By TOBEY SCHMIDT
OPINION: A few weeks ago, I took my first trip on the White Pass & Yukon Route train, and was dropped off at the trailhead leading to Laughton Glacier.
My friends had to work that afternoon, so they were taking the earlier train home, while I was on the later train.
We hiked our way towards the glacier as quickly as we could, so my friends would have a good amount of time to explore the area. The hike up is full of moss and wildflowers and butterflies and sun flares through the trees – yes, the sun was actually out.
The words “magical” and “fairyland” were used more times than I’d like to admit.
As we turned the corner and saw Laughton Glacier and the mountain range behind it, we stopped on the spot. It was epic. Everything seemed out of proportion, like way too big to be there.
I couldn’t stop looking as we walked closer, so every few steps I was tripping over a rock or my other foot. We kept going, until one friend pointed out that we were actually walking on the glacier.
The first part of the glacier was quite dark from the dirt and gravel around it, so we hadn’t realized that we’d been walking on the ice. It was a good thing he noticed, because glacial travel is not something I have the skills for yet, and it can be quite dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Honestly, before coming to Alaska I didn’t know much about glaciers – I guess that wasn’t too high on the Indiana education curriculum, or, more likely, I was just uninterested at that age. What I did know is that glaciers, simply put, are large masses of compacted snow. I also knew that glacial ice is one of the many natural occurrences directly affected by climate change and when melting, can cause phenomena like avalanches, floods and mud flows.
Skagway, sitting at sea level and surrounded by many known glaciers, would essentially be an underwater town if climates continued to rise. Not that this would be anytime soon, but food for thought.
Glaciers store about 75 percent of the world’s fresh water, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), and if all of the ice melted, sea level would rise about 230 feet worldwide.
Just think about that Costco in Juneau – gone. Tragedy.
One benefit of glaciers being sensitive to temperature fluctuations is that they can easily show trends in global warming and provide data about climate change. Since the beginning of last century, glaciers have been melting at unprecedented rates, while Earth’s temperature has shown a warming trend. The biggest question over the past few decades is what is causing this global rise in temperatures?
The topic of climate change has been in the media very often lately, especially with the recent presidential election. Some sides will argue that this issue is alarmingly true and is likely caused by human actions, while other will argue that the whole thing is a hoax.
I’d like to just focus on facts and use Alaska as an example.
The Alaska Almanac estimates there to be over 10,000 glaciers throughout Alaska, most of them unnamed.
Just in this century, several glaciers, ice caps and ice shelves have disappeared completely, according to the NSIDC. At the rate that glaciers are retreating, many others may be gone within a few decades as well.
Within the last 60 years, Denali’s glaciers have lost eight percent of their total area, according to the National Park Service. The glaciers at Denali National Park and Preserve continue to thin and retreat.
Since the mid 2000s, permafrost in the northern region of Alaska has been warming at about one-tenth of a degree Celsius per year, University of Alaska Professor Vladimir Romanovsky told BBC News in 2015.
Romanovsky also said that just 10 years ago, he would have never believed the permafrost would begin thawing in this century. Now, he estimates it to start thawing around the years 2070-2080.
During Earth’s 4.5 billion years of existence, it is true that temperatures have fluctuated from year to year, just like the planet’s sea levels have risen and fallen over the years.
However, in the past century scientists have seen a rising trend in temperatures along with a rising trend in sea levels. According to National Geographic, the global average temperature has broken the former heat record every year since 2014.
Sea levels could rise three feet by the end of this century, wiping out most coastal cities and causing global disasters like hurricanes, floods and tsunamis.
After my friends had to leave Laughton Glacier and run back on the trail to catch their train back to Skagway I had a few hours alone to explore, then of course nap and read a book in front of the massive glacier.
The book I was reading was about the food industry. It reveals a lot about processed foods and shows readers how they can prevent eating chemicals that end up in just about every staple food.
Water was running past me from underneath the glacier and it made me think a lot of what people can do to help prevent climate change.
Actions like riding bikes more than cars, eating a plant-based diet and taking airplanes less are steps that everyone can work towards.
Although the fix to climate change seems insurmountable, it’s not. It will just take help from everyone.
If we can somehow come together and elect a former reality TV star as president, then we can come together and protect our natural resources.