Quantcast

Alaska’s Warming Waters Spell Trouble for Residents and Wildlife

Climate
A vehicle on the melting permafrost tundra on the edge of the Bering Sea at the town of Quinhagak in Alaska on April 12, 2019. MARK RALSTON / AFP / Getty Images

An unseasonably warm May followed by record-breaking June temperatures melted Alaskan ice far earlier than normal this year, alarming residents and scientists alike, the Associated Press reports.


Sea surface temperatures in the Chukchi and North Bering seas are nearly 10 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1981-2010 average, reaching into the lower 60s. The warm ocean temperature has profound effects on the climate system, food web, communities and commerce, said Rick Thoman, a climatologist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment & Policy at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

"The northern Bering & southern Chukchi Seas are baking," Thoman wrote in a tweet.

Kotzebue and Norton sounds in northwest Alaska were warmest but the heat extended far out into the ocean.

The last five years have produced the warmest sea-surface temperatures on record in the region, contributing to record low sea ice levels.

"The waters are warmer than last year at this time, and that was an extremely warm year," Thoman said, as the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The warming temperatures are part of an emerging crisis for communities along the state's western and northern coastlines, Thoman told CNN. Birds and marine animals are showing up dead and sea temperatures are warm enough to support algal blooms, which can make the waters toxic to wildlife.

This has dire consequences for towns that depend on fishing for their economy and their sustenance.

"Much of what the people eat there over the course of the year comes from food they harvest themselves," said climatologist Brian Brettschneider at the International Arctic Research Center, as CNN reported. "If people can't get out on the ice to hunt seals or whales, that affects their food security. It is a human crisis of survivability."

Last month, a group of hunters traveled over 50 miles by boat to find bearded seals resting on the ice. The ice, and the seals that accompany it, should have been just outside their village. But the ice had receded far to the north, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

"We didn't know if we'd have our winter food," said Janet Mitchell, one of the hunters from the village of Kivalina in Northwest Alaska. "That was scary."

Not expecting that they would need to travel so far for their winter stockpiles, the hunters ran out of gas while bringing home eight seals and a walrus. They had to call other residents for an emergency fuel delivery, Mitchell said.

Ice cover around Alaska usually lasts until June. This year, it disappeared in March. The warming is undoubtedly a sign of a warming planet and part of the trend of increasing global temperatures, Brettschneider said.

"This event is unquestionably a reflection of our changing climate," he said, as CNN reported. "The sea temperatures and sea ice deficits have not happened before as a random event. The mathematics just do not work out."

"What is happening in coastal Alaska is what is coming in one sense for everybody else," he said to CNN. "Most people are feeling the effects of climate change even if they don't know it. Changes are happening, and changes will be magnified."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pro-environment demonstrators on the streets of Washington, DC during the Jan. 20, 2017 Trump inauguration. Mobilus In Mobili / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Dr. Brian R. Shmaefsky

One year after the Flint Water Crisis I was invited to participate in a water rights session at a conference hosted by the US Human Rights Network in Austin, Texas in 2015. The reason I was at the conference was to promote efforts by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to encourage scientists to shine a light on how science intersects with human rights, in the U.S. as well as in the context of international development. My plan was to sit at an information booth and share my stories about water quality projects I spearheaded in communities in Bangladesh, Colombia, and the Philippines. I did not expect to be thrown into conversations that made me reexamine how scientists use their knowledge as a public good.

Read More
Mt. Rainier and Reflection Lake on Sept. 10, 2015. Crystal Geyser planned to open a bottling plant near Mt. Rainier, emails show. louelke - on and off / Flickr

Bottled water manufacturers looking to capture cool, mountain water from Washington's Cascade Mountains may have to look elsewhere after the state senate passed a bill banning new water permits, as The Guardian reported.

Read More
Sponsored
Large storage tank of Ammonia at a fertilizer plant in Cubatão, Sao Paulo State, Brazil. Luis Veiga / The Image Bank / Getty Images

The shipping industry is coming to grips with its egregious carbon footprint, as it has an outsized contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and to the dumping of chemicals into open seas. Already, the global shipping industry contributes about 2 percent of global carbon emissions, about the same as Germany, as the BBC reported.

Read More
At high tide, people are forced off parts of the pathway surrounding DC's Tidal Basin. Andrew Bossi / Wikimedia

By Sarah Kennedy

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC overlooks the Tidal Basin, a man-made body of water surrounded by cherry trees. Visitors can stroll along the water's edge, gazing up at the stately monument.

But at high tide, people are forced off parts of the path. Twice a day, the Tidal Basin floods and water spills onto the walkway.

Read More
Lioness displays teeth during light rainstorm in Kruger National Park, South Africa. johan63 / iStock / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Ahead of government negotiations scheduled for next week on a global plan to address the biodiversity crisis, 23 former foreign ministers from various countries released a statement on Tuesday urging world leaders to act "boldly" to protect nature.

Read More