resulted from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which took place in the area at the time, or it might have been caused by, or exacerbated by, climate change. Perhaps the decline in shellfish is due to an increase in predatory sea otters since the end of the Russian fur trade. When considering changes in the ocean environment, it is difficult to fathom what is and what is not related to climate change. One thing is certain however-our actions are impacting ocean habitats.

Observed changes in the south-west and south-central parts of Alaska
  • Sea turtles and tuna, not a normal catch in Homer, are now seen on occasion--tuna provides residents with a new and different taste in cuisine.

  • Sand Point and King Cove have experienced cyclical patterns in marine life. Cod used to be abundant; then cod disappeared. Today cod seems to be reappearing and this makes sense, as paths do not run in straight lines, but rather in a circular order.

  • The Gulf of Alaska has experienced more rain in the winter and warmer weather than normal. The diminished winter snowfall is believed to be directly correlated with fewer salmon returns.

  • Food web changes may be occurring due to different migration habits. This is difficult to observe and hard to predict.

  • The lower Kenai Peninsula has noticed a change in intertidal critters since the 1950s. Sea urchins, crabs, and clams are all declining in population.

©2002 Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals & Northern Arizona University
Last updated: February 10, 2011