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Hubbard Glacier - Alaska

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The reasons for global warming have been thoroughly debated. While some experts argue humans are the root cause, others argue that the Earth is undergoing a natural climate shift that has nothing to do with the presence of people on the planet.

Whatever the reason, it is evident that global warming is taking place. In Alaska, for instance, the average annual temperature has risen just over three degrees Fahrenheit per year for the last 100 years. The resulting glacial reduction is visible to the naked eye.

Calfing Glacier - Global Warming?

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Glacial Reduction

If you’ve toured Alaska before yourself, and then returned to make the same trip again, you may have noticed that the glaciers seemed a little smaller. Don’t worry; your eyes weren’t playing tricks on you. Since 1750, Alaska has lost 600 cubic miles of ice from Glacier Bay.

The Muir Glacier, once a vast piece of ice that ran all the way into the Riggs Glacier, has retreated 12 miles since 1941. The Riggs Glacier now terminates at the Muir Inlet. Global warming has severed the connection between these two glaciers, probably forever.

Another glacier which has been all but destroyed by the increase in the Earth’s temperature is the Carroll Glacier, which has thinned and retreated onto land. The Queen Inlet, once the home of the Carroll Glacier, used to be a 560-foot deep fjord. Today, it is filled with sediment and lies well above sea level.

Problems Caused by Glacial Reduction

One area of concern among seismologists is that the retreating ice will destabilize the Earth’s crust, making earthquakes more likely to occur in areas where glaciers are rapidly fading away.

There are other areas of concern as well. When ice sheets and glaciers melt, the runoff increases the volume of water in the sea. At the same time, the sea itself is growing warmer, leading to a process called thermal expansion. In other words, the sea level is rising.

A higher-than-normal sea level increases the chance of coastal damage from storm surges, high waves that crash onto the coast during a storm.

Other problems scientists expect to see as the warming trend continues include coastal erosion and flooding. Since Alaska relies heavily on tourism, such as Anchorage tours, it is important that the state find ways to keep both native dwellers and guests safe.

Rush to Stop Global Warming - Keystone, SD

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What Can Humans Do?

Whether or not humans created the problem, continued heavy use of fossil fuels certainly is not helping matters. In the long run, humans will have to find other sources of power such as solar energy. But that isn’t likely to happen overnight. In the short term, Alaska is dealing with the problem in four specific ways.

  1. Migration. Communities in areas at risk of repeated flooding are being given government assistance to move inland where flooding is less likely.
  2. Flood-Resistant construction. Contractors are starting to use flood-resistant construction as they plan new projects.
  3. Land zoning. Land zoning is being used to prevent future building on areas deemed unsafe.
  4. Evacuation plans. Each community and each family should have a plan to evacuate in the event of a flood.

As these actions show, we may not be able to reverse global warming, but there are steps we can take to keep people in high-risk areas as safe as possible.