the largest AND the coldest of the 50 American states, Alaska is already experiencing the effects of climate change. The state, which is located in the extreme northwestern portion of the North American continent, normally experiences temperatures ranging from minus 60 degrees F (minus 51 degrees C) in the winter to more than 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) in interior areas during summer months. Over the last three decades, Alaska's average temperature has risen 5 degrees F (2.7 degrees C). Around the world, glaciers are melting at unprecedented levels, threatening animal and plant ecosystems. In Alaska, warmer temperatures are causing the breaking up of portions of Porter Glacier. Alaska shares an eastern border with Canada and is surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Gulf of Alaska, the Beaufort Sea, the Bering Sea, the Bering Strait, and the Chuckchi Sea, all of which are also filled with ecosystems that are vulnerable to changing temperatures.
Sea levels are rising around the world, and Alaska is seeing the effects of these changes to varying degrees. The most significant changes have been along the coasts of the Bering Sea, the Chuckchi Sea, and the Beaufort Sea. The coastal communities of Kivalina, Shishmaref, and Newtok are in the process of relocating because of erosion and flooding. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, more than 160 other rural communities in Alaska are vulnerable to coastal erosion. Alaska has over 100 acres of state parks and forests, and scientists have observed decreased tree growth in interior areas as a result of climate change. The state also has a large mammal population whose survival depends on preserving existing ecosystems. Alaska has experienced an increase in the number of forest fires in the state in response to warmer temperatures, and spruce bark beetles are destroying forests.
In much of Alaska, permafrost causes the ground to remain frozen year-round. Some 85 percent of Alaska is built on foundations of permafrost. When events occur to disrupt the thermal balance, the permafrost melts and the ground above it collapses in a process known as thermokarst slumping. Maintenance costs are already increasing for roads, pipelines, and other facilities built on permafrost. Two Alaskan scientists, who have identified holes as deep as 200 ft. (61 m.) in some areas, report that the permafrost south of the Yukon River is nearing thawing point. Another scientist has observed that permafrost in the far north remains relatively stable, but acknowledges that considerable warming has occurred since the 1990s. If permafrost melts, it may lead to slumping roads, slanting floors, forest sinkholes, disappearing trees, and the presence of new lakes.
Although the state government has acknowledged the need to respond to changes that are taking place in Alaska, there is still controversy over whether or not climate changes are due to global warming, and on defining specific actions that are necessary to deal with the issue. In the spring of 2007, three groups of Alaska Natives, the Inter-Tribal Council, the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments, and Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands, filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in a global warming lawsuit filed by 10 states, three cities, and a number of citizen advocacy groups, in an effort to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gases and identify them as contributors to global warming and climate change. The state government of Alaska has joined 10 other states and industries in formally protesting the suit, arguing that forcing the EPA to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new vehicles would not solve the overall problems of global warming.
When compared with other states, Alaska produces 0.3 percent of the nation's alternative fuels and 0.1 percent of ethanol. The state produces 0.2 percent of total CO2 and 0.4 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions. Alaska does not produce significant amounts of sulfur dioxide. Alaska has the 14th lowest level of CO2 emissions in the United States; but because of Alaska's sparse and widely distributed population and its dependency on coal-generated power, the level of CO2 produced per person is the highest in the nation and six times that generated by the state of New York, which has a population approximately 29 times the size of Alaska's. Because the land area of Alaska is 570,374 sq. mi. (917,928 sq. km.), residents spend much time traveling by air, and Anchorage, the largest city in the state, ranks second in air cargo traffic in the United States.
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