Laurent Dick, one of Alaska’s best nature photographers, is in Nome, Alaska for the end of the 2019 Iditarod Sled Dog Race. He captured this lovely sunset photo from the beach, not far from the arch marking the end of the Iditarod. What’s astonishing about the photo is that Norton Sound is open. Open water. In Nome, on the Bering Sea. In mid-March.
WC has played golf — well, watched others play golf — on sea ice where it’s now open water, in the Iditarod’s famous Eliot Staples Bering Sea Ice Classic, a golf tournament where the fairway is three feet of ice-covered in snow, and the “green” is a small bit of green carpet rolled out over the lumpy ice near each hole. There had been a bit of shorefast ice, and the plan was to have this year’s golf tournament there, with the addition of the extensive water hazard. That plan is scrubbed. The shorefast ice blew out in the last storm.
WC is unsure what it takes to persuade “climate skeptics” like, say, Senator Dan Sullivan (R, Koch Bros, Ohio), of the absolute reality of anthropogenic climate change. But maybe the sight of open ocean in Norton Sound, part of the Bering Sea, in mid-March will nudge them into the reality.
For the Iditarod Sled Dog race, that used to cross Norton Sound south and east of Nome, it is an inconvenience. For the silly golf tournament (in WC’s experience, you spend all your time looking for your orange-colored golf ball), it means cancellation, or a smaller course on the beach, maybe.
But for the subsistence communities in the surrounding villages, it means lousy seal hunting, and a loss of an important source of meat. For the entire Norton Peninsula shoreline, it means greatly increased vulnerability to damage from spring storms, when the wind blows up big waves where usually it just blows around snow.
And the worry of a late-April event occurring six weeks or more early.
And for that entire period, the darker open water will absorb heat from sunlight that would normally be reflected away, accelerating the cycle of warming cycle. For the entire period, water will evaporate from the open ocean, increasing the water content of the atmosphere and the chance for catastrophic rain storms.
There is a fair amount of national media present for the Iditarod. WC hopes this extraordinary change gets noticed and reported, and the meaning and consequences of this change explained better than WC can manage. And to a wider audience.
Because everything about Laurent’s lovely photo bodes ill for Alaska, Alaskans and the planet.
PS. Special thanks to Laurent Dick for letting WC use his lovely, alarming photo.