Wall design at Troth Yeddha campus visualizes warming arctic climate

Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 8:49 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - A hallway at the International Arctic Research Center carries a new striped design showcasing the arctic’s climate year-by-year since 1900 - a window into the region’s past.

“The idea of climate stripes is to very visually, not a lot of detail, but just at a glance you can see how things are changing, if at all,” said Rick Thoman, Cimate Specialist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy at the International Arctic Research Center.

Each strip represents one year of average climate in the arctic. “We take the average temperature for each year, and then rank them,” Thoman continued, “so that the coldest year gets the deepest blue, the warmest year gets the deepest red, and so we just have a continuous gradation between that.”

Years with an average temperature show almost no color.

Since the 1990s, an overwhelming trend can be observed. “There’s some year to year variability, but the pattern as you walk along here is very very clear,” Thoman said. “Things are warming, and that the warming has not been gradual, but rather in the last few decades it’s really picked up the pace.”

He added, “The coldest years in the arctic are almost entirely from the 1980s and before.”

According to Thoman, the area being measured encompasses the whole arctic region, “which, for this purpose, we defined as 60° latitude and northward for the entire arctic.”

These averages were calculated using reconstructed temperatures from all around the arctic world. “That includes Siberia, includes Alaska, Canada, Greenland, the European Arctic, as well as out over the Arctic Ocean,” Thoman explained.

The process of reconstructing past temperatures carries with it some uncertainty. “There’s certainly more uncertainty in some of these earlier years than we have nowadays. We have less individual stations nowadays in the arctic, but we have more things like satellite estimates, that kind of thing,” Thoman said.

However, when the whole arctic is considered, the climate patterns being seen become more stable from measurement to measurement, removing much of that uncertainty, according to Thoman.

The effects of this warming trend can be felt throughout Alaska. “Bristol Bay area burned more land this summer than 1950 to 2021 combined. That’s a result of early snowmelt and then a warm and dry spring,” Thoman said.

The mural can be found on the 4th floor of the Akasofu Building on Upper Campus.

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