Changing Daily Wind Speeds on Alaska’s North Slope: Implications for Rural Hunting Opportunities


  • Winslow D. Hansen
  • Todd J. Brinkman
  • Matthew Leonawicz
  • F. Stuart Chapin, III
  • Gary P. Kofinas



Alaska, bowhead whale, caribou, wind speed, North Slope, social-ecological system


Because of their reliance on the harvest of fish and game, Alaskan rural communities have experienced a variety of impacts from climate change, the effects of which are amplified at high latitudes. We collaborated with hunters from the coastal community of Wainwright, Alaska, to document their observations of environmental change (e.g., sea ice, wind, temperature) and the implications of those changes for opportunities to hunt bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) during spring and caribou (Rangifer tarandus) during summer. We integrated hunter observations on wind with statistical analysis of daily wind speed data collected in the nearby community of Barrow, Alaska, between 1971 and 2010 to characterize changes in the number of days with suitable hunting conditions. Hunters in Wainwright currently observe fewer days than in previous decades with wind conditions suitable for safely hunting bowhead whales and caribou. The statistical analysis of wind speed data supported these conclusions and suggested that the annual windows of opportunity for hunting each species have decreased by up to seven days since 1971. This study demonstrates the potential power of collaboration between local communities and researchers to characterize the societal impacts of climate change. Continued collaborative research with residents of rural northern Alaskan communities could produce knowledge and develop tools to help rural Alaskans adapt to novel social-ecological conditions.