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Unforeseen consequences of climate change: land rising as Alaska’s glaciers melt

Global climate disruption is causing unforeseen impacts in Juneau, Alaska: As warming temperatures cause glaciers to melt at an unprecedented rate, land that is being relieved of billions of tons of weight is ascending so quickly that rising sea levels cannot keep pace.

Residents of affected areas along the coastline have observed waterfront property change rapidly, as land has risen as much as 10 feet in little more than 200 years, according to a 2007 report “Climate Change: Predicted Impacts on Juneau,” by Dr. Eran Hood, a hydrologist at the University of Alaska Southeast. Scientists predict that further warming and melting could cause the land to rise more than three feet by 2100.

The resulting changes are leading to a number of complex ecological and environmental challenges. Falling water tables are causing salmon streams and wetlands to dry out. Shifting property boundaries are instigating arguments among residents over who owns the exposed land, and how it should be used. Glacial melt waters carrying sediment have silted up channels that were once navigable by wildlife, recreational boaters, and kayakers.

Mayor Bruce Botelho of Juneau convened a special panel of experts in 2007 to discuss the impacts of rebounding land in the region. Discussion is still ongoing as to how best manage the changing coastal landscape.

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