The Suffering of Alaskans Highlighted In Arctic Report Card

This year's report card highlights the impact global warming has on daily life in Alaska.
Donna Fuscaldo

Much has been made about the impact climate change has on marine life and animals in their natural habitats, but what about the humans that are living amid a rapidly warming planet? 

Aiming to shine a light on the struggles of the indigenous people living on the Bering Sea in Alaska, the U.S. National Oceanic, and Atmospheric Administration published first-person accounts of what daily life is like as climate change spirals out of control. 


The Bering Sea undergoing massive changes 

The Bering Sea is home to more than 70 indigenous communities, where generations have studied the ocean and weather to survive.

It is undergoing massive changes never seen before with rising temperatures resulting in reductions in sea ice. That coupled with a lack of snow is endangering marine mammals, fish, seabird and its ecosystem.  The  U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned in its Arctic Report Card for 2019 arctic ecosystems and communities are at increased risk due to the warming and declining sea ice. 

Take ice for starters.

In the narrative, a group of ten elders from indigenous communities along the Bering Sea explains that the timing of when the sea freezes and the thickness of the ice have changed over the years because of global warming. That has resulted in a delayed and prolonged fall freeze-up period, preventing them from growing part of the year when they can no longer use boats in frozen waters but before it's safe enough to use snowmachines to get across the ice. 

Inability to predict the weather is a grave danger 

"Our traditional ice-based travel routes between communities (e.g., between Wales, Teller, and Brevig Mission) are no longer possible or are greatly limited in duration. At Diomede, a remote island community in the Bering Strait, the coastal sea ice has not been thick enough for an ice runway for the last 10 years or so, leaving the community to depend on less reliable helicopter access as their main means of resupply, mail delivery, and travel on and off the island throughout winter (e.g., to access health care and other social services)," wrote the Alaskans.

They said one of the biggest dangers they face comes from their inability to predict the weather that is less stable. It's not uncommon to see four weather patterns in one day, with rapid shifts in wind direction. That results in less time able to spend on the water or on the land, impacting their ability to collect and prepare food.  The changes in precipitation, mainly less snow in the winter and more rain and wetter summers is hurting their ability to travel and gather as well. 

"At Nome, as we travel back and forth to our fish camps in summer, wetter weather with more unpredictable and heavy rains leaves us fewer days to dry our fish. As a result, we are increasingly using roofs (or hootches) over our fish drying racks. This past year's unusually warm air and water temperatures may also be linked to greater weeds seen in our lagoons. At Safety Lagoon near Nome, weeds rising through the water were clogging boat engines as we traveled to our cabins in summer," wrote the 10 elders. 

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