Saturday, May 20, 2006

Mark Lynas - The professor's whisky

Fairbanks, Alaska—Gamblers as well as scientists take a close interest in Alaskan temperature records. Each winter the people of Nenana, a small town just south-east of Fairbanks, place bets on the exact day, hour and minute that the spring ice 'break-up' will begin on the the town's river. The tradition began when railroad engineers put down a wager of $800 in 1917; by 2000, the sum at stake had grown to $335,000, attracting punters from all over Alaska and assuring round-the-clock vigilance of the river from Nenana citizens. Records of the results provide a valuable insight into how the weather in Alaska has warmed over the past century. The average date of the spring thaw is eight days earlier than it was in the 1920s—Alaska has a week less winter. Alaskan scientists have little doubt that they are witnessing a rapid acceleration of global warming in the earth's high latitudes. Most of the state's interior, including Fairbanks, was used to seeing winter temperatures drop forty or even fifty degrees Celsius below zero. Recently, even twenty below has become rare. Professor Gunter Weller, a climatologist with the University of Alaska, remembered a New Year's Eve party in 1968, at the end of his first year in the state. 'I put a shot of very good scotch in an ice-cube tray and left it outside, it was frozen within half an hour. You wouldn't see that now, no way.' On average, he said, Alaskan winter temperatures have shot up by six degrees Celsius in the past thirty years; a warming which has also been recorded in many parts of the Canadian and Siberian Arctic. more..


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