Friday, July 26, 2019

Alaska is Warming Faster than the Rest of the U.S.

Record breaking heat is plaguing Alaska. According to NOAA the winter of 2019 in Alaska was the third-warmest on record. This spring there were unseasonably warm temperatures in the frontier state. March temperatures averaged 11° Celsius (C) above normal. On March 30, the Alaskan Arctic recorded temperatures that were 22° C above normal. On March 31 a mass of high pressure in the atmosphere called an "upper-level ridge" in Alaska set records for the month with temperatures in excess of 70° Fahrenheit (F). The so called "omega block" is an area of high pressure that forces the jet-stream to flow around it. Klawock reached 71° F on March 31 and at least five other locations in Alaska set monthly high temperature records.

The summer of 2019 has been unusually hot marked by at least three heatwaves and Alaska, the northernmost point of the U.S. is no exception. Early in July, the US state of Alaska, part of which lies inside the Arctic Circle, registered record high temperatures. The Independence day holiday was marked by a record breaking heatwave in Alaska.

In fact the heat in Alaska has set a number of records in 2019. "The magnitude and persistence of the warmth is particularly striking to me this winter in parts of Alaska," said Zack Labe, a climate scientist and Ph.D. candidate at the University of California at Irvine.

The warm weather has thinned ice and this has claimed lives. People have fallen through the thinner ice and others are prevented from using ice which is traditionally an important means of transport in the colder months. To illustrate in late March when Bering Sea ice is usually at its maximum, it had largely disappeared. As of April the ice coverage was even lower than the unprecedented low in 2018 and by mid may it was almost entirely gone when it usually persists until June.

The disappearing sea ice and melting permafrost are making life impossible in some villages including Kivalina, Newtok and Shishmaref. Climate change is wreaking havoc on subsistence hunting and fishing both in terms of using ice as a transportation medium and the changing location of fish and game.

In addition to these local impacts, declining sea ice may also have implications for global weather patterns. It is clear that open water creates warmer air temperatures and this leads to more evaporation which fuels storms.

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