Cel­lars over­whelmed by warm­ing

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE -

Un­der­ground vaults that vil­lages have used for gen­er­a­tions to store food are start­ing to melt and mold.

early 1900s, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in 2017 that looked at tra­di­tional cel­lars in Utqi­agvik, for­merly Bar­row, fol­low­ing re­ports of flooded and col­lapsed cel­lars. The study, funded by the Na­tional Science Foun­da­tion and Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity, found ice cel­lars don’t meet fed­er­ally rec­om­mended tem­per­a­ture stan­dards, but al­low the cul­tur­ally pre­ferred ag­ing to oc­cur.

The study was in­con­clu­sive about the cause of ice cel­lar fail­ures, cit­ing an ab­sence of ex­ten­sive sci­en­tific anal­y­sis. Re­searchers mapped 71 ice cel­lar lo­ca­tions around town and mon­i­tored five func­tion­ing cel­lars from 2005 to 2015, find­ing lit­tle ther­mal change over that rel­a­tively short time frame. One of those cel­lars has since failed, how­ever, and an­other is start­ing to col­lapse, ac­cord­ing to one of the study’s au­thors, Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity re­search sci­en­tist Kelsey Ny­land.

The study con­cluded that while a chang­ing cli­mate has great po­ten­tial to af­fect ice cel­lars, there are other fac­tors, in­clud­ing soil con­di­tions and ur­ban de­vel­op­ment. For ex­am­ple, some Utqi­agvik res­i­dents might in­ad­ver­tently warm the soil be­neath their cel­lars by putting sheds on top of the en­trances to keep them free of snow, Ny­land said.

“Cli­mate change, air tem­per­a­tures, all these phys­i­cal changes are af­fect­ing them,” she said. “But also, a lot of it has to do with de­vel­op­ment and mod­ern life in an arc­tic set­ting.”

To adapt to the new en­vi­ron­ment, the vil­lage of Kak­tovik, on the Beau­fort Sea coast, took am­bi­tious steps after it lost all but one fam­ily’s cel­lar to flood­ing.

In 2013, the vil­lage launched a project to build a com­mu­nity ice cel­lar in­cor­po­rat­ing tra­di­tional de­signs with con­tem­po­rary tech­nol­ogy used in Alaska’s North Slope oil fields — ther­mosyphons, off-grid tube­like re­frig­er­a­tion de­vices that cool the ground by trans­fer­ring heat out­side.

The hand-ex­ca­vated cel­lar was ready for use in 2017, but it has yet to be filled. Whal­ing cap­tains want to ex­pand it first, ac­cord­ing to whal­ing cap­tain Ge­orge Kaleak Sr., who rep­re­sents Kak­tovik on the Alaska Eskimo Whal­ing Com­mis­sion.

Tem­per­a­ture sen­sors in­side the cel­lar show it’s work­ing as in­tended, Kaleak said. He ex­pects the ex­pan­sion to be­gin as early as next spring.

In the mean­time, sub­sis­tence foods are stored in three 40-foot vil­lage freezer vans. But that equip­ment is no sub­sti­tute for im­part­ing that aged taste so prized in the re­gion, Kaleak noted. He hopes the new cel­lar mim­ics that process.

“There’s noth­ing that tastes bet­ter than ice cel­lar food,” he said.

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