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Climate Change Hits Alaska

Valdez, Alaska carries the moniker: the “snowiest place in the United States,” receiving on average 300-to-600 inches per year. Additionally, Valdez is the end of the line for the Tans-Alaska Pipeline that carries oil from the Alaska North Slope.  It’s a beautiful setting ensconced in the midst of eye-catching pristine wilderness. As for example, the view from the Port of Valdez is richly appointed with alluring nature and nestled amongst a backdrop of snow-capped mountains reflected in the icy cold still waters of its serene seaport.

But, nowadays, wintry Valdez is different. It’s warm!

The city of Valdez is operating under emergency conditions because it is too warm. A mammoth avalanche has blocked the famous Richardson Highway, which is Valdez’s lifeline to the entire state of Alaska, burying the highway in 100 feet of snowy debris.

“This avalanche is a historically significant event,” says Sarah Carter, forecaster with the Alaska Avalanche Information Center, Erick Ortiz, Staff Writer, NBC News, Warm Temps Blamed for Massive Avalanche That Cut Off Alaskan Town, NBC News, Jan. 24, 2014.

Here’s the problem: It has been warm in Alaska, and the state has experienced extraordinary levels of rainfall, weakening the snow pack in the mountains. Furthermore, now that an entire mountainside of snow has buried the main highway, residents are concerned about a large pool of water building up behind the avalanche, which could bring intense flooding to the city below.

But, it’s supposed to be the dead of winter in Alaska!

However, throughout the state, warm temperatures in the 40s, 50s, and even poking into the 60s have been recorded, e.g., Bolio Lake Range at 60 degrees which is the home to the Cold Regions Test Center (CRTC) for the U.S. Army, which is one of the coldest areas in Alaska.

Ski resorts are experiencing freezing rain, not flaky snow, and the Alyeska Resort in the Anchorage community of Girdwood shut down the ski slopes because of the weather. Here’s a Tweet from Alyeska Resort: “Due to rapid loading of the snow pack, unseasonably warm conditions, and severe weather, Alyeska will not be open…” 21 Jan. 2014.

It’s Alaska; it’s the middle of winter, and a ski slope closes! What’s up?

It’s the goofy jet streams influenced by climate change, disrupted by global warming, caused by excessive levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), as a result of burning lots of fossil fuels, like oil, gas, and coal, which power the world economy, until, unless, if and when, people start using clean energy sources like wind, sun, wave, hydro, and biomass to replace fossil fuels, but the fossil fuel industry, in concert with a bunch of right-wing and a lot of left-wing politicians, have decided to stay the course with fossil fuels to achieve American energy independence. So, there you have it!

The Valdez Affair is Climate Change  – Duh!

The Valdez Affaire, i.e., the immense avalanche and warm temps of opposite weather conditions, is an incident that’s worth connecting the dots to see the source, to wit: The genesis of the opposite weather condition is likely the loss of sea ice in the Arctic (which has experienced 40% loss of ice mass these past few decades because of global warming) which results in a positive feedback (a bad thing) of more, and more, warmth, and before too long, the jet streams, which are found at the troposphere at 35,000-40,000 feet (7-9 miles high), go bonkers because of changes in the Arctic (the thermostat for the northern hemisphere), which is warming 2-3 times faster than elsewhere on the planet.

By that very fact, out of control jet streams alter weather patterns in nasty, unforgiving ways throughout the northern hemisphere, bringing forth embedded deep-freeze temperatures (the United States in 2014) as well as embedded blocking patterns of parched heat accompanied by drought conditions (China’s worst drought in 200 years- ongoing for 4 years) as well as blocked torrential storms, drowning England, all of Eastern Europe, and Boulder County, plus a bunch of other places, like Canada, and others too.

Or, out of the blue, abruptly, a colossal avalanche hits Alaska during the peak of the season when the snow normally builds. Rather than build, the snow crashes!

These anomalous jet stream patterns, as woozy as drunken sailors, have been increasingly wobbly for years, but suddenly, the jet streams have become front-page news, more and more frequently, e.g., the polar vortex hitting the U.S. Expect the ‘jets’ to continue stealing headlines in upcoming years as humans carelessly continue emitting massive, bigger than ever, quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The reckless affaire of foolishly continuing to emit excessive quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is comparable to digging one’s own grave, slowly but surely; it’s only a matter of time before humankind slip-slides into oblivion. It is symptomatic of the death instinct, as explained by Sigmund Freud, a primitive impulse for destruction, decay, and death.

Climate Change in the Northern Hemisphere

James Overland, PhD, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, Washington and a research team studied “…the wind patterns in the subarctic in the early summer between 2007 and 2012 as compared to the average for 1981 to 2010. They discovered that the previously normal west-to-east flowing upper-level winds have been replaced by a more north-south undulating, or wave-like pattern. This new wind pattern transports warmer air into the Arctic and pushes Arctic air farther south, and may influence the likelihood of persistent weather conditions in the mid-latitude,” The Recent Shift in Early Summer Arctic Atmospheric Circulation, NOAA, October 10, 2012,

Virtually, the bottom line for climate change is: “What we’re seeing is stark evidence that the gradual temperature increase is not the important story related to climate change; it’s the rapid regional changes and increased frequency of extreme weather that global warming is causing. As the Arctic warms at twice the global rate, we expect an increased probability of extreme weather events across the temperate latitudes of the northern hemisphere, where billions of people live,” according to Jennifer Francis, PhD, Rutgers University, Ibid.

As it goes, worldwide rampant capitalism keeps cruising along on fossil fuels and people adjust to a rapidly changing climate by purchasing Eskimo clothing for the winter, and also, stocking up on canned foodstuff to handle the forthcoming drought conditions, as extreme weather conditions continue to whiplash humanity with bouts of the unexpected, like the historic avalanche in Valdez.

If Alaska’s Got Problems, What of Antarctica?

And, it’s probably a good idea to start building dykes around coastal cities. Here’s why: Climate change is on a precipice of unsustainability and instability that risks abrupt climatic disasters, which overhang the entire planet, e.g., an abrupt crash of the Pine Island Glacier (a 37-mile ice tongue) in West Antarctica, raising sea level one-half inch, which, in turn, could ripple-effect a major destabilization of the entire Western Antarctic Ice Sheet, equivalent to 10-13 feet of sea level rise. (Source: G. Durand, et at, Retreat of Pine Island Glacier Controlled by Marine Ice-Sheet Instability, Nature Climate Change, doi: 10.1038/nclimagte2094, Jan. 12, 2014.)

The National Research Council of the National Academies is concerned enough about an abrupt event at Antarctica to give it honorable mention in its recently published 200-page report: “Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change, Anticipating Surprises,” The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., December 2013 wherein they describe abrupt climate change occurring over “decades to as little as a few years.”

There have been numerous abrupt ice sheet crashes in Antarctica in the recent past. According to NASA, Earth Observatory, World of Change/larsenb: “The collapse of the Larsen appears to have been due to a series of warm summers on the Antarctic Peninsula… nor was the Larsen B the last Antarctic ice shelf to disappear. Farther down the peninsula to the southwest, the Wilkins Ice Shelf disintegrated in a series of break up events … It was the tenth major ice shelf to collapse in recent times.”

The Larsen B Ice Shelf shocked scientists because of its breathtakingly large size: “Scientists monitoring daily satellite images… watched in amazement as almost the entire Larsen B Ice Shelf splintered and collapsed in just over one month. They had never witnessed such a large area… disintegrate so rapidly,” Ibid.

Regarding the Larsen B disintegration, it was “like the smashing of glasses at the throw of a stone,” said University of Chicago geophysicist Douglas MacAyeal, co-researcher of the project, at an International Glaciological Society meeting in Beijing, Chain Reaction Shattered Huge Antarctica Ice Shelf, Nature, August 9, 2013.

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at roberthunziker@icloud.com

 

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Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.

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