Alaskan glaciers melting 100 times faster than previously thought

Alaskan glaciers melting 100 times faster than previously thought

SOURCE: National Geographic DATE: July 25, 2019 SNIP: A new way of measuring how some glaciers melt below the surface of the water has uncovered a surprising realization: Some glaciers are melting a hundred times faster than scientists thought they were. In a new study published today in Science, a team of oceanographers and glaciologists unpeeled a new layer of understanding of tidewater glaciers—glaciers that end in the ocean—and their dynamic processes. “They’ve really discovered that the melt that’s happening is fairly dramatically different from some of the assumptions we’ve had,” says Twila Moon, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder who was uninvolved with the study. Some of this calving and glacial melt is a normal process that glaciers undergo during seasonal transitions from winter to summer, and even through the summer. But a warming climate accelerates glacier melting across the globe, potentially through melting across the surface of the glacier, but also through underwater melting. Glaciers can extend hundreds of feet below the surface, explained Ellyn Enderlin, a glaciologist at Boise State University who was not involved with the study. Finding higher rates of submarine melting tells us that “glaciers are a lot more sensitive to ocean change than we’ve even thought.” Understanding the melting processes and calculating the amount of melt accurately is essential for planning for sea level...
Record-Breaking Heat in Alaska Wreaks Havoc on Communities and Ecosystems

Record-Breaking Heat in Alaska Wreaks Havoc on Communities and Ecosystems

SOURCE: Smithsonian Magazine DATE: May 30, 2019 SNIP: Alaska in March is supposed to be cold. Along the north and west coasts, the ocean should be frozen farther than the eye can see. In the state’s interior, rivers should be locked in ice so thick that they double as roads for snowmobiles and trucks. And where I live, near Anchorage in south-central Alaska, the snowpack should be deep enough to support skiing for weeks to come. But this year, a record-breaking heatwave upended norms and had us basking in comfortable—but often unsettling—warmth. Across Alaska, March temperatures averaged 11 degrees Celsius above normal. The deviation was most extreme in the Arctic where, on March 30, thermometers rose almost 22 degrees Celsius above normal—to 3 degrees. That still sounds cold, but it was comparatively hot. The state’s wave of warmth was part of a weeks-long weather pattern that shattered temperature records across our immense state, contributing to losses of both property and life. On April 15, three people, including an 11-year-old girl, died after their snowmobiles plunged through thin ice on the Noatak River in far northwestern Alaska. Earlier in the winter, 700 kilometers south, on the lower Kuskokwim River, at least five people perished in separate incidents when their snowmobiles or four-wheelers broke through thin ice. There were close calls too, including the rescue of three miners who spent hours hopping between disintegrating ice floes in the Bering Sea near Nome. Farther south, people skating on the popular Portage Lake near Anchorage also fell through thin ice. Varying factors contributed to these and other mishaps, but abnormally thin ice was...
Record-early Alaska river thaw follows high winter temperatures

Record-early Alaska river thaw follows high winter temperatures

SOURCE: Reuters DATE: April 15, 2019 SNIP: Key Alaska rivers that are usually frozen at this time of year are now free-flowing, with record-early thaws following record-high winter and spring temperatures. In the interior Alaska city of Nenana, ice on the Tanana River gave way just after midnight on Sunday. It was by far the earliest breakup in the 102-year history of the Nenana Ice Classic, an iconic Alaska betting pool in which participants predict when thaw will sink a wooden tripod placed on the ice. The previous earliest breakup of the Tanana, a tributary of the Yukon River, was April 20, a mark reached in 1998 and 1940. Another record-early thaw happened on Friday on the Kuskokwim River at the southwestern city of Bethel. The previous earliest ice-breakup date for the Kuskokwim Ice Classic was also April 20, in 2016. The Friday ice breakup was the earliest for that part of the Kuskokwim in 92 years of records kept by the National Weather Service. At both rivers, records show that breakup has been happening, on average, about a week earlier since the 1960s, not counting this year’s record thaws. This year’s breakups followed an extraordinarily warm Alaska winter with near-record-low ice in the Bering Sea and a record-hot March...
Alaska just had its warmest December on record

Alaska just had its warmest December on record

SOURCE: Anchorage Daily News DATE: January 9, 2018 SNIP: Last month was the warmest December on record in Alaska, according to a federal report released Monday. The statewide average temperature in December was 19.4 degrees, 15.7 degrees above the 20th century average, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s report said. Records for Alaska go back to 1925. The report also found that 2017 was the third warmest year on record for the U.S. as a whole since record-keeping began in 1895. But December in Alaska specifically “was really quite remarkable,” said Rick Thoman, climate science and services manager for the National Weather Service. “Alaska, of course, being the only Arctic part of the U.S. … it’s often referred to as polar amplification, that climate is warming much more rapidly at high latitudes,” Thoman said. “We are the U.S.’s canary in that coal mine.” Last year was also the seventh warmest year in Alaska on record. The last four years are all in the top seven warmest on record. “There’s no comparable period like that,” said Thoman. “This is unique in our 93-year temperature...
Alaska Orders Review of All North Slope Oil Wells After Spill Linked to Permafrost

Alaska Orders Review of All North Slope Oil Wells After Spill Linked to Permafrost

SOURCE: Inside Climate News DATE: October 31, 2017 SNIP: Alaska’s main oil and gas regulatory body has ordered a review of all North Slope wells after a spill last spring was connected to thawing permafrost, subsidence and a cracked casing. The emergency order, issued Monday by the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC), said the outer casing that cracked had been set in the permafrost. In April, one of BP’s older wells leaked oil and gas for days before it could be shut down. The company reported that roughly 45,000 kilograms of gas and 63 gallons of crude leaked. According to Alaska Public Media, BP blamed the failure then on a piece of a well casing that buckled under pressure from thawing...