Alaska Region

Regional Snapshots – Alaska Region

Geography and Environment

Alaska, also known as “The Great Land” or “The Last Frontier,” is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, and the Beaufort Sea. While Alaska is geographically isolated from the contiguous 48-states it is internationally connected — Alaska is the only state to border two nations. 99% of the land area is federal, state, local or native corporation land. Half of all U.S. parklands and 80% of all wildlife refuges are in Alaska.

Alaska holds many records and unique landmarks such as North America’s biggest earthquake and tsunami (the 9.2 magnitude Good Friday Earthquake of 1964 and resulting 115 foot tsunami and the 1,733 foot tsunami in Lituya Bay in 1958), the Nation’s greatest concentration of glaciers, North America’s tallest mountain (Mount McKinley at 20,320 feet), the Nation’s farthest-north city (Barrow), and more than 40 active volcanoes.

Economic Context

Oil and Gas, fishing, mining, tourism, and logging are the major industries in the state. Oil and Gas is actively produced in Cook Inlet and along the North Slope. Both areas are declining since their peaks and driving concerns about revenues and supplies for the State. Since opening, the Alaska Pipeline has carried roughly 16 billion barrels of oil. The USGS estimates that 25% of the remaining world supply lies in the Arctic and industry hopes that they can tap into those reserves through off-shore exploration and access to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 2009, the State collected $3.8 billion in taxes from the Oil and Gas industry.

Alaska’s rich marine ecosystem has some of the most productive and sustainable fisheries in the world. In 2009, the wholesale value of Alaskan harvests was $3.3 billion. Dutch Harbor has been the #1 port for fishery landings (lbs) for over 20 years. The value of the mining industry in 2009 was $2.9 billion. Zinc, gold, silver, lead, and coal are the primary ores from Alaska’s largest existing mines with copper, molybdenum, palladium, and rhenium being contained in sought after – and controversial – prospects. Tourism benefits to Alaska in 2009 were $208.6 million in tax revenues and $1.5 billion in visitor spending. Most visitors (almost 87% in 2009) come in the summer on cruises (65%). Exports on forest products raised $87.8 million (2009) with most of the materials going to China, Japan, Korea, Canada, and Taiwan.

In addition, The Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is ranked second in the U.S. for landed weight of cargo aircraft, and fifth in the world for cargo traffic (source: Airports Council International). Over half of the US commercial seafood harvest comes from the state. For marine transportation, the Aleutian Islands are a major transit for the Great Circle Route linking commerce from the U.S. west coast to southern Asia. Shipping is also expanding through the Bering Strait, a 53-mile wide chokepoint that links both the Northern (Russia) and Northwest (Canada) passages to northern Asian, Russian, and European commerce. No other marine system in the U.S. has such extreme weather and climate (environmental hazards), vast geographic distances (larger than the combined U.S. marine system), and an extensive coastline (~44,000 miles). The largest employer in Alaska is the government sector with over 82,00 jobs.

Capabilities and Challenges

NOAA is leveraging and enhancing its diverse set of partnerships to proactively prepare for and respond to the potential immediate and future impacts of climate change on people, societal infrastructures, local/regional economies, and ecosystem changes.

Climate change is already impacting our environment, seasons and communities. Observable changes, many of which have regional and global implications, are underway across the Arctic. These changes are affecting the health, lives, and livelihoods of Alaskans, including the Alaska Native culture that is fundamentally threatened by climate change. NOAA is prioritizing and developing a baseline of observations to effectively monitor, evaluate, and assess climate change and variation in the Arctic Region. This includes the integration of the vertical datum and hydrographic surveys as a baseline. Assessing, monitoring, and predicting the responses of coastal and marine ecosystems in Alaska to the loss of sea ice and ocean acidification are primary initiatives. There are expanded opportunities and challenges in NOAA’s marine ecosystems monitoring and management (fish and mammal). This includes tsunami monitoring, research, and inundation modeling.

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