New Climate-Observing Stations in Alaska

Map of U.S.Climate Reference Network Station Locations in Alaska

This map shows current and future locations of USCRN stations in Alaska as well as locations that our scientists have surveyed. The three latest station additions are located at Selawik in west-central Alaska, Denali in the south-central part of the state, and Yakutat in the extreme southeastern part of the state.

The U.S. Climate Reference Network, or USCRN, is a national network of climate stations that NCEI manages. We designed the network to monitor climate change over the next 50 years using research-quality instrumentation placed in representative environments unlikely to change over time due to human activities.

By 2008, we had installed 114 stations at locations across the United States, and scientists have shown that national temperature departures from the USCRN match well with those from standard sources, confirming the validity of these operational measurements of climate. (For more information, see Comparisons of Ground-Based Observation Networks: USCRN and COOP.)

We also received authorization to expand the network into Alaska in 2008. Since then, we have installed about two stations per year in the state with the same goals as the network in the contiguous states. Out of the 29 stations we anticipate installing across Alaska by 2022, we have already completed the installation of 19, including two stations installed in August 2015 in the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge and Denali National Park and Preserve as well as a station installed in the Tongass National Forest in August 2016.

The Selawik Station

Photo of USCRN Station in Selawik Alaska

This photo of the USCRN station in Selawik shows (from left to right) the site’s precipitation gauges, main instrument tower, and power systems.

The Selawik station is located 28 miles (45 kilometers) east of the village of Selawik. The site is near a cabin visited monthly by wildlife refuge personnel. A lake that is part of a complex of oxbows (abandoned river curves) near the confluence of the Tagegawick and Kuganak rivers, which creates the Selawik River, is also next to the site. The lake serves as the landing site for floatplanes that bring equipment and technicians to and from the station. The site is about 10 feet (3 meters) above normal water level and very unlikely to be flooded. The absolute elevation of the station is 22 feet (7 meters) above mean sea level, and flat moist tundra is quite representative of a region with some 24,000 water bodies.

The site contains a normal set of instruments for a USCRN station, including redundant measurements of air temperature, humidity, precipitation and wetness (presence of precipitation), and singular measurements of surface infrared temperature, solar radiation, and wind speed 5 feet (1.5 meters) above the ground. In addition, we equipped this station with a special 20-foot (6-meter) wind vane for wind speed and direction.

Additionally, since commercial power is not available, a complex power system, consisting of solar panels, a wind generator, and methanol fuel, generates electricity and sends it to storage batteries that power the data logger, instruments, heating systems, and transmitter. Needing to run unattended for months at a time in an extremely cold and windy environment near the Bering Sea, this station has perhaps the most complex engineering of any site in the entire network.

The Denali Station

Photo of USCRN Station in Denali Alaska

This photo of the Denali USCRN station shows (from left to right) the station’s main instrument tower, precipitation gauges, and power systems in addition to the beautiful view of Denali (Mt. McKinley) in the background.

The Denali station is located 27 miles (43 kilometers) north of Denali (Mt. McKinley) near the Wonder Lake Campground at the end of the Denali Park Road. The site is at an elevation of 2,225 feet (678 meters) in the foothills north of the Alaska Range. Positioning the site at the end of a road was important for transporting station materials through a wilderness area where airplane traffic is limited. The station is very similar in construction to the one at Selawik, except that the Denali station does not have a wind electrical generator. The Denali site does have a tremendous view towards “The High One” to its south.

The Yakutat Station*

Photo of USCRN Station in Yakutat Alaska

This photo of the Yakutat USCRN station shows (from left to right) the site’s precipitation gauge and main instrument tower. The precipitation gauge tower is 11 feet above the ground due to the tremendous snow depth possibilities at the site.

The Yakutat station is located in the Tongass National Forest in extreme southeastern Alaska. The site is at an elevation of 25 feet (8 meters) within the Copper River Meridian. The tower constructed for the precipitation gauge at the Yakutat station is unique among all of the USCRN stations. Due to the tremendous snow depth possibilities in the area, that tower raises the gauge 11 feet above the ground to ensure that it continues to measure precipitation even in difficult conditions.

The Future of USCRN in Alaska

As in the case of those in the contiguous states, the USCRN stations in Alaska will stand as a reference to which we can compare stations from other networks. While the climate of Alaska is quite varied geographically, we expect that the 29 stations installed in Alaska will be able to describe a great deal of the variance of air temperature and precipitation for Alaska as a whole. NCEI personnel in Asheville, North Carolina, work closely with colleagues at NOAA's Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in achieving the goals of this project. We are currently on track to complete the installation of the Alaska stations by 2022, and these stations will be a great contribution toward improving our understanding of climate change in the Arctic.

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* Originally published in August 2015, this article was updated to reflect the addition of the Yakutat USCRN station in August 2016.