Failing ice cellars signal changes in Alaska whaling towns

By  | 

ANCHORAGE, Alaska Add ice cellars to the list of environmental victims in Alaska’s Native whaling villages.

The largely indigenous, far-north communities have used the underground food caches for generations. The cellars are dug like chambers into the underground permafrost, typically reachable through long shafts at the surface.

But they’ve been rendered unreliable in a new environment.

In response, one village built a new community cellar incorporating modern technology. Others are compensating with walk-in freezers.

Locals and researchers say the problem has been building for decades as a warming climate touches multiple facets of life -- including thawing permafrost, and shorter periods of coastal ice that provides protection from powerful storms.

One recent study concluded, however, that while a changing climate has great potential to affect ice cellars, there are other factors -- including soil conditions and urban development.