In March, a group of researchers announced the results of a multi-year study assessing the impacts to caribou habitat of a potential service road from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District.Download AudioTheir research is one of the first wildlife biology studies looking at whether a road through a stretch of the Interior would disrupt the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, which is vital to subsistence users across Western Alaska.Kyle Joly is with the National Park Service, which, along with the Wilderness Society and U.S. Geological Survey, conducted the study. He says the results showed minimal effects from a road on the areas where caribou spend their winters.“We do not expect that impacts to winter range will be great from this one road,” he said.But Joly is quick to caution that the results are one small glimpse of the full picture.“You know this is just the first phase of the project, and the authors of the paper and other researchers are working on other aspects to look at how the road might impact other aspects of caribou ecology,” Joly said. “More than likely this will be just be the first one in a long suite of studies.”The study looked at a swath of land starting by Bettles, and moving westward towards the community of Ambler in the Northwest Arctic Borough. That’s the path proposed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority as part of a Roads to Resources project.Joly and his research partners spent four years monitoring where caribou spend their time, and cataloging the environmental factors that led the animals to pick those spots. The researchers mapped three potential routes the industrial road could go, then checked how big of a disturbance each one would be to the conditions caribou seem to like.Joly says the results showed just 1.5-8.5 percent of the favorable range would be upset by the road. But he’s cautious about what that means for development.“Well what shouldn’t be read into it is that there’s no impact to the caribou or the Western Arctic herd,” Joly said. “What we did is look at just one aspect of caribou ecology, which is winter range—just for this singular road”Many of the ecological effects on caribou, Joly says, wouldn’t register until after a road were built, and can’t yet be studied.“So we did not look at any potential impacts to migration, any potential impacts of increased harvest that might come from a road, and we also didn’t look at any potential development that might be facilitated by this road,” Joly said.The caribou habitat study is set to be published in the journal Arctic later this year.
Today, seemingly more than ever before, climate change is a hot topic of almost any political and social debate. Is our modern lifestyle artificially interfering with the climate or is it a natural occurrence independent from human activity? The debate rages on. However, climate abnormalities are not something humanity is encountering for the first time. A historical episode that shows another dark environmental period of the Earth is the year 1816, known in history as the “Year Without a Summer”, “Poverty Year” or “Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death.”According to USA Today, this extremely harsh year caused average global temperatures to decrease by 32-33 °F (0.4–0.7 °C). It brought snow in the middle of June followed by a freezing winter in July and August. This extraordinary weather change destroyed crops and the food supply became so scarce that countless people in North America and Europe suffered a great famine. In fact the Year Without a Summer is the sixth-deadliest disaster in Great Britain and Ireland by death toll (65,000).1816 summer temperature anomaly compared to average temperatures from 1971–2000. Photo by Giorgiogp2 CC BY-SA 3.0One of the claimed scientific reasons for this climate anomaly was the biggest volcanic eruption in history which took place in Indonesia on Mount Tambora in 1815. The aftermath of this event resulted in large quantities of dust and ash leaking into the atmosphere causing a serious change decrease in temperatures.The resulting famine spread deadly diseases far and wide so people were forced to move away from their homes.Experts and scientists claim that this black scenario could possibly happen again due to the fact that volcanoes still erupt and no one can be certain when the next big eruption is going to happen.The 1815 Mount Tambora eruption. The red areas are maps of the thickness of volcanic ashfall. CC BY-SA 3.0Considering this, any big eruption may prove to be far more fatal than any man-made ecological catastrophes.The tragic events of the year 1816 were also sealed in the pages of the book “The Year without Summer” by William B. Klingaman and co-author Nicholas P. Klingaman. The latter stated at the time that humanity is still unable to predict volcano eruptions and their destructive potential can only increase.The yellow skies typical of summer 1815 had a profound impact on the paintings of J.M.W. TurnerUSA Today reports that according to Klingman’s book, the eruption of Tambora is “by far the deadliest volcanic eruption in human history, with a death toll of at least 71,000 people, 12,000 of whom were killed directly by the eruption. And this doesn’t take into account the indirect deaths caused by the resulting famine.The volcano spewed out enough ash and pumice to cover a square area of 100 miles on each side with a depth of almost 12 feet. NASA also confirms that an eruption can cool a particular area and spread sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere where it then forms sulfate aerosols due to its reaction with water vapor.Turner’s classic sunset paintings were inspired by dust from volcanic eruptions including at Mount Tambora. This is the “Chichester Canal” (1828)The aerosols are highly durable and cool the surface of the Earth by reflecting sunlight.The heavy June snowstorms that year not only killed most of the crops but also froze many birds to death as well as other animals. Two months later, the freeze in August hit even harder, forcing people to survive in dreadful ways by eating pigeons, raccoons and other unsavory snacks.When The Arctic Warms, Extreme US Weather Is More FrequentThe Year Without Summer transformed many of Europe’s communities into impoverished crowds who, on top of that, had to fight a typhus epidemic.Dark storm clouds on a deserted dirt road. Many people had to flee their homes due to the ravages caused by the summerless year.After reading this unpleasant chapter in Earth’s natural history, one would naturally wonder when humanity can expect a return of this cruel climate episode. According to Klingaman, though eruptions like Tambora happen once every 1,000 years, smaller eruptions aren’t less of a problem.For example, the 1991 Pinatubo eruption cooled the Earth’s surface by nearly 34 °F (1 °C).1991 Mount Pinatubo eruptionTaking into account that today’s global temperatures are steadily increasing, it is understandable that a huge eruption could result in a network of disasters. USA Today adds that if it were to ever happen, it would be temporary and the warming would take up to several years to reappear again.Read another story from us: UK Heatwave Reveals Ancient Archaeological Sites Throughout BritainInterestingly, The Year without Summer had one positive effect. It inspired the British painter J.M.W Turner who painted breathtaking landscapes of the sunset after the Tambora eruption. The painting is named “The Lake, Petworth: Sunset, Fighting Bucks” and according to the Daily Mail it was painted many years after Tambora, presenting volcanic ash and gas in the sky under the warm colors of the sunset.