SEWARD, Alaska — At first sight, it seems to stretch forever: a vast river of white ice, rising up into the sky, its edges framed by a translucent blue piping.
Looking around, there are no obvious indications of a glacier in retreat.
The evidence, however, lines the path to the glacier’s edge.
“There is no question this glacier is in retreat,” says Shelley Hall, chief of resource management for Kenai Fjords National Park.
Alaska’s great glaciers are melting away. Some of the smaller ones have completely disappeared in the past few decades, and while many of the bigger ones will be around for a while yet, their yearly retreat is stunning nonetheless.
Not all the warming can be attributed to the rise in greenhouse-gas emissions. There has also been an El Nino-like shift in wind patterns, a phenomenon known as Pacific Decadal Oscillation. The patterns in the waters surrounding Alaska go through a transition every 20 to 30 years, and their effect on the region lasts much longer than El Nino’s does elsewhere. The last major wind-pattern shift here was back in the late 1970s, which pumped up temperatures by a degree or two.
Add to that temperature increases due to manmade global warming, and in a place such as Alaska you suddenly have a unique set of challenges.
According to a recent University of Alaska study, climate change could add as much as $6-billion to what is now expected to be the $40-billion cost of building and maintaining public infrastructure in Alaska between now and 2030.
Alaska’s roads, buildings, railroads and airports are all going to cost more to replace in part because the foundation upon which they are built is turning into sludge. That once permanently frozen subsoil – permafrost – is thawing.
I should send this article to a colleague of mine who thinks that global warming in not man made. Yes, such human ostriches do live among us the living.