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kottke.org posts about Rick Brown

The death of an Alaskan glacier

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2017

Rick Brown owns an adventure tour company called Adventure Sixty North in Seward, Alaska, a small town on an inlet of the Kenai Peninsula. They offer guided hikes and kayaking tours of the surrounding country, including ice hikes on the Exit Glacier.

In this video, Brown talks very simply and powerfully about the changes that he’s witnessed in the glacier and in Alaska in his long career as a guide…like that the Exit Glacier is currently retreating 10 to 15 feet per day.

Normally I think the park will tell you that it retreats about 150 feet per year. Right now they’re looking at 10 to 15 feet per day. You’re seeing the big crevasses that used to be blue up on top of the compression zones now down in the toe of the glacier just falling over. Something that normally would take hundreds of years we’re seeing probably in a matter of a year or two.

You can see a map of how much the glacier has retreated since 1950. But it’s not just the glacier…other changes are occurring in Alaska.

We’re seeing a change in the wildlife. We have villages that are being relocated. We get storms up here that if they were happening down in the lower 48, we’d name them something. Our ten-year floods are happening every other year now. You can drive to our town and look at what’s going on, and if you can’t see what’s happening, then I think that you must be blind. Normally I would need a plow here in my office and we need a lawnmower.

While Seward is not quite so far north, I couldn’t help but think of Eric Holthaus’s recent piece on how the fundamental character of the Arctic has changed, possibly for good. Namely, that it won’t be frozen anymore:

Last week, at a New Orleans conference center that once doubled as a storm shelter for thousands during Hurricane Katrina, a group of polar scientists made a startling declaration: The Arctic as we once knew it is no more.

The region is now definitively trending toward an ice-free state, the scientists said, with wide-ranging ramifications for ecosystems, national security, and the stability of the global climate system. It was a fitting venue for an eye-opening reminder that, on its current path, civilization is engaged in an existential gamble with the planet’s life-support system.

In an accompanying annual report on the Arctic’s health — titled “Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades” — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees all official U.S. research in the region, coined a term: “New Arctic.”

What an astonishing thing. Perhaps in 20 years, when someone over the age of 35 uses a phrase like “Arctic cold” as a stand-in for extremely cold weather, their kids won’t know what the hell they’re referring to. (via @JossFong)