Record breaking warmth threatens millennia of Alaska cultural heritage

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BARROW, Alaska (KTUU) - The past winter in Alaska was the 3rd warmest on record according to the National Weather Service, but it says March through May was the warmest in the last 92 years.

Climate Science and Services Manager Rick Thoman says what’s remarkable is this is the third year in a row with milder temperatures than Alaskans have come to expect.

“Temperatures some months, some seasons, are colder than others, but we’re really outside the range of anything that we’ve seen before in Alaska. This isn’t just oh we happen to be warm this winter of this spring its part of a pattern like nothing we’ve seen in the last century,” said Thoman.

He says Barrow at the top of the state recorded the warmest winter in close to a century of unbroken records.

Senior Scientist Anne Jensen at UIC, The Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation, has worked in Barrow since 1986. Recently she’s been working to save 4,000 years of cultural material exposed by erosion at a site called Walakpa.

“This is all really well preserved. The bone near the bottom looks like the animal died a couple of years ago so basically what you have is a giant frozen tissue archive in chronological order,” said Jensen.

Although the site has survived for millennia, Jensen says it is now threatened by thawing permafrost and erosion made worse by rising temperatures, “As things warm the coast is eroding faster and faster and many of these sites are on the coast,” said Jensen.

This summer she and volunteers arriving from as far away as France will work to excavate as much as they can as fast as they can.

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