Alaska Entering New Era for Wildfires

Alaska, the great northern frontier of America, is being reshaped by climate change. While rising temperatures are altering its character and landscape, they are also bringing the ravages of wildfires.

In the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the country, with average temperatures up by nearly 3°F. By 2050, temperatures are projected to climb an additional 2-4 degrees, with the Arctic region seeing the most dramatic increases. These rising temperatures are expected to increase wildfire risks in Alaska, just as they have in the rest of the western U.S.

Wildfires have been on the rise across the western U.S. since the 1970s, at the same time that spring and summer temperatures have increased dramatically, and average spring snowpack has declined substantially.

Fires in Alaska don’t often make news in the lower 48, but they threaten vast expanses of forest, parkland, and tundra that store immense quantities of carbon. The state’s growing number of large wildfires have the potential to damage these ecosystems, and the people and wildlife that depend on them, while releasing a significant amount of carbon into the atmosphere, further contributing to global warming. Wildfire emissions over these vast areas also threaten air quality in Alaska and beyond.

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