After A Century Of Climate Change, Delta Winters Could Be Unrecognizable

Sep 24, 2017

An image of Newtok's shoreline. In addition to increased erosion, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta may experience warmer winters and increased rainfall as the planet warms.

If you’re living in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta a hundred years from now, it’s going to be hot and wet. That’s according to a new study by scientists at the International Arctic Research Center, an institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

As the YK Delta enters the 22nd century, its residents will sweat their way through hotter summers that have extreme highs of about 100 degrees. Torrential rains will periodically drench the villages; on the wettest day of the year, rainfall will be 50 percent heavier than it is now. And according to climate scientist Rick Lader, the lead writer of this new study, the winters will be downright balmy: 4 degrees below zero will be about as cold as it could get.

Lader claims that we’ll be feeling a major change by the middle of the century, "when most of the sea ice is more or less gone from this region, even in wintertime." Winter temperatures are tied to the presence of sea ice.

These projections were recently published in the Arctic Research Center’s new study, which explores how climate change will impact Alaska’s extreme weather events: the coldest days of the year and the summer's heaviest rains. Though Lader wouldn’t speculate about how these changes could impact the YK Delta specifically, they could certainly lead to flooding and failing infrastructure throughout the state.

Lader said that some of the comments about the study that he's read online attempt to refute its claims. But he said that skeptics tend to ignore that the projected changes would be incremental.

"A common reply was, 'we just had one of the coldest winters on record,'" Lader said. "And of course it gets a hundred likes. But if you look at the data, last winter was almost painfully normal. These ideas get floated out there and there’s really no pushback."

One important footnote to this study? Lader said that when he and the other scientists crunched the numbers, they assumed that the global rate at which we burn fossil fuels will stay exactly the same. He added that he finds climate change denial to be increasingly frustrating as the sea ice continues to melt away.