Impacts of a lengthening open water season on Alaskan coastal communities: deriving locally relevant indices from large-scale datasets and community observations

Rolph, Rebecca J.; Mahoney, Andrew R.; Walsh, John; Loring, Philip A.

Using thresholds of physical climate variables developed from community observations, together with two large-scale datasets, we have produced local indices directly relevant to the impacts of a reduced sea ice cover on Alaska coastal communities. The indices include the number of false freeze-ups defined by transient exceedances of ice concentration prior to a corresponding exceedance that persists, false break-ups, timing of freeze-up and break-up, length of the open water duration, number of days when the winds preclude hunting via boat (wind speed threshold exceedances), the number of wind events conducive to geomorphological work or damage to infrastructure from ocean waves, and the number of these wind events with on- and along-shore components promoting water setup along the coastline. We demonstrate how community observations can inform use of large-scale datasets to derive these locally relevant indices. The two primary large-scale datasets are the Historical Sea Ice Atlas for Alaska and the atmospheric output from a regional climate model used to downscale the ERA-Interim atmospheric reanalysis. We illustrate the variability and trends of these indices by application to the rural Alaska communities of Kotzebue, Shishmaref, and Utqiaġvik (previously Barrow), although the same procedure and metrics can be applied to other coastal communities. Over the 1979–2014 time period, there has been a marked increase in the number of combined false freeze-ups and false break-ups as well as the number of days too windy for hunting via boat for all three communities, especially Utqiaġvik. At Utqiaġvik, there has been an approximate tripling of the number of wind events conducive to coastline erosion from 1979 to 2014. We have also found a delay in freeze-up and earlier break-up, leading to a lengthened open water period for all of the communities examined.

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Rolph, Rebecca J. / Mahoney, Andrew R. / Walsh, John / et al: Impacts of a lengthening open water season on Alaskan coastal communities: deriving locally relevant indices from large-scale datasets and community observations. 2018. Copernicus Publications.

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