Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Stormy Arctic Is the New Normal [Excerpt]

Along the west coast of Hudson Bay, polar bears are producing fewer cubs and fewer are surviving beyond the first year of life. (Credit: © Edward Struzik) Click to Enlarge.
From Future Arctic: Field Notes from a World on the Edge, by Edward Struzik. Copyright © 2015, Island Press.

The storm of 2000 got its start off the coast of Alaska on August 10th.  Sustained wind speeds of 56 miles per hour were followed intermittently by gusts that reached 65 miles per hour and more.  It came on so suddenly that emergency management teams in the town of Barrow, Alaska didn’t have time to build protective berms before it hit.

At Barrow, the winds sunk a dredge barge, tore off the roofs of 40 buildings, washed out a boat ramp, and caused $7.7 million in damage, which would have amounted to much more had the region been more populated.

By the time the storm had finished ripping through the coastal regions of the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, it had completely flooded the historic whaling settlement on Herschel Island, swept several archeological sites along the coast into the sea and left the Inuit community of Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories ten meters closer to dropping off into ocean due to the erosion it caused on shore.  A state visit to the Inuit community of Sachs Harbour by the Queen’s representative in Canada had to be cancelled.  The Governor General was, instead, forced to hunker down for a night in the small Inuit community of Holman on Victoria Island.

Severe summer storms like this that cause considerable damage have been relatively uncommon in the western Arctic because of high pressure and sea ice that lingers long into the summer season.  With so much heat being reflected back into the atmosphere, there was not enough open water in the past to produce the moisture needed to grow cyclones with any degree of consistency.

This promises to change as the Arctic Ocean becomes seasonally ice-free.  In the  “New Normal” that is opening up new pathways for killer whales and Pacific salmon to move into the Arctic, rising temperatures and disappearing sea ice are also fueling storms that used to be triggered later in the fall months.

With little or no sea ice to buffer the shoreline, storm driven surges are extending their reach several miles inland, flooding communities, killing wetlands, and accelerating the thawing of permafrost that is already eroding riverbanks and coastlines.

Read more at A Stormy Arctic Is the New Normal [Excerpt]

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