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Episode 84: Revisiting life without ice

By KTVA Alaska 6:14 PM December 4, 2016

This spring, climate change researchers said we could reach a tipping point in Alaska weather. This was after the winter of 2015, one of the warmest in Alaska in at least a century. Not long afterwards, we saw a record warm spring and summer.

When Frontiers was in Barrow in late October to cover the U.S. Senate debate, there was no shore ice. Waves pounded the beach as they had all summer.

Everyone was beginning to wonder if 2016 would indeed set a new record for warm weather.

I checked with Rick Thoman, one of the leading climate change researchers in Alaska. He’s headquartered at the National Weather Service Alaska Region office in Fairbanks.

Thoman said he’ll know more next week after November numbers are processed, “But 2016 is indeed on track to be the warmest year of record for Alaska as a whole.”

He said November was an above-normal month for temperatures and it would take a prolonged period of unprecedented cold in December to take 2016 out of the top.

As we look back on this past year, we thought it would be a good time to rebroadcast a show we aired on May 15, that looked at how shrinking sea ice had set a warming trend in motion.

Some of the highlights of the May 15 show:

  • A visit to the Bering Sea community of Unalakleet, where the lack of snow and sea ice has interfered with seal and caribou hunting. KTVA photojournalist John Thain goes out on a seal hunt with tribal president Jacob Ivanoff.
  • We also take you to the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where experts on climate change explain why we’ve seen such rapid warming this winter and spring.
  • Our guests this week are Michael Brubaker, director of community environment and safety with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, and Larry Merculieff, president of the Global Center for Indigenous Leaders and Lifeways. From the unusual appearance of frogs and strange bugs, they give an overview of statewide impacts of warmer weather.

Given the incoming presidential administration’s position on climate change, the debate will surely not go away.

Next year on Frontiers, we hope to check in with other scientists and tribal climate observers to see where things stand.

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