Alaska and Pacific Islands CASCs meet to make cross-network connections

A group of scientists in rain gear gather for a group photo in front of a glacier in Southeast Alaska.

Last week, scientists and staff from the Alaska and Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASCs) gathered in Juneau, Alaska to foster cross-CASC collaborations. Both CASCs cover huge territories, with the Pacific Islands CASC covering a broad area including Hawai’i, Guam, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and beyond. However, much of the focus of this meeting was on the comparisons between southeast Alaska and Hawai’i. Aside from the stark differences in latitude and climate, the states share more commonalities than one might expect. Southeast Alaska and Hawai’i feature steep, dramatic topography, highly variable climate patterns, and productive coastal waters. The states also share a booming tourism economy, local reliance on terrestrial and marine resources, and a strong connection to cultural heritage. Separated by 3,000 miles, the waters of the North Pacific Ocean connect Alaska and Hawai’i with currents and atmospheric circulation patterns such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, El Niño, and La Niña, creating volatile and hard to predict climate patterns.

Jason Fellman (University of Alaska Southeast) describes stream dynamics at Peterson Creek in Juneau.

Scientists and staff from both climate adaptation science centers first gathered in Honolulu, Hawai’i last April to explore these common themes and increase collaboration between the CASCs. They reassembled in Juneau this fall to map out how to build capacity, communication, and knowledge-sharing across the network. Scientists and fellows from both CASCs presented research on modeling regional climate patterns, stream dynamics, and incorporating local knowledge into tracking ecosystem change. Overlapping themes emerged from both regions, including drought, natural hazards such as landslides and coastal erosion, and challenges in modeling due to lack of data.

The meeting included a field visit to several research sites around Juneau that highlighted the complex stream dynamics in glacial and rainfed watersheds. While the temperate climate and glacial backdrop were a far cry from Hawai’i’s tropical coastlines, PI CASC participants remarked how the mountainous, rainy coast felt familiar in many ways. As in Hawai’i, water is a driving force of the ecosystem, evident in every aspect of the landscape.

Ryan Bellmore (USFS Pacific Northwest Research Station) shows participants an iron-rich upwelling creek during the field visit.

The meeting concluded with the group energized to continue to explore ways to share knowledge, resources, and build a unique joint science agenda that capitalizes on research themes across Hawai’i and Alaska.