Hi, everyone — checking in on day two. Right off the bat, I’ll note that I’ve got to come back here once I’m done being President.
You just can’t see Alaska in three days.
I spent the day hiking through Exit Glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park — where the mountains collide with the ocean and fields of ice. When the team handed over the camera, I did my best to do this place justice:
Visitors from around the world come here to see its Harding Icefield — one of the largest ice fields in the United States — covering hundreds of square miles. As the climate warms, glaciers are shrinking more and more rapidly — and throughout the park, there are signs marking where the glacier line used to be.
This is as good of a signpost as any when it comes to the impacts of climate change.
I also had the chance to tour the area by boat and experience the beauty and wildlife of Resurrection Bay. It was spectacular to see the horizon of ice and snow, but it’s melting. And if we don’t act, this simply won’t be here for future generations to enjoy.
Glaciers in Alaska, and the greater Arctic, are shrinking and it’s changing the way Alaskans live. And considering the Arctic’s unique role in influencing the global climate, it will accelerate changes to the way that we all live. Since 1979, the summer sea ice in the Arctic has decreased by more than 40%, a decrease that has dramatically accelerated over the past two decades.
One new study estimates that Alaska’s glaciers alone lose about 75 gigatons — that’s 75 billion tons — of ice each year. What does a gigaton look like? To put that in perspective, one scientist described a gigaton of ice as a block the size of the National Mall in Washington — from Congress all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, four times as tall as the Washington Monument. Now imagine 75 of those ice blocks. That’s what Alaska’s glaciers alone lose…each year.
And the pace of melting is only getting faster.
It’s now twice what it was between 1950 and 2000 — twice as fast as it was just a little over a decade ago. And it’s one of the reasons why sea levels rose by about eight inches over the last century, and why they’re projected to rise another one to four feet this century.
If we do nothing, temperatures in Alaska are projected to rise between six and 12 degrees by the end of the century, triggering more melting, more fires, more thawing of the permafrost, a negative feedback loop, a cycle — warming leading to more warming — that we do not want to be a part of.
The fact is that climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it. That must change — and we’re not acting fast enough.
President Barack Obama / IM