Getting Warmed Up

Exit Glacier Nature Center in early May.

Exit Glacier Nature Center in early May.
Photo: NPS / Max Odland

A large part of my job this summer will be to lead interpretive programs for visitors at Exit Glacier. Interpretation is all about giving people a better opportunity to connect with the nature, history, or culture of a particular place, and there is plenty of exciting nature at Exit glacier to connect with. Bears, moose, song birds and small mammals all make their homes in the young successional forest that’s grown up in Exit Glacier’s wake. There is, however, one bit of nature at Exit Glacier that I’m not so enthusiastic about—climate change.

I’m not here to convince anyone that global temperatures are going up. We’ve understood the “greenhouse effect” pretty well since the 1980s thanks to a James Hansen at NASA. Since then a multitude of climate data from around the world have filled in the picture. No, I’m not here to convince people that the earth is warming. I’m here to help people care. As such, I’ve been brushing up on my Alaskan climate science.

Fun Alaska trivia time: The Gulf of Alaska is home to a weather cycle called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO for short. PDO is a cyclic pattern that causes the Gulf of Alaska’s Coast to switch between a warmer climate (good hiking) and a colder climate (good skiing) every 20 – 30 years. It looks like Alaska switched to the cold phase of PDO in about 2008, which will mask the effects of climate change, locally, for the next couple of decades. Afterwards, of course, there’s a good chance that it will suddenly unmask the altered climate, leading to some very rapid changes in Alaska’s coastal regions.

As fascinating as I find the convoluted climate cycles of the north pacific (did I mention that El Niño also effects the weather here?), I also recognize that I’m a pretty big nerd.  I’ll probably only bring up PDO with visitors if a) they are from the area, or b) it helps address a question that they have about climate change. Instead, we’re encouraged by the experienced interpretation staff to focus back on helping the visitors make connections. Perhaps by touching on the ways climate change is affecting their lives at home.

Or maybe by keeping my mouth shut to let Exit Glacier do most of the talking.

Toe of Exit Glacier.

Toe of Exit Glacier.
Photo: NPS / Max Odland

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