You are currently viewing Why You Can’t Escape Poor Air Quality in Remote Alaska

Fairbanks, Alaska has made it into the news several times for being one of the US’ highest polluted cities in winter. But what about the air quality in remote Alaska, far out of Fairbanks? Is there an escape from air pollution? Is staying indoors a solution? How can you embrace every breath you take?

  1. What Is the Air Quality in Remote Alaska?
  2. Space Heating by Wood is Very Common
  3. Wildfires Lead to Poor Air Quality in Summer
  4. Look of the Day
  5. References


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What Is the Air Quality in Remote Alaska?

Most of the villages in Interior Alaska are located in valleys. In these valleys, inversions frequently form due to radiative cooling. This means that during clear nights more energy is lost to space than is gained during the day from the Sun. The air close to the soil cools faster than the air above. Thus, after sunset the air on the slopes cools faster than the air at same height over the valley. Cold air is heavier than warm air at same moisture and pressure. Consequently, the cold air flows down the slopes into the valley. This process leads to cold air under warm air. The result is opposite to the normal behavior of temperature in the lower 5 to 6 miles (about 8-10 km) of the atmosphere, and is known as an inversion.

Typically, temperature decreases with height, while during inversions it increases with height.


Unfortunately, when heavy air lays under light air mixing and exchange of air from aloft are suppressed. Consequently, any emissions into the inversion stay there. During winter under high pressure conditions, wintertime inversions in Interior Alaska may exist for multiple days. Then the pollutants can accumulate to unhealthy concentrations.

Of course, due to the exchange between outdoor and indoor air, air quality may also decrease inside the homes. Thus, many people use air purifiers for relief.


Space Heating by Wood is Very Common

In Interior Alaska, wood and/or coal is used for heating in the villages in winter. Power is produced typically by diesel generators. Some villages have a small wind turbine, but one needs wind to produce wind energy. This means the backup is from fossil fuel. Trash is usually burned locally. In villages off the Alaska road network, traffic emissions only stem from aircrafts, cars and equipment within the village plus snow machines in winter and motorboats in summer. For villages on the road network, add vehicle emissions from traffic to and from the village for shopping and by tourists. So far to the anthropogenic emissions.


Wildfires Lead to Poor Air Quality in Summer

A friend of mine once said

Alaska summers smell like fire.

In summer, smoke may occur from the wildfires that are a natural component of the taiga ecosystem of Interior Alaska. If the wildfire is very close and/or large to where you stay, canoe or hike, air pollution may be very large for natural reasons! However, far away from the wildfires, and in years with weak fire seasons, air quality in remote Alaska is very pristine air, and is vacation for the lungs.

Take-home message: Wildfires are natural events that may pollute the otherwise pristine air of remote Interior Alaska. The settlements and cities may be local pollution hot spots in winter and/or under inversion conditions.

Learn more about the Fairbanks air quality problems at the link.


Look of the Day

I wore the outfit shown in the photos above to a work diner the other day. I centered the outfit around the brown and orange hues of the scarf that was a conseignment store find for $20 some years ago. The belt breaks the upper part of the outfit in two and serves to create a waist on my boyish body. Highlighting the waist is needed as the wearing boot toppers visually shorten the legs. Together, the proportions look just right.

style book author in winter work outfit with patterned tight for mature women photographed in Alaska
Front view LOTD


outfit details of belt and scarf
Zoom-in on accessories

Alaskan blogger in a leather skirt, tights, sweater and scarf escaping the cold of Interior Alaska


You can find further inspiration on how to style a leather skirt for work with a waterfall cardigan at the links.

Never worry again what to wear when. Just look it up in my style book How to Dress for Success in Midlife. Buy the book now.

Like this outfit idea? If so, please feel free to pin them to your own Pinterest board.

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Edwin, S.G., Mölders, N., 2020. Indoor and Outdoor Particulate Matter Exposure of Rural Interior Alaska Residents. Open Journal of Air Pollution9, 37-60. doi: 10.4236/ojap.2020.93004.

Edwin, S.G., Mölders, N., 2018. Particulate Matter Exposure of Rural Interior Communities as Observed by the First Tribal Air Quality Network in the Yukon Flat. Journal of Environmental Protection9, 1425-1448. doi: 10.4236/jep.2018.913088.

Mölders, N., Kramm, G., 2010. A case study on wintertime inversions in Interior Alaska with WRF. Atmospheric Research, 95,  314-332, doi: 10.1016/j.atmosres.2009.06.002

Photos: G. Kramm

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