It is August 30. I’m in Anchorage, Alaska, and it’s hot. Very hot. In fact, it’s the fourth straight day of record high temperatures, amidst a year that has seen record high temperatures becoming normalized across the entire state.
Two days ago, this city (the most populous in Alaska) saw a record high temperature of 78 degrees, which beat the previous record by a whopping seven degrees.
Last night, I returned here from a trip with the US Geological Survey (USGS), during which we measured the Gulkana Glacier in the Eastern Alaska Range. Almost needless to say, the glacier, like thousands across this northernmost state, is melting rapidly and is in full retreat.
I asked one of the USGS researchers studying this glacier to share his feelings about what is happening to the glaciers in his home state of Alaska.
“You see stuff and it’s hard to believe it sometimes,” Shad O’Neel, a USGS research geophysicist says as we sit talking in a meeting room at the USGS office complex in Anchorage. “The scale that is happening, like hiking into Gulkana [Glacier], the stream you follow up to it, it branches into two before you get to the glacier.”
As we talk, we are both cognizant of the fact that it is warming rapidly outside, and the forecast is for more of the same.
“When I was in grad school, the terminus of the glacier was at that river branch, which is now one kilometer from the terminus,” he says. “Last year I was there, and I realized it wasn’t that long ago I was in school, and now look at how much ice is just gone. It’s a lot of ice.
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