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Alaska Sees 'Astounding' Rise in Temperature as 'Drill, Baby, Drill' Planned for Arctic

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As 2016 is set to be the warmest year on record, Alaskans are seeing an "astounding" rise in temperature. Throughout October, average temperatures in Alaska ran 6.7 degrees above normal.

Barrow, the northernmost community in the U.S., set its warmest October on record. Its monthly average came in at 30.1 degrees Fahrenheit, an astonishing 12.9 degrees warmer than the 1981-2010 average. Oct. 10 was the warmest October day ever, with a high of 44.

Every October since 2001, Barrow has been warmer than normal. Three other Alaskan coastal communities—Nome, St. Paul and Kotzebue—all set monthly records this October. Oct. 12 was the warmest October day ever in Nome by far—20 degrees above the previous record.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. This year, the sea ice tied for its second-lowest extent after a record-early spring melt set in. And it's having a lot of trouble reforming for the winter.

Zach Labe, University of California-Irvine

In October, the sea ice covered 2.5 million square miles, the lowest October ever seen. It remains low in the Beaufort, Chukchi, East Siberian and Kara Seas, where water temperatures were above normal. It's the slowest regrowth of Arctic sea ice on record.

Older, thicker ice is disappearing. As more sea ice melts each summer, the ice that reforms in winter is new, thinner ice.

"The older ice is becoming weaker because there is less of it, and the remaining ice is more broken up and thinner," said Walt Meier, a sea ice researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Thirty years ago, old ice comprised 20 percent of the sea ice cover; today it is just three percent.

There is a direct link between global carbon emissions and the loss of Arctic sea ice. For every metric ton of CO2 put into the atmosphere, 30 square feet of sea ice is lost. That's the conclusion of researchers Dick Notz and Julienne Stroeve in a landmark study published last week.

With new oil discoveries in Alaska and a fossil-fuel friendly president about to enter the White House, the future looks even darker.

Here are seven key concerns when it comes to drilling in the Arctic:

1. Smith Bay: Caelus Energy announced what it called a "world-class" find in Smith Bay that could prove to be one of the largest oil fields in Alaska. The site, just 50 miles from Barrow, could produce 200,000 barrels per day of light, highly mobile oil, the company said.

2: Moose Pad: Hillcorp Alaska is set to drill up to 44 wells in an area 25 miles from Prudhoe Bay. The company expects to begin drilling in 2018.

3. Liberty Field: Another Hillcorp site in the North Slope, this one on the outer continental shelf, could add up to 70,000 barrels of oil per day to the 40-year old trans-Alaska pipeline.

4. North Slope and Beaufort Sea: Alaska is conducting a lease sale now on state-owned land on the North Slope and state-owned waters of the Beaufort Sea.

5. Beaufort and Chukchi Seas: Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has asked the U.S. Department of the Interior to include the two Arctic seas in the federal offshore leasing program. These include areas where Shell drilled in 2015.

6. Fiord West: Last month, ConocoPhillips ordered a monster new drilling rig that can radiate outward to reach oil within 125 square miles from a single site. It will use the rig to develop the Fiord West field on the North Slope.

7. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: A political battleground for decades, with the control of the federal government now squarely in Republican hands, "pro-development Alaskans could already taste oil," wrote Alaska Dispatch News following the election. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the energy committee, said that she "is a champion of access to federal lands and waters."

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.