Hawaii & Alaska
Climate change erosion caused by melting permafrost tundra and the disappearance of sea ice which formed a protective barrier, threatens houses from the Yupik Eskimo village of Quinhagak on the Yukon Delta in Alaska last month. (Mark Ralston/AFP)

In Alaska, climate change is showing increasing signs of disrupting everyday life

It was another cold season full of records in Alaska, mostly of the abnormally warm kind. The state is in the midst of a five-plus-year onslaught of extreme warmth, only infrequently broken by the customary cold. This year’s warm season has begun on the same foot.

It was another cold season full of records in Alaska, mostly of the abnormally warm kind. The state is in the midst of a five-plus-year onslaught of extreme warmth, only infrequently broken by the customary cold. This year’s warm season has begun on the same foot.

Signals of the rapid changes in the state are as simple as a whiff of rain in winter in places it usually only snows, or as complex as how stuck weather patterns depleting ice over multiple seasons.

In recent weeks, rivers have lost their ice much earlier than normal, while the extent of ice covering the Bering Sea is alarmingly low.

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Record to near record high SSTs, combined with record to near record high south winds, combined with record low sea ice (not shown), to give Alaska record to record warm temperatures for the cold season (Nov-Mar). @AlaskaWx@IARC_Alaska@SNAPandACCAP .

Record to near record high SSTs, combined with record to near record high south winds, combined with record low sea ice (not shown), to give Alaska record to record warm temperatures for the cold season (Nov-Mar). @AlaskaWx @IARC_Alaska @SNAPandACCAP

From compromised infrastructure and shifts in plant life, changes resulting from recent climate disruption are tangible.

Two men died in recent weeks when ice gave way under their four-wheelers on the Kuskokwim River in southwest parts of the state. According to Alaska Public Radio, “ice doesn’t get this weak in Bethel until May, but that has changed. This year, it started happening in March.”

The early disappearance of river ice in indicative of a record to near-record warm winter across the state.

The reasons for the winter warmth were multifaceted. At its root were persistent areas of high pressure over the Yukon and stretching into the Gulf of Alaska. Coupled with low pressure near the Bering Sea and into the Arctic Ocean to its north, mild air was drawn northward. This flow also kept storms coming which in turn helped sea ice fall to near record minimums.

According to Rick Thoman of the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, the most alarming of all the current signs of climate change in Alaska is open water where there should be sea ice.

“Decreased ice extent and thinner, more mobile ice impacts the subsistence economies of western and northern Alaska communities by eliminating or reducing activities that use ice as a platform to work from,” Thoman wrote in an email.

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Average sea ice extent in the Bering Sea is the 2nd lowest on record since January...
Zack Labe✔@ZLabe

He also points to the fact that sea ice changes make wintertime coastal storms more damaging because ice acts as a buffer against waves. Communities such as Newtok, Chefornak, and about three dozen other small communities on Alaska’s west coast have been planning to relocate in part or in whole.

As another example of sea ice failure impacting local communities, crabbing season in places like Nome on the Bering Sea coast in Alaska’s northwest has already been shortened by about a month on each side. With recent years featuring unprecedented lack of sea ice, crabbing was brought to a total halt in some spots.

Read full Washington Post article . . .