Alaska regional context

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 (Denali at 20,308 feet), the Nation’s farthest-north city (Utqiagvik), and more than 40 active volcanoes.

Economic Context

Alaska’s major industries are Oil and Gas, fishing, mining, tourism, and logging.

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 over 18 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 new production in the National Petroleum Reserve and access to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Alaska’s rich marine ecosystem has some of the most productive and sustainable fisheries in the world. Over half of the US commercial seafood harvest comes from the state.  Dutch Harbor has been the #1 port for fishery landings (lbs) for 23 years and numbers 2 and 3 are in Alaska as well.  Overall Alaskan fisheries bring in 60% of all the landings of wild caught seafood in the United States representing 32% of the value. 

The export value of the mining industry in 2019 was $3 billion. Zinc, gold, silver, lead, and coal are the primary ores from Alaska’s largest existing mines. Major prospects for copper and molybdenum also exist in the state.  In addition, Alaska has the nation’s largest supply of several critical minerals including palladium, graphite, and rhenium important for national security and green energy futures.

Tourism benefits to Alaska in 2019 were $215 million in state and municipal tax revenues and $4.5 billion in visitor spending. 58% of visitors come via cruise ship and 1 in 3 return to Alaska as independent travelers.

In addition, The Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is ranked second in the U.S. for landed weight of cargo aircraft, and fourth in the world for air cargo traffic. 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).

Capabilities and Challenges

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.

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