John Luther Adams Some say the world will end by fire. Some the art of living essay the world will end by fire. Here in Alaska, the land of snow and ice, we’re beginning to feel the fire.
Tuna were sighted in the Arctic Ocean. No one had ever seen them this far North before. The following winter Lake Illiamna on the Alaska Peninsula didn’t freeze over. No one, not even the oldest Native elders, could remember this happening.
In Fairbanks for the first time in memory the temperature never dropped to 40 below. Months of unseasonably warm temperatures, scant snowfall and constantly-changing winds were followed by an early spring. This was not the exhilarating explosion, the sudden violence of the sub-Arctic spring. It was the slow attrition of dripping eaves and rotting snow.
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Once again this year, winter never really arrived. South Central Alaska experienced a violent storm with the highest winds ever registered there. The Iditarod dogsled race had to be moved hundreds of miles north because there was not enough snow. Here in Fairbanks, the mean temperature from September through February was the warmest on record. In November and again in February, we had freezing rain. At the small community of Salcha, the ice on the Tanana River broke free of the banks and jammed up, flooding nearby homes and roads. This is something that happens in April or May, not in the middle of winter.
Researchers have been predicting for years that the effects of global climate change will appear first and most dramatically near the Poles. From 1971 through 2000, the annual mean temperature in Alaska rose by 2. On a global scale, an increase of this magnitude would be cataclysmic. The volatile weather patterns of the past decade have been accompanied by other warning signs. Glaciers are melting at increasing rates. The sea ice is retreating, disrupting subsistence whale hunting and bringing storm waves that are eroding the land out from under coastal villages.