Global warming of ‘grave concern’ in Alaska

Temperatures continue to rise in the Arctic region, affecting local communities.

Alaska snow
Warm air continues to carry unfamiliar threats in Alaska [EPA]

November 2017 was the fifth warmest November since records began in 1880, figures released by NOAA show, as our planet continues to warm at an alarming rate.

Unfortunately, that fact will be barely reported because we suffer from “climate fatigue”; almost every month is one of the warmest on record.

Even when 2017 is announced as the third warmest year on record, it will be greeted with deafening silence.

That is hardly surprising when 2015 was the warmest on record only to be beaten by 2016. So for 2017 to trail in third is hardly likely to raise much interest.

In any case, people find it hard to relate to a temperature that is only 0.84C above the 20th century average.

All these are average figures of course, and in parts of the world where the warming is more extreme, the effects of global warming are more apparent and, to the layperson, more worrying.

Take the example of the Arctic, where warming is happening twice as quickly as anywhere else on the planet. Pictures have emerged in recent days of graves sinking into a swamp, which was previously permafrost.

Aside from the distress caused to relatives of the deceased in Kongiganak on Alaska’s western Yukon delta, it illustrates how in the space of a few decades, the very nature of the landscape is changing and communities of the High Arctic are feeling the full force of these changes.

Even the experts are being caught out. NOAA, like all weather data gathering organisations, uses algorithms to identify any rogue data gathered from thousands of observation stations around the globe.

Earlier this month it was revealed that data from Barrow Observatory had not been included in the data set as it had been flagged as erroneous.

Put another way, reality is outstripping the computers’ ideas of what is “normal” in this part of the world. Of course, when it was realised that Barrow’s temperatures were genuine, they were reinstated into the data set.

The changing nature of the Arctic climate is also being felt in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago that lies halfway between Norway and the North Pole. The average annual temperature in Longyearbyen, the main city, is minus 6.7C. Last year the average temperature was around 0C.

This year has generally been somewhat cooler; nevertheless, warm air continues to carry unfamiliar threats across the island.

An area of low pressure is bringing very warm air across Svalbard, prompting the government to issue evacuation orders, amid fears of flooding, landslides and slush avalanches.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies