Part III: “We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had a lot of food.”
This is the third part of the After the Ice series. The video is less than 6 minutes long. Part III delves a bit into the Arctic Report Card, which is an annual assessment, and how our local Arctic population is finally getting a seat at the climate table.
The Arctic Research Consortium of the United States has put together a series of videos entitled After the Ice. The videos highlight the changes and the dangers to Alaska’s remote communities, that have relied on the sea ice for their livelihood and sense of community. The first video, which runs approximately 7-1/2 minutes, shows the extent that residents of remote Alaska rely on the sea ice for their source of food.
Much of Alaska, including many in communities like Fairbanks, live a subsistence lifestyle, relying on the land to provide sustenance. It’s a good series, on a population that few Outside even know exist.
Our garden is dying, is a line that cuts to ones heart.
This summer, Fairbanks has seen its 7th wettest since 1925. With 12.6″ of rain recorded as of last Friday, climatologists tell us that we are on a new trend. The typical summer rainfall is now 30% higher than in the 1920’s-1930’s. Juneau also saw its 6th wettest summer in 96 years. That’s saying something about our very wet capital city.
Fairbanks also had 19 days with thunder, which tied a record. We were 3.6 degrees warmer than average, which puts 2020 in the Top Ten, since recording began. Much of the change came in the rise of nightly low temperatures, due to the rain and cloud cover.
Officially, Fairbanks had a growing season of 130 days in 2020. That ties us for the 7th longest. Since 1950, the growing season in Fairbanks has increased by 16 days.
Wildfires burned a total of 181,000 acres in Alaska for the season so far. That is the lowest total since 2002. For one season, at least, wildfire crews did not have to worry about hotshotting into the Alaskan Bush. They have more than enough on their plate, as it is, in 2020.
Dall Sheep, Ovis Dalli dalli, can be found throughout Alaska’s mountain ranges. Dall Sheep prefer relatively dry country, their territory is the open alpine ridges, mountain meadows and steep slopes. They like to keep an extremely rugged “escape terrain” close at hand, and are not often found below tree line.
The rams are known for their massive curling horns. The ewes have shorter, more slender and less curved horns. The males live in groups and seldom interact with the females until breeding season, which is in December.
Lambs are born in late May to early June. Ewes usually reach breeding age at 3-4, and have one lamb each year after that. The lambs are most vulnerable during their first 30-45 days of life, and mortality rate is high during this time. Wolves, black & brown bears and golden eagles are the main predators.
Dall sheep horns grow steadily from early spring to late fall, but tend to slow, if not stop growing altogether, during the winter months. This leaves growth rings on the horns called annuli. These growth rings can help identify the age of Dall Sheep. In the wild, 12 years of age is considered old for a Dall Sheep, but rams have been identified as high as 16, and ewes up to 19 years of age. A Dall Sheep ram can weigh up to 300 pounds, with the ewes being about half that weight.
Between 1990 – 2010, Dall Sheep numbers had dropped by 21%, from 56,740 to 45,010. Numbers started increasing up until 2013, when a later than average snowfall put a damper on recovery efforts. Dry, heavy snow loads appear to have little effect on sheep population, but the heavy, wet snowfalls, with a frozen crust can make foraging and travel difficult. Freezing rain has also become more prevalent. All of these factors contribute to more avalanches, which have become a significant cause of death for Dall Sheep in the state.
Across the state, Alaskan cities and villages saw their warmest year ever recorded. Utqiagvik, Kotzebue, Fairbanks, Anchorage, Bethel, Kodiak and Cold Bay, all saw record warmth in 2019 as a whole. For the first time since recording began, Fairbanks had an average temperature above freezing.
Juneau had a record number of days of 70F or higher, which was enough to give the capital city their third warmest year.
Across the state we set 326 new record highs, as opposed to just 12 record lows.
Graph credit: NOAA, ACCAP, @AlaskaWx
Statewide, Alaska had 87% of its days above normal, with only 13% of days with below normal temps. Normal is based on 1981-2010 averages.
The tail end of December did see a dip in temps, at least in the Interior and northern regions. Sea ice has finally started to extend, although the amount is still lower than what we had at this point in 2019.
The temperature at the Anchorage International Airport fell to -10F on Sunday morning. That is the first time Anchorage has seen minus ten in 3 years.
It isn’t a figment of Alaskans’ imagination: Alaska’s winters are indeed warmer. Winter months (December through February) have seen a substantial rise in average temperatures over the past fifty years. The northern part of the state has seen the largest increase, with a 9.0 to 9.2F degree rise, but the entire state is under a warming trend.
Nome Sea Ice:
Data credit: UAF, ACCAP, NOAA, @AlaskaWx
Sea ice off the coast of Nome, Alaska is nonexistent in December, defying the historical record. Everything but recent history, that is. The drop off the statistical edge that the graph shows is pretty eye-opening.
The Port of Nome was open and operating at the end of November, which is the latest that has happened on record.
One reason the Shovel Creek Fire has been such a persistent pain for firefighters and locals alike, is that much of the forested area surrounding Murphy Dome is saturated with black spruce. The resins in the black spruce makes the trees highly flammable; once flames hit the boughs, the flames race up the tree with amazing ferocity and speed. A wildfire can double in size very quickly. That is why black spruce has earned the nick-name: “Gasoline on a Stick”.
A firefighting crew on Old Murphy Dome Road, fighting the Shovel Creek Fire; Photo credit: AKFireInfo
The past few days have been brutal, air quality-wise. Fairbanks was way past double the unhealthy level of particulates in the air, and the Murphy Dome area was way past triple on Wednesday. The smoke has been bad enough for my UPS driver to show up wearing a dust mask this week.
Rain is on everyone’s mind, but the forecast is for more lightning than rain drops this coming weekend.
This season, 1.28 million acres have been burned by wildfires. That’s one Rhode Island, every 10 days.
For the first time since records have been kept, NOAA analysis has the July-June (2018-2019) average temperature for the entire state of Alaska at above freezing.
The picture was taken the last day of March. I have never seen The Pond with as much bad ice this early. The open hole is from methane release, which caused the ice to thin just above the methane pocket.
The Nenana River has some open water already, downstream from the Ice Classic Tripod. The earliest the Tanana River has gone out is April 20. Short of an epic cold snap, that record will be broken in 2019.