News Watch

Alaska-centric environmental research, legislation, action alerts, and opportunities.

The Future We Make

This issue of News Watch features several videos including A Message From the Future (which came out before the pandemic). This upbeat YouTube video is a message about the future we want to make and the Green New Deal narrated by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A follow-up video came out mid-pandemic and is entitled A Message from the Future II: The Years of Repair

Like Alaska, Nordic countries frequently use air travel between far-flung communities. These short flights are convenient, but they contribute to escalating carbon emissions.  To address this issue, plans are in the works by Norwegian-based airliner Wilderøe for zero-emission commuter flights. The new battery-powered planes, capable of carrying 9 passengers plus two pilots, should be available by 2026. Given the challenges of their cold northern climate, if Norway can successfully pioneer electric planes, perhaps Alaska will follow suit. 

Arctic Policy:

David Kennedy, the former senior adviser on Arctic issues for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA, was appointed by President Biden to serve as the chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. Kennedy, no stranger to Alaska, will prioritize climate change impacts in Arctic research. Learn more here

Russia looks to expand its claim on the arctic seafloor with two extensions totaling some 700,000 square kilometers into Greenland’s and Canada’s exclusive economic zones. Their claims are likely based on information gleaned during a summer 2020 icebreaker run to gather data about the seafloor with a multibeam echosounder. The claims will go before the UN Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf for review. A successful claim will give Russia sole rights to oil, gas, and minerals below the seafloor, as well as rights to regulate traffic in the area. Read more here.

The Climate Crisis:

Landslides are on the rise in northern latitudes as permafrost melts and heavy rainfall increases. In Denali National Park, near the Polychrome Overlook, erosion is threatening a section of road above a 1,000-foot drop to the river. Movement of the slope increased over the 2020 summer from about two inches a day to 3.5 inches a day. A number of other locations in the park that are shifting as they thaw have also been identified. And in December heavy rains caused a deadly landslide in Haines, where two people remain missing. A similar loss of life due to landslides occurred in Norway and Iceland. Read more here.  

Clear-cutting and wildfire in tropical forests increased sharply in 2020 after a slowdown in 2019. More than 10 million acres were lost to development, with Brazil leading the way. Not only does slash and burn release carbon into the air but the loss of trees, which draw up CO2 through respiration, exacerbates the problem. Read more here.

Drones are being used to plant up to 40,000 trees a month in Toronto in an area burned by wildfire. Loaded with seed pods of native pine and spruce, the drones can easily access steep or rugged terrain. The idea is catching on, with plans for restoration in Hawaii, Australia, Colombia, and other locations. Read more here.

Fin, Feather and Furbearing:

These efforts are coming none too soon. Last summer’s wildfire season was one for the record books, with massive fires in California, Oregon, and Colorado, and further afield in Siberia, the Brazilian Amazon, and Australia. Wildlife suffered massive die-offs, including migratory bird populations. In the western US, data was collected on a citizen science web platform called iNaturalist to tally the many dead birds people were finding in their back yards or on woodland walks. No surprise, the data drew a direct correlation between the die-offs and forest fires in the region. 

Drones aren’t the only novel approach to tree planting. An innovative human-scrub jay collaboration is underway to replant burned areas in Southern California. 

Albatross spend nearly their whole lives flying above or riding on ocean waves, only coming to shore to rear their young. Consequently, they are not the most graceful on land. For example, check out this very short, highly amusing video