Two Rivers in Alaska Melt after Warm Winter
Key Alaska rivers that are usually frozen at this time of year are now free-flowing, with record-early thaws following record-high winter and spring temperatures.
According to Reuters, in the interior Alaska city of Nenana, ice on the Tanana River gave way just after midnight on Sunday. It was by far the earliest breakup in the 102-year history of the Nenana Ice Classic, an iconic Alaska betting pool in which participants predict when thaw will sink a wooden tripod placed on the ice.
Another record-early thaw happened on Friday on the Kuskokwim River at the southwestern city of Bethel. The Friday ice breakup was the earliest for that part of this river in 92 years of records kept by the National Weather Service.
At both rivers, records show that breakup has been happening, on average, about a week earlier since the 1960s, not counting this year’s record thaws. Brian Brettschneider, a climate researcher with the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ International Arctic Research Center, said: "The increasingly early melt reflects Alaska’s long-term climate change. More precisely, this year’s early melt reflects the warm conditions that persisted over wide areas of Alaska, from mountain peaks to the open ocean."
For rural Alaskans in communities that lack outside road access, changes in river ice can have dire consequences. The rural and mostly indigenous residents use frozen rivers for travel, driving snowmobiles or other vehicles over them.