Drunken Forests

Some Alaskan forests have been drowning and turning gray as thawing ground sinks under them. Trees and roadside utility poles, losing their footings in the thawing earth, lean at crazy angles. The warming has contributed a new phrase to the English language, "the drunken forest" (Johansen, 2001, 20). In Barrow, home of Pepe's, the world's northernmost Mexican restaurant, mosquitoes, another southern import, have become a problem for the first time. Barrow has also now experienced its first thunderstorm on record. Temperatures in Barrow began to rise rapidly at about the same time the first snowmobile arrived, in 1971. By the summer of 2002, bulldozers were pushing sand against the invading sea in Barrow.

Drunken Forests Alaska

A "drunken forest," in Alaska, where trees grow at strange angles because of melting permafrost (Jeff Dixon)

By 2002, the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline was being inspected for damage due to melting permafrost. The pipeline, built during the 1970s, was designed on assumptions that the permafrost would never melt. Mark Lynas, extracting from his book High Tide: News from a Warming World wrote in the London Guardian,

Roads all around Fairbanks are affected by thawing permafrost; driving over the gentle undulations is like being at sea in a gentle swell. In some places the damage is more dramatic—crash barriers have bent into weird contortions, and wide cracks fracture the dark tarmac. Permafrost damage now costs a total of $35 million every year, mostly spent on road repairs. Some areas of once-flat land look like bombsites, pockmarked with craters where permafrost ice underneath them has melted and drained away. These uneven landscapes cause "drunken forests" right across Alaska. In one spot near Fairbanks, a long gash had been torn through the tall spruce trees, leaving them toppling over towards each other. (Lynas, 2004, 22)

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