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Barrow, Alaska: Ground Zero for Climate Change

Scientists converge on the northernmost city in the United States to study global warming’s dramatic consequences

Scientists have been descending on the Alaska city of Barrow since 1973. This monument made of whale bones is to lost sailors. (Associated Press)
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Some time around October, he said, the waves now lapping against the shore would turn to slush, like “an unflavored Slurpee.” Then, as temperatures dropped, the slush would congeal and become rigid. Colder still and the ocean would break against itself and form mountain ranges of ice “like plate tectonics on a smaller scale.” Snow would cover it, and in spring the ice would weaken. “You can notice it and smell it. The animals know it.” Finally, the whales, seals and ducks would start to come back to Barrow.

That’s the way it always happened. That’s the way it was supposed to happen. As the worsening weather closed in, Glenn turned the boat back to shore. He wasn’t worried, he said. He would cope with climate change just as he’d coped with other changes he’d seen. “We may have to learn some new weather patterns,” he said. “But we always have.”

Bob Reiss is a New York City writer. His book The Coming Storm chronicles events related to global warming.


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