The Economist July 6th - 2019


Alaska


Baked

The Last Frontier is warming fast



Around a recent backyard bonfire on the outskirts of this small fishing and tourism town in the south-central part of Alaska, local residents debated whether a massive release of spruce pollen, which accumulated on every surface—including car bonnets, picnic tables and the nearby Ka-chemak Bay—amounted to a. "golden sheen" or a "yellow scum". The fine dust turned the surface of the sea the colour of butter and left a bright, lemony line on shore that marked the extent of high tide and gave off a sickly sweet smell.


Eric Clarke manages trails at the nearby Kachemak Bay State Park, a rugged coastal area of dense spruce forests. He has been with the park for 24 years. "I haven't seen a pollen dump like this in years," he said. This huge release of pollen might be yet another symptom of a rapidly changing environment. Spruce pollen is made up of microscopic, double-lobed orbs that look a bit like Mickey Mouse heads. The "ears" are minute air sacks that help the pollen grains disperse over hundreds of miles, which in this region of Alaska means across mountains, glaciers and bays.


Spruce trees release pollen annually, but every three to five years there is a natural bump in pollen production. This cyclir cal process is called masting, and it flushes the forests every few years with spruce seeds, overwhelming seed-eating animals like red squirrels and white-winged crossbills, and thereby ensuring many uneaten seeds go on to germinate.


Climate change is also affecting how trees and other plants release pollen. Rising temperatures and increasing atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentrations are intensifying pollen seasons, much to the chagrin of allergy sufferers. In Alaska, where temperatures are warming at twice the national average, the change is getting up people's noses. "Increased carbon dioxide will drive pollen levels," says Jeffrey De-main of the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Centre of Alaska, who began pollen counts here nearly 25 years ago. His clinic treats patients with especially pernicious pollen-related symptoms.


More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere spurs plant growth. The pollen season is extending as well. Trees release pollen in the spring after a short stretch of frost-free days. Because the last frosts of spring are occurring earlier in the year, trees are blasting out pollen earlier as well. And because warming temperatures are keeping autumn frosts at bay later into the year, plants continue to release pollen for weeks longer than in years past. And in Alaska, where trees are moving north into formerly treeless landscapes, the geographic reach of pollen is changing.


Already this year, Alaska has seen record temperatures, more than 20 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal. And each year atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations increase. While spruce pollen is irritating to local residents, the massive pollen release could be a boon to the region's forests, which have been decimated in recent years by beetle and aphid infestations brought on by rising temperatures. The yellow mist rising from the trees looks like an indicator of a rapidly changing environment, which is leaving its mark on human health, local forests and the tideline. ■


THE  NORTH  PART  OF  CANADA  IS  NOW  EXPERIENCING  PERMA-FROST  COMING  OUT  OF  THE  GROUND—— NEVER  HAPPENED  BEFORE,  GOING  BACK  THOUSANDS  OF  YEARS!


HILLS  ARE  FALLING,  TOGETHER  WITH  TREES;  THE  VARIOUS  PIPES  BELOW  GROUND  IN  THE  VILLAGES  ARE  BREAKING  UP.


TO  SAY  THOSE  VILLAGES  ARE  UNDER  DISASTER  IS  AN  UNDERSTATEMENT.


THE  NORTH  POLE  IS  MELTING  AS  NEVER  BEFORE.


THE  ICE  CAP  OVER  MUCH  OF  GREENLAND  IS  MELTING  LIKE  A  TRAIN  OUT  OF  CONTROL.


WHEN  I  CAME  TO  WESTERN  CANADA  IN  1961  CANADA  WAS  STILL  THE  FROZEN  NORTH,  FAMOUS  FOR  LONG  COLD  WINTERS.  I  REMEMBER  DURING  THE  1960s  WE  GOT  WINTERS  OF  -3O F  FOR  5  WEEKS  STRAIGHT;  IT  WAS  AS  PEOPLE  TOLD  ME  “CANADA’S  WINTER  CLIMATE  HAS  BEEN  THIS  WAY  FOR  THOUSANDS  OF  YEARS,  SO  GET  USED  TO  IT.”


NOW  TODAY  IF  WESTERN  CANADA  GETS  -30  FOR  A  WEEK,  IT  IS  ON  NATIONAL  NEWS!


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