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Managing effects of drought and other water resource challenges in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest

December 31, 2019

This is a Cooperator Report. As such, there is no specific abstract.

The physical, ecological, and social environments of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest (PNW) region of the United States are extremely diverse. Alaska ranges from the Arctic Ocean and the very cold, dry environments of the North Slope to the cool and very rainy coastal North Pacific region of Southeast Alaska. Most precipitation falls as snow at higher elevations. In Arctic Alaska, average annual temperature is 14.6 F, and average annual precipitation is 11 inches. By contrast, in Southeast Alaska, average annual temperature is 35.8 F, and annual average precipitation is 143 inches.

The PNW, defined here as Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, ranges from the Pacific Coast (annual precipitation of 200 inches) to interior semi-arid regions (annual precipitation of 8 inches). Precipitation patterns in the PNW are strongly governed by orographic phenomena, with high, persistent snowpack in the higher mountains (e.g., record annual snowfall of 1,130 in at Mount Baker, Washington in 1999-2000).

Ecosystems in the PNW include productive temperate coniferous forests near the Pacific coast and along the (wet) west slope of the Cascade Range, less productive mixed-conifer forest along the (dry) east slope of the Cascades and in interior mountain ranges, and sagebrush-steppe and shrublands at lower elevations in much of the interior and mountain valleys. Large rivers and thousands of smaller tributaries form an extensive network of riparian, wetland, and estuarine systems that provide both critical hydrologic function and biological diversity at broad and fine spatial scales.

Although Alaska and the Pacific Northwest differ in important physical, ecological, and social features, the importance of natural resources is evident in both regions. Water is important for wildlife and people. Water provides critical habitat for salmon, which are culturally and economically valuable species. Timber production has declined in recent decades. Recreation has emerged as a major revenue source.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2019
Title Managing effects of drought and other water resource challenges in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest
DOI 10.2737/WO-GTR-98
Authors Jessica E. Halofsky, Jeremy S. Littell, David L. Peterson, Gregory D. Hayward, Rebecca Gravenmier
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Index ID 70216420
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center

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