Hawaii & Alaska
In this undated photo, two men look down a shaft in Kaktovik, Alaska, leading to a new community ice cellar, a type of underground food cache dug into the permafrost to provide natural refrigeration used for generations in far-north communities. (Marnie Isaacs/Kaktovik Community Foundation)

Failing ice cellars signal changes in Alaska whaling towns

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — For generations, people in Alaska’s far-north villages have relied on hand-built ice cellars dug deep into the permafrost to age their whale and walrus meat to perfection and keep it cold throughout the year.

Scores of the naturally refrigerated food caches lie beneath these largely Inupiat communities, where many rely on hunting and fishing to feed their families. The ice cellars range from small arctic root cellars to spacious, wood-lined chambers, some topped with sheds.

Now, a growing number of these underground cellars are being rendered unreliable as global warming and other modern factors force changes to an ancient way of life. Some whaling villages are working to adapt as more cellars — some stocked with tons of subsistence food — turn up with pooling water and mold.

“I’m worried,” said Gordon Brower, a whaling captain who lives in Utqiagvik, the nation’s northernmost community, which logged its warmest May through September on record this year.

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