World snoozes, Arctic sea ice withers
JASPER, Alberta – The autumnal equinox occurred Saturday, marking the official end of summer. But there’s another divide between the seasons of melting and freezing: the breakup of ice in the Arctic Ocean.

On Sept. 19, the U.S. government’s National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that sea ice had started freezing again, but that the summer melt-off was greater than the previous record set in 2007.

In 1980, the amount of ice-covered ocean was comparable to that of the continental United States. Now, it covers an area only slightly larger than Texas.

“An ice-free summer in the Arctic, once projected to be more than a century away, now looks possible decades from now. Some say that it looks likely in just the next few years,” points out Scientific American.

It was a hot summer across North America. Colorado and Wyoming both had their warmest summers on record. In Jasper National Park, the falling of a large portion of Ghost Glacier from Mount Edith Cavell during August also fits into this pattern of warming and melting.

But if no individual heat wave or drought can be blamed on global warming, it’s clear enough that the rapid accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is a bad, bad gamble.

Jasper’s Fitzhugh newspaper does an excellent job of describing the predicament: “Considering the extreme weather this summer, not only in the Jasper area but all over Alberta and British Columbia, we have to wonder if what scientists have been warning all along has begun to manifest in a very real way.”

“Unfortunately, data has only been collected for a relatively short time, and attempting to accurately model climate change is problematic at best. Basically, we don’t know if it is normal for glaciers to break up and fall off mountains every hundred years or so. We may never see such an event repeat in our lifetime. Still, most people know melting ice caps will result in increased global temperatures and weather changes. Less polar ice means less reflection of the sun’s heat and more absorption.

Is the world oblivious to the greater threat? “Power, money and religion continue to be more important than the environment, even though it is the environment that will decide all our fates one day,” writes the paper. “Why do governments and people fail to see the significance of climate change? Is it because they don’t understand or is it because they feel they can do nothing about it? ... Perhaps climate change is simply too big of a subject to contemplate, even for politicians. Maybe it is easier to pretend the problem doesn’t exist or simply leave it to others to figure out.

Of course, the paper reasons, if people can’t find a way to address this issue, nature has a way of balancing itself out, “whether people like the results or not.”

Hydrogen bus pilot project cruises along
WHISTLER, B.C. – The 20 buses in Whistler powered by hydrogen fuel cells are about halfway through their five-year pilot phase. Despite minor problems, the experiment is working out well, officials tell Pique Newsmagazine.

One complaint is that the hydrogen is manufactured in Quebec. Even so, it represents a 60 percent decline in emissions, a reduction to be increased further with completion of a sodium chlorate plant in North Vancouver in 2013. Local emissions from the buses, of course, are virtually nonexistent: Just a few drips of water coming out of the tailpipes.

Patriotism aplenty at Grand Lake
GRAND LAKE – If Aspen can have a festival focused on macaroni and cheese, why can’t Grand Lake, located at the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, have a week-long celebration of the signing of the U.S. Constitution?

The Sky-Hi News says the festivities include a patriotic parade, plenty of flag-waving, a Constitution trivia contest, and a pie-throwing competition. The latter probably fits in, given how much disagreement there has been over the centuries about just what the framers of the document had in mind in regard to freedom of speech, guns and so forth.

The event was capped by what was called the Forefather’s Fireworks Extravaganza. One person who attended said it seemed to be a good excuse to set off fireworks that couldn’t be used on July 4, when fire danger dampened Independence Day pyrotechnics.

Two towns explore low-cost air link
CRESTED BUTTE – Telluride wants Crested Butte to pool resources to draw in a new low-cost air carrier to deliver visitors to both resorts from the Phoenix and San Francisco areas.

Planes by the airline, which hasn’t been identified, would land at Montrose, which is already the primary portal for visitors to Telluride, about an hour away. Crested Butte is two hours distant.

To make the deal work, the two communities would have to scrape together a minimum of $650,000, maybe $1 million, to market the flights, explains the Crested Butte News. Organizers from Telluride are seeing Crested Butte getting about 11 percent of the passengers.

Nobody seems to be frowning in response to the idea, although the devil is in the details. Whether the flights would have the 90 percent load factors that are predicted is another matter. Flights to ski markets average 60 percent capacity, according to flight consultant Kent Meyers, and he points out that the originating airports would be in suburban locations. The airport that would serve the Phoenix area is 45 minutes away from the major Phoenix airport.

Bike race’s name faces challenge
ASPEN – After two years, the U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge appears to have strong wheels. But there are calls for tweaking.

In Aspen, Councilman Steve Skadron wants a name that would reflect and direct attention to the host region. He can imagine a Colorado Pro Cycling Challenge or a U.S. Ski Town Cycling Challenge.

Aspen is also somewhat worried about the financial commitment of hosting the event, tabulated at $1 million this year, although offset by increased lodging and spending by visitors

Bison keep distance, but not silly people
BANFF, Alberta – Parks Canada continues to move through the steps before bison can be reintroduced into Banff National Park. The animals, native of the plains, frequented the Bow Valley until being killed off about 1858.

Among the concerns being addressed are whether reintroduction of bison will result in transmittal of brucellosis to cattle in the region. The answer seems to be that unlike Yellowstone National Park, the bison to be relocated into Banff will come from a disease-free herd in Alberta’s Elk Island National Park.

How about injuring tourists? The Rocky Mountain Outlook found relatively few injuries and deaths in Yellowstone National Park from bison-human encounters, and nearly all the mishaps or worse were sustained by people who were candidates for the Darwin Award. Yellowstone officials advise people to stay at least 75 feet away from elk and bison. Some try to pose with the massive animals.

Fire danger ebbs in Jackson Hole blaze
JACKSON, Wyo. – Although nobody had to leave home, several thousand people in Jackson were advised to pack their bags in case a fire in nearby Horsethief Canyon swept over Snow King Mountain.

The Jackson Hole News & Guide reports the fire was largely contained last week after burning 3,300 acres. No other fire has threatened Jackson with anything approaching the same degree of danger in at least a century.

That the fire didn’t get closer to town may have been due to the size of the arsenal flung at it. The cost ran more than $7 million, paying for such things as a helicopter capable of drawing up to 3,000 gallons of water or retardant in one swoop. A DC-10 tanker, a fixed-wing plane, was also deployed, and it can carry up to 12,000 gallons of retardant or water.

Whistler sliding track undergoes fix
WHISTLER, B.C. – The sliding track at Whistler used for the 2010 Olympics will get a $1.7 million upgrade. A new start ramp leads into a lower portion of the track, averting potential for accidents such as the one that claimed the life of a competitor from the Republic of Georgia on the first day of the Winter Olympics in 2010.

Pique reports that the money is coming from the $110 million trust fund set up by the federal and provincial governments to pay for long-term improvements related to the Olympics.

– Allen Best

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows