Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
From the “weather is not climate” department, the sea ice is in early and thick in Alaska. It makes me shiver just to look at the picture. They had to use an icebreaker to get fuel to Nome.
Figure 1. The Bering Sea region in Alaska. Anchorage is at the upper right. The Aleutian peninsula and chain runs down to the lower left. Ice covers all of Bristol Bay, and extends well out from the shore to the west. Photo Source
I fished commercially up there, in the Bering Sea. I’ve lived in a container in the Peter Pan Cannery boatyard in Dillingham, and gill netted for the noble salmon in Bristol Bay, drunk too much and worked it off laughing in a blazing hot steam bath with some Yupik guys trying to roast me out the door by cranking up the heat. I’ve made great money in driving sleet arguing with the herring regarding the eventual fate of their roe in Togiak, and seen the walrus hauled ashore in their thousands on Round Island. Those fisheries kill a man or two a year, plus the usual crushed hands and feet and the like. But I haven’t fished the January Bering Sea crab fishery, the one made famous as “The Deadliest Catch”. Figure 1 shows why I don’t do that.
The Bering Sea ice this year is in early, and it’s thick. Not only that, it’s moving south fast. The crab fleet has some $8 million dollars of gear in the water, and the ice is moving south at twenty miles a day. Usually ice comes in later and thinner, and moves south at three miles a day. Boats are tied up to the Dutch Harbor docks. At St. Paul Island, out of the photo to the left, the crab boats usually sell their loads to the processor boats. It is also totally iced in. Millions of dollars have already been sunk into moving the crab boats and the processor boats and the crab pots to Dutch. If this cold continues, the season will likely be a total bust.
My point in this post? Awe, mostly, at the damaging power of cold. As a seaman, cold holds many more terrors than heat. When enough ice builds up on a boat’s superstructure, it rolls over and men die. The sun can’t do that. The Titanic wasn’t sunk by a heat wave.
The thing about ice? You can’t do a dang thing about it. You can’t blow up a glacier, or an ice sheet like you see in the Bering Sea above. You can’t melt it. The biggest, most powerful icebreaker can’t break through more than a few feet of it. When the ice moves in, the game is over.
Now me, I’m a tropical boy. My feeling is that well-behaved ice sits peacefully in my margarita glass, making those lovely cold drips run down the outside, and giving me a brain freeze when I hold the glass to my forehead.
But when ice jumps out of my glass and starts running all around painting the landscape white and solidifying the ocean and falling on my head and freezing my … begonias, well, at that point the fun’s over. I call that “water behaving badly”.
And if you want to worry about a climate related occurrence, I certainly wouldn’t worry about the dread Thermageddon™, the long-foretold and ever-receding premature heat-death of civilization.
I’d worry about water behaving badly …
Best of the cold to my friends in Alaska, stay safe on the ocean, and my regards to all,