Alaska’s winter has become unusually warm over the past five years, with rain instead of snow in normally freezing cold parts of the state and depleting levels of ice over several seasons.
Recently, rivers have thawed much sooner than usual, and the Bering Sea’s levels of ice are alarmingly low, The Washington Post reports. And these changes have compromised everything from infrastructure to plant life.
In late March, two men died when ice broke under the weight of their four-wheelers in southwestern Alaska, on the Kuskokwim River. The Alaska Public Radio stated that “ice doesn’t get this weak in Bethel until May, but that has changed. This year, it started happening in March.”
And that was only the beginning. On April 14, the Tanama River at Nenana in central Alaska thawed completely—the earliest it’s been ice free in over 100 years by six days.
“The reasons for the winter warmth were multifaceted,” the Post reported. “At its root were persistent areas of high pressure over the Yukon and stretching into the Gulf of Alaska.
“Coupled with low pressure near the Bering Sea and into the Arctic Ocean to its north, mild air was drawn northward. This flow also kept storms coming which in turn helped sea ice fall to near record minimums.”
Rick Thoman from the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy stated that the most dire symptom of climate change in the state has been open water in seas that should be icy.
“Decreased ice extent and thinner, more mobile ice impacts the subsistence economies of western and northern Alaska communities by eliminating or reducing activities that use ice as a platform to work from,” he said.