Melting Sea Ice Causes Heat Waves in Alaska

By Eliza Strickland | June 11, 2008 9:45 am

Alaskan water ocean ice ArcticLast summer, the Arctic was an unusually watery and warm place. Sea ice around the pole shrank to a record low, while air temperatures over Alaska were unusually warm from August to October, hovering about 4 degrees Fahrenheit above average. To understand how the two events were related scientists studied the feedback cycle in which the dark, open water around the pole absorbs more heat than reflective ice, thus causing more atmospheric warming.

In the resulting report, which will be published on Friday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, researchers say that the phenomenon is powerful enough to cause extra warming more than 900 miles inland. That bodes ill for the Alaskan permafrost which supports roads, towns, and oil rigs and pipelines; if the permafrost thaws, all this infrastructure could be undermined. In addition, the thawing tundra could release methane that’s been frozen for millennia. Since methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, that release could further accelerate global warming.

Another research group has already predicted rapidly melting sea ice this summer, and the trend shows no sign of abating. To the permafrost research team, that means Alaskan residents will see their environment changing around them.

The effects of melting are already evident in parts of Alaska, the scientists said: as pockets of soil collapse as the ice it contains melts, highways buckle, houses are destabilized and trees tilt crazily in a phenomenon known as “drunken forests” when the earth beneath them gives way.

“There’s an interconnectedness about the Arctic,” [lead author David] Lawrence said. “When sea ice retreats and retreats very rapidly it impacts other parts of the system, like warming temperatures over land. And warming temperatures over land can also accelerate the degradation of permafrost, particularly permafrost that’s warm right now” [Reuters].

But because these drastic changes are unprecedented in recorded history, researchers say they just don’t know how much the Arctic ecosystem will change. “An important unresolved question is how the delicate balance of life in the Arctic will respond to such a rapid warming,” Lawrence said. “Will we see, for example, accelerated coastal erosion, or increased methane emissions, or faster shrub encroachment into tundra regions if sea ice continues to retreat rapidly?” [MSNBC]. All good questions, Lawrence, which we wish you didn’t have to answer.

Image: flickr/somewhereinAK


    HEAT WAVE? It has only broken 69 degrees once in Anchorage this summer. Some i better grab some sunscreen. lew e. anch. ak.

  • Kevin C.

    HEAT WAVE? What Heat Wave. Here in interior Alaska (near Fairbanks), Spring came very late and it has been cold. Last winter we had some of the longest cold spells (-40 and below) on record. I just mowed my lawn for the first time this year. The “Highways” if you can call them that (more like 2 lane country roads) are not buckling any more than normal. Global Warming, if its happening, is a natural occurance and comes in cycles. Liberal tree huggers and the Media use “Global Warming” as a political tool to scare people to further their own agendas. June 2008, from my personal experiance, has been very cold compared to previous years. The article above has too much Hype and not enough facts from people who actualy live here.

  • Christopher W

    Somebody should talk with someone who lives in Alaska. Gardens are barely surviving in this part of Central Alaska this summer due to cold – there have been 4 mornings below freezing in the last 2 weeks. We have morning fires for the first summer in years.

    In our 35 years up here, the roads have always been buckling and the telephone poles in permafrost areas have always tilted.

  • Tom S

    LIARS AND COWARDS! Who wrote that piece of libel, anyway, and why was he so much of a coward and a chicken, that he was afraid to sign his name to it?

    I’ve been a heavy equipment operator here in Alaska for 40 years, and I can guarantee that the ‘Sky is Falling’ aspect of the above article is nothing but a joke. WHAT warm weather?

    Here’s a local news website describing what the record cold was REALLY like, here in Alaska this summer. Please do your homework first, before your alligator mouth overloads your hummingbird ass:

  • Tom S

    P.S: Here in Anchorage tonight on the 1st of December 2008, it’s about -5 degrees Fahrenheit. Up further north around Fairbanks they’ve already experienced -30 degrees this season, and it won’t even officially be Winter for another 3 weeks.

    Come on up for a visit! We’d like you to show us how well you can survive outside overnight, here in the so-called ‘record heat wave’ that you’re such an expert on. Get a little frostbite in those hands of yours, and maybe you won’t be so versatile with your libelous keyboard.

    It’s amusing, observing tree-huggers who are so desperate to screw us over that have to resort to telling big lies which can be so easily disproven. This isn’t just a little fib, it’s a BIG FAT LIE.

    –Have I mentioned yet, that you piss me off?

  • Jerry S

    I don’t know where people get this nonsense unless they are applying for a government grant for more rediculous studies or maybe some foreigners that have never been here. The last two summers have been exceptionally cool after several warmer ones, the water temps were very cool to the point that the fish feed was late and if you check the temps that have been recorded for years you will find that we’re not setting any records, it’s been colder and hotter many times. I know the global warming people would like to make a big deal out of everything but tell the truth and don’t go making it up just to get more funding.

  • Birdzilla


  • thaddeus buttmunch md

    change in ocean currents is causing record heat AND cold. it’s silly for libs OR Neocons to point to any one event. It was -22F in Detroit in 94 undoubtedly due to Mt Pinatubo in the Phillipines exploding in 01. this caused a mini ice age for several years. But what about the flooding and record temps in Washington State? and the polar bears are eating each other! less pickup trucks and no more SUVs!!!

  • http://EarthCake EarthCake


    That is not nonsense. In Finland the water level has grown + 25 cm. The mounts of the winds from the GolfStrean has increased about 55%. That is not nonsense that is very dangerous for all living features in the world.
    The reason is: too many people in the earth living with capitalism attitudes.

  • Ben

    This is seriuos sh!t!!!! This artical really had me scared till I read post from Alaskan residence! If what the author told was true it would truely be a bad sign! What is the purpose of all this disinformation?

  • bmw m5

    There are some fascinating points on this article but I don’t know if I see all of them center to heart. There’s some validity but I’ll take hold an opinion till I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as well.


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