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Warming in Alaska

Item #d98sep35

Black guillemots are seabirds that live along the coast and feed on fish, shellfish, and plankton in northern temperate climates. They cannot live in snowy climates, though, because they need at least 80 consecutive days without snow to make nests and to hatch and rear their young. The climate of northern Alaska had been too harsh for them until the late 1960s. Since then, their populations have been growing on the north coast of Alaska as warmer temperatures have caused the snow to melt earlier in the spring, according to George Divoky of the Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska in Fairbanks. He has tracked populations of these birds for about three decades. But since 1990, their numbers have dropped from 225 to 110 nesting pairs on Cooper Island. Divoky feels that this reduction has resulted because of the continued rise in temperatures. Records indicate that the Arctic temperature has increased 1° C during the past 40 years and at least 3° C in Alaska and northwestern Canada. These warmer temperatures have reduced the sea ice in the area and thus the cod that the black guillemots feed on. Also, those warmer temperatures are putting more moisture into the air so that September snowfall is much heavier than in the past, causing overwinter survival of the guillemots to drop significantly. If this is, indeed, the case, this connection between snow cover and guillemot numbers may be the first documented biological effect of Arctic climate change. [”Arctic Newcomer,” Arctic Science Journeys Radio Service, Alaska Sea Grant College Program and the Univ. Alaska at Fairbanks; Internet:; “Can’t Take the Heat,”New Scientist 160, 12 (Sept. 26, 1998); Internet:]

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