where’d my glacier go? on warming in Alaska

mendenhall glacier then and now

As a teenager in Juneau, I enjoyed ice skating on the lake in front of Mendenhall Glacier, which was visible through our dining room window.

I especially liked climbing the icebergs caught in the frozen lake, and will never forget the bonfire we started atop one such...which lit up that iceberg in a trippy way.

Now, I knew the glaciers had been retreating steadily since those halcyon days, yet I was truly shocked to zoom in with Google Earth and discover this glacier was, by now, far up the valley.

The visitor center, built in those days right up near the towering cliffs of ice, now stands alone in a barren basin. Telescopes are required to see the ice now, and no more do icebergs fall into the lake.

So it goes.

My wife (who has never been to Juneau) was stunned when I showed her where the glacier front was just 40 years ago. Sorta brings it all home, I guess.

So I was especially pleased to stumble onto Alaska Conservation Solutions, founded by Deborah Williams in 2005 to give voice to the pervasive consequences of global warming in Alaska while pursuing solutions.

Among other things, they're tracking the Alaska Climate Impact Assessment Commission, which is examining the adverse effects global warming is having on Alaska and exploring solutions to these problems. The commission will be conducting hearings on global warming around the state this year.

Williams' synopsis of these impacts calls Alaska "the epicenter for global warming in the nation," adding "the evidence of global warming in the Last Frontier is widespread."

Says Williams:

"We, in Alaska, are first-hand global warming witnesses. According to temperature data, we are at ground zero. During the last four decades, Alaska has heated more than anywhere in the country. Our annual temperatures have increased 3–5 °F and our winter temperatures have soared 7–10 °F.

In just the last two years we have experienced record breaking fire seasons, sea ice melting, glacier retreat, diseases, storms, temperatures, and more. The Yukon River’s temperature has recently increased over 10 degrees, resulting in diseased salmon, which negatively affects Alaska Natives throughout the drainage. Spruce throughout Alaska and other trees are dying at historically high rates due to global warming induced insect infestations. Glaciers are melting at unprecedented rates.

If we fail to act, Baked Alaska would not be just a dessert; it would be a tragedy."

In other words, Alaska is the melting tip of the iceberg...except, they're running out of icebergs.

Published by Ken on February 27th, 2007 tagged Climate Change, Community Initiatives

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