07 May 2007

Melting Sea Ice

Before we turn once again to the inane behaviour happening in Juneau (and, this morning, in Anchorage) let us turn briefly to this passage from this morning's ADN:

Right now, however, the forecast is for western Alaska and North Slope communities to enjoy a relatively early summer, with ice-free shipping lanes opening up a couple weeks earlier than last year, National Weather Service ice forecaster Kathleen Cole said Friday.

"We have some good open areas this year already near the eastern Russian coast and Norton Sound," Cole said. "Things will open up faster than they did last year -- and that's mostly due to the lack of multiyear sea ice in the Bering."

In the short term, at least, that's good news for northern Alaskans. A longer ice-free season means barges can reach Kotzebue and Barrow earlier and later in the summer, thus eliminating the high cost of receiving food and supplies by air that much longer. And summer seismic crews employed by oil companies won't be hampered as much by ice.

Said Cole: "I think everybody is going to be happy about that."

I assume by short term, we mean very short term. Let's of course keep in mind the long lead time on barge orders, meaning folks have to be able to count year-to-year on when the ice will go out in order to take advantage of those (putatively) cheaper prices. And what of Diomede, the village that relies on an ice runway for "cheap" groceries. When the ice melts, things come by helicopter only once a week, if that.

It's true summer seismic crews might not be hampered by ice but what about all the oil exploration that takes place on ice pads or trucks that drive on ice roads. Will they be happy?

And, of course, let's not forget the Alaska native subsistence hunts that depend on the ice pack being around at certain times to access certain animals (whales, walrus). If the ice pack leaves before the migration begins, everyone's out of luck.

So, no, I don't think everybody is going to be happy about the melting sea ice.

1 comment:

Ni Yachen said...

That really was a short sighted comment. Late fall ice and early melt in the spring are the main casuses of errosion on the barrier island villages (like Shishmaref. For most native villages in the northwest life is easier when there is ice.