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Fairbanks’s air quality issues began in 1901, when shallow water grounded a Gold Rush entrepreneur.

That August day, when a hired steamship could take them no farther up the Chena River, E.T. Barnette and his wife found themselves deposited on a sandy shoreline in the middle of Alaska.

Gold miners soon found Barnette had sacks of flour, sugar and coffee. Barnette then decided this was a pretty good place for his trading post, one he had hoped to build a few hundred miles away in Tanacross. Alaska’s northern urban center of Fairbanks was born.

Back in 1901, Barnette did not know this river valley has one of the strongest temperature inversions on the planet and some of the calmest winds in Alaska. Nor did he know that a spike in oil prices a century later would inspire so many people to start burning wood to help heat their homes. He did not imagine tiny particles in the air would some day make the city, on its worst days, have air as thick as Beijing’s.

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Uma Bhatt remembers summers in Fairbanks when she could open a package of crackers, leave it unsealed, and find them in a near-identical state a few weeks later. Those crackers now seem to lose their snap in just a few days.

 

An atmospheric scientist at UAF, Bhatt gave a recent talk on a rainy October day in which she mentioned the humidification of the Arctic, a region often as dry as a desert.

 

“As the sea ice has gone away, moisture is replacing temperature as the most important variable,” she said.

 

The ice that floats on top of the Arctic Ocean has been shrinking in extent for decades, with a much sharper slope of decline since 2000. Not only has northern ice covered less ocean, it has also become thinner, which allows it to melt faster.

 

Right now, as we enter the cold season, much of the ocean surrounding Alaska is up to 3 degrees Celsius warmer than normal.

 

“New ice is not… read more

For the past century, official thermometers scattered around Alaska have shown a warming trend. Most of the trusted weather stations are in river valleys; Gulkana, at 1,300 feet, is the high point of Alaska’s 21 “first order” weather stations, some of which have been running for a century.

 

But what about the weather up high? A scientist recently found evidence for even greater warming within the snows of Mount Hunter, sampled at a 13,000-foot saddle. Mount Hunter shoulders up next to Denali and Mount Foraker in Denali National Park.

 

In 2013, Dom Winski of Dartmouth College spent a few weeks living on Mount Hunter’s high plateau. He and a team from Dartmouth, the University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire twisted a hollow drill bit into ice and snow on top of the mountain. 

 

That summer they pulled out two cores of snow and ice, each in segments that added up to more than 600 feet. They transported all that ice back to a… read more

For the past century, official thermometers scattered around Alaska have shown a warming trend. Most of the trusted weather stations are in river valleys; Gulkana, at 1,300 feet, is the high point of Alaska’s 21 “first order” weather stations, some of which have been running for a century.

 

But what about the weather up high? A scientist recently found evidence for even greater warming within the snows of Mount Hunter, sampled at a 13,000-foot saddle. Mount Hunter shoulders up next to Denali and Mount Foraker in Denali National Park.

 

In 2013, Dom Winski of Dartmouth College spent a few weeks living on Mount Hunter’s high plateau. He and a team from Dartmouth, the University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire twisted a hollow drill bit into ice and snow on top of the mountain. 

 

That summer they pulled out two cores of snow and ice, each in segments that added up to more than 600 feet. They transported all that ice back to a… read more