After record-hot July, Alaskans see pro­found changes

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY DAN JOLING

Alaska has been Amer­ica’s ca­nary in the coal mine for cli­mate warm­ing, and the yel­low bird is swoon­ing.

July was Alaska’s warm­est month ever, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Sea ice melted. Ber­ing Sea fish swam in abovenor­mal tem­per­a­tures. So did chil­dren in the coastal town of Nome. Wild­fire sea­son started early and stayed late. Thou­sands of wal­ruses thronged to shore.

Un­usual weather events like this could be­come more com­mon with cli­mate warm­ing, said Brian Brettschne­i­der, an as­so­ciate cli­mate re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Alaska Fairbanks’ In­ter­na­tional Arc­tic Re­search Cen­ter. Alaska has seen “mul­ti­ple decades-long in­creases” in tem­per­a­ture, he said.

“It be­comes eas­ier to have these un­usual sets of con­di­tions that now lead to records,” Brettschne­i­der said.

Alaska’s av­er­age tem­per­a­ture in July was 58.1 de­grees. That’s 5.4 de­grees above av­er­age and 0.8 de­grees higher than the pre­vi­ous warm­est month of July 2004, NOAA said.

The ef­fects were felt from the Arc­tic Ocean to the world’s largest tem­per­ate rain­for­est on Alaska’s Pan­han­dle.

An­chor­age, the state’s largest city, on July 4 for the first time hit 90 de­grees at Ted Stevens An­chor­age In­ter­na­tional Air­port, 5 de­grees higher than the city’s pre­vi­ous recorded high of 85 de­grees.

Sea ice off Alaska’s north and north­west shore and other Arc­tic re­gions re­treated to the low­est level ever recorded for July, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Snow and Ice Data Cen­ter at the Univer­sity of Colorado.

Arc­tic sea ice for July set a record low of 2.9 mil­lion square miles. That was a South Carolina-size loss of 30,900 square miles be­low the pre­vi­ous record low July in 2012.

Sea ice is the main habi­tat for po­lar bears and a rest­ing plat­form for fe­male wal­ruses and their young. Sev­eral thou­sand wal­ruses came to shore July 30, the first time they’ve been spot­ted in such large num­bers be­fore Au­gust.

Ef­fects were less ob­vi­ous in the Ber­ing Sea off Alaska’s west coast. Lyle Britt, a NOAA Fish­eries bi­ol­o­gist who over­sees the agency’s an­nual Ber­ing Sea ground­fish sur­vey, was on a trawler east of the is­land of Saint Matthew dur­ing the first week of July.

“The tem­per­a­ture out there for us was in the high 70s,” Britt said. “On those boats, every­thing up there is de­signed to con­serve heat, not vent heat. It was un­bear­ably warm inside the boat.”

On the ocean bot­tom, Britt’s crew for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year found scant ev­i­dence of a “cold pool,” the east-west bar­rier of ex­tremely cold, salty wa­ter that tra­di­tion­ally con­cen­trates fish.

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