The Gulf of Alaska is one of the most productive marine ecosystems on Earth, supporting salmon fisheries that alone provide nearly $1 billion per year in economic benefits to Southeast Alaska. Glaciers are central to many of the area’s natural processes and economic activities, but the rates of glacier loss in Alaska are among the highest on Earth, with a 26-36 percent reduction in total volume expected by the end of the century. This project brought together scientists and managers at a workshop to synthesize the impacts of glacier change on the region’s coastal ecosystems and to determine related research and monitoring needs.
Collected knowledge shows that melting glaciers are expected to have cascading effects on the economy and ecology of Southeast Alaska, especially its valuable fishing and tourism industries. As glaciers melt, their contents – namely, large quantities of freshwater, sediment, and nutrients – are released into streams and the ocean. Biogeochemical and physical changes to waterways affect land cover, ocean currents, and habitat for fish and wildlife, which in turn have consequences for human activity.
The workshop resulted in a more coordinated strategy for studying glacier change in Alaska and addressing key outstanding questions. Follow-up work will inform several high-priority glacier-influenced management issues in the Gulf of Alaska region, ranging across (but not limited to) tourism and viewshed evolution, changes in hydropower potential, vulnerability of shipping infrastructure, stream and lake contamination, and salmon habitat management and restoration.
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“Hubbard Glacier - Public domain”