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Musings of an Energy Nerd

Alaskan Glaciers Are Rapidly Melting

This summer brings worrisome signs of global climate change: shrinking glaciers, record-breaking heat waves, and unprecedented droughts

Ninety-nine percent of Alaska's glaciers are shrinking. The photo shows Surprise Glacier on the Harris Peninsula.
Image Credit: Martin Holladay

I recently returned from a two-week family vacation trip to Alaska. This was my first trip to Alaska; of course, two weeks is a very brief time to visit such a vast state. We were able to spend some time in Fairbanks, Denali National Park, Anchorage, and Seward. We also spent several days fishing along the Salcha River and at Lower Paradise Lake on the Kenai Peninsula.

My visit to Alaska sparked ideas for several possible blogs:

  • During my visit to Fairbanks, where winter temperatures hit -60°F and permafrost is close to the surface, I learned how difficult it is to keep water pipes and septic system pipes from freezing. Builders in Fairbanks routinely hire spray-foam contractors to encapsulate drain pipes from the house to the septic tank before trenches are backfilled. Even with spray foam, it’s still often necessary to install electric heat tape to keep buried pipes warm.
  • My brief visit to the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC) in Fairbanks reminded me of all of the good research that director Jack Hébert and his staff have performed over the years. Anyone who builds houses in a cold climate owes a debt of gratitude to the folks at the CCHRC. (Thanks for the tour, Jack, and keep up the good work.)
  • During a sojourn at a Forest Service cabin on Lower Paradise Lake, I pondered the fact that there are two ways that Alaskans can keep warm during the winter: they can improve the airtightness and R-value of their home’s building envelope, or they can simply build a very small home. Small homes are easy to heat, even if they aren’t particularly well built.

But all of these topics have been pushed to the back of my brain by a more serious issue:…

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22 Comments

  1. Lucas Durand - 7A | | #1

    Keeping up with the arctic.
    Martin,
    Here's a link to a blog that I follow "Arctic Sea Ice".
    It's a handy resource for anyone with interest in keeping up with what's happening in the arctic.

    Looks like 2012 is shaping up to be another record breaker...
    A large "ice island" just broke off the Peterman Glacier in Greenland - "two Manhattans" in area.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Response to Eric Sandeen
    Eric,
    You're right, of course -- appliance manufacturers don't (as far as I know) publish information on the phantom loads of their appliances.

    So, what should consumers do?

    1. Read GBA -- we'll try to label the stinkers for you. As you point out, the Jenn-Air JIC4536XS cooktop belongs on the GBA Wall of Shame.

    2. Buy an electricity monitor and use it. Promptly return any appliance with a ridiculous phantom load to the place where it was purchased, and tell the distributor exactly why you are returning it.

    3. Complain to appliance manufacturers when you discover ridiculously high phantom loads like the one discovered by Mike Duclos.

  3. user-984364 | | #3

    About that cooktop...
    Sure, choose your appliances carefully, but how on earth would you know ahead of time? There needs to be some "wall of shame" database for junk like that. :(

    edit: You know what's sad, the whole "phantom load" thing has probably been properly drilled into the consumer's brain already, and they were dutifully unplugging their (negligible) iPhone charger when not in use, with the nearby cooktop using orders of magnitude more, and they never would have known if not for the energy expert.

  4. Nate Adams | | #4

    Bark Beetles - Another telltale
    Martin, you struck a nerve with me, I was in Glacier National Park in Montana 2 years ago and found out it won't have it's trademark glaciers much longer.

    I was also struck by the destruction that bark beetles were causing. Whole mountainsides of pine trees were dead, a particularly shocking visual. It's caused by winter temperatures being just enough warmer that the beetles manage a generation (or 2) per year where before it was once every 2 years. Plus at higher altitudes which used to get cold enough to kill the beetles, the trees are getting killed too.

    Thanks for the reminder to redouble our efforts!

    What’s Killing the Great Forests of the American West?

    Bark Beetles Kill Millions of Acres of Trees in West

  5. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    Response to Nate Adams
    Nate,
    Thanks for the links. As temperatures continue to rise during the next few decades, it's clear that we are in for a very bumpy ride.

  6. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #6

    Fear not, live, love and
    Fear not, live, love and embrace, change. What is what was what will be. All of it, is natural. Snowboard on the snow, sail with the wind, bake in the sun, delight in the rainbows. Live die be.

  7. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #7

    Response to AJ
    AJ,
    I understand your philosophy. Like you, I don't see much use for fear, and I enjoy outdoor sports and delight in the natural world.

    However, it isn't true that "all of it is natural." Humans have decided to burn coal, and humans have developed a scientific understanding of some of the results of our coal burning. So "embracing change" can be a form of madness when we are stoking the change ourselves, full bore, by shoveling tons of coal into the maws of our industrial furnaces and power plants.

    There is a time for snowboarding, and a time for reflection and wise action. We need both.

  8. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #8

    The depth if my point
    The depth if my point includes humans doing human things like evolving. We evolved to burn coal and we will as the heat hits the kitchen evolve. We are just a part of the universe. All of it is transient. I will die. Coal burning is a false point of interest. For every action of the climate that is altering in nature a driver is created. This new driver the dynamic of being of living of life itself as of today anyway, is "is." Clinton had it right, what is the definition of "is?" The future is loaded with survival opportunities. Focusing on todays fossil burning with such a narrow scope is just too myopic for me. And as I said, Humans individually are just bit players, minor league Quanta in the all or nothing of what is. And so is are current rate of coal burning. It will change, one way or another.

    The winds are ephemeral, the kayak is afloat, the sailboard ashore.

  9. Lucas Durand - 7A | | #9

    Response to aj builder.
    AJ,
    People can argue all day about whether anthropogenic effects are "natural" or not - so I won't bother.
    It is enough to say that biological evolution is something that happens at its own pace and does not necessarily occur quickly enough for adaptation to changes that are too rapid.
    There is evidence of this in the geologic record.

    Your laissez-faire outlook may work for you, and that is fine, but for many others there is more to consider...
    I also enjoy "joie de vivre", but because of what I know of the risks associated with runaway climate change, I am forced by my morals into taking what action I can on behalf of my son and his generation.

    This is just duty and is something that has been part of the human experience since its beginning and is not something to be hand-waved at.

  10. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #10

    Lucas, actually your natural
    Lucas, actually your natural inclinations are guiding you in your needs, just like mother birds and their young. And I agree that is the case and is integral to the future.

    And that in part is exactly what I said. Yes it's sort of hard to see my post in that way, but like knowing where a subatomic particle is at any given time and space, so is that which we see ourselves as made of, is.

  11. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #11

    Laissez-faire
    AJ,
    Any laissez-faire philosphy has its limits, AJ, as your last comment tacitly acknowledges. Especially when we become parents -- "just like mother birds and their young."

    Let's imagine that you are relaxing outdoors in your lawn chair, AJ, day-dreaming about your next snowboarding weekend. Let's assume you have a 6-year-old daughter, and she is climbing a tree near your chair. She is high in the tree, and you notice she has lost her grip and is beginning to fall.

    What do you do? Do you let her bounce to the ground, because "all of it is natural"? No, you probably jump from your chair and take action -- like a "mother bird and her young."

    So if many of us decide to take action to limit disastrous climate change that threatens our children's future, how is that different?

    Sadly, the child-in-the-tree analogy is imperfect; the situation is worse than I described. I have two children. In fact, my kids aren't losing their grip on the tree branches they are clinging to; I'm up there in the tree with them, and I'm pushing them off the branches, guaranteeing them a lousy future. That's why it's important for me to address my responsibility for global climate change.

  12. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #12

    agreed
    agreed

  13. Ray Smith | | #13

    Bark Beetles
    "Empire of the Beetle" by Andrew Nikiforuk. One of the best books I think I've ever read. Should be on everyone's 'to read' list.

  14. Garth Sproule | | #14

    Article
    Martin
    Thanks for the blog. Here is a link to a recent and sobering article re: climate change by Bill Mcibbon.
    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719

  15. JP Jon Pierce | | #15

    % affected with effectual leap of salvation
    For a 100% of human-made mess, well, I believe we can be self-appointed repondees as close to as is (can be nearly) 100% practical. Sure that is arguable as we deal with the human factor, then try to decide things like if a small woman in a womb has any choice or rights.

    With each post of responsibility, Martin, we keep up a good message because we think it "is" "good", and that is why this type of threading is so great to me. Thanks.

    % of Solar flairing each 11 years? Current temperatures this summer even are not breaking all older records of high's in Ohio in the early 30's still standing by temp/deg-days/peak-averaging/and peaks (this 2012 reflecting 2011 solar activities, noticed in 1989-1990, 2000-2001, only because a Biology teacher Mother pointed out such, as did the 1975 -then Physics teacher Professor David Laird, Cinti Country Day School).
    For some of my being more objective:
    Could one varify a few years back what I thought I saw on a NASA -viewing " the data is so conflicting... we are launching two new probes to read more data (two different sensings) ..."
    2)
    Are the polar (CO2) ? or other? ice caps of Mars melting at the same rate as Earth's within a couple percent or closer?
    3)
    Still- to be more responsible and but just to measure-up as a human, I but would like to know the %-effect of (est:REALLY) say the refrigeration industry of the, say just the US-and-affiliates obeying Montreal Protocalls, of since 1993... has had just on the Ozone depleated situation- what % was/is affected effectually ?
    What about commentary compared to Mt St Helen estimated 200-years of estimated destructuve effects X times US refrigeration practices of just 1 year (refg-leaks of cfc's,etc? (Read that over 10 years ago about catastrophic changes, not fitting "time-lines".) What really good estimations would be accurately including/ or v.s. natural closure of the Ozone 'hole' at a much more rapid closing than any measurable protocall-effect had on it--- what real rough est %? - of effectual human-designed changes (not to reduce any responsible behavior, I believe these threads imply.
    ))
    more Q's available for another time.
    Considering when we stretch a rubber-band it gets HOTTER to the touch, I believe the universal heat follows with the non-static universe IS found "stretching" of the measured acceleration X the mass of the universe, = to a FORCE of what I call LIGHT ENERGY, not "dark" results in some climatic "heating" universally, then as just a result of a change in speed (or direction) - of the definition of acceleration, here applied to any part of a the universe as a mass, held by the "rubber-Banding" of gravitational forces between planetary masses.

  16. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #16

    Response to Jon Pierce
    Jon,
    Most of your comments are somewhat opaque -- which is a polite way to say that I'm not sure what you are saying.

    However, I think you may be confusing two issues -- ozone depletion and global climate change. The Montreal Protocol that regulates the release of CFCs was an attempt to address ozone depletion. The main worry arising from ozone depletion is an increase in skin cancer rates, not global climate change.

    There are additional factors worth mentioning -- there are a few interrelations between ozone depletion and climate change, including a brand-new study that shows how increases in violent storms may send more moisture into the stratosphere, causing chemical reactions between water and old CFCs that still linger up there, with the net result that ozone depletion is exacerbated -- but these additional factors aren't significant enough to undermine the basic idea that concerns over ozone depletion are not primarily a climate change issue.

  17. JP Jon Pierce | | #17

    Martin, OK. rephrasing Q's
    Hi:
    And first comment is yes we need response to being responsible, but as humans even argue what is a human right.

    1)
    Do Solar flairs and sun activity reflect on this climate changing and each 11 years?
    2)
    Compared to solar systemiocs of other objective science about Mars caps melting rates? (With or without the solar flairing activity... sun spotting or magnetic effects.)
    3)
    What if the work on the universe in current acceleration is "heating" all, like that of 0 velocity to some changes increasing velocity like stretching a rubber-band/ - getting hotter too, b/c of the assumed additional energy that is producing the work on all the masses accelerating now?

    Ultimately: %? of man-made real affects, and effectual changes- ? and the remark quoted as I watched the NASA scientist expound of conflicting data therefore, "... launching two different probes" then, - which has now been done already about which he was speaking. I can not remember the sensory types he addressed.

  18. JP Jon Pierce | | #18

    Storms to CFC interaction / of reulting climate (change?)
    Is it not also the chlorine interactions, as is of the volcanic bursts do produce of such a greater magnitude than man-made cfc encroachments ( re: this storm article I looked at./? ) ?

    I have heard , and read of Mt St Helen chlorine productions.

  19. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #19

    My latest guess... is....
    My latest guess... is.... drum roll...JP is French and is running his posts thru a translation site. My bet is two pence, any takers?

    And JP... crazy as it may seem I almost understand your last posts and like your rubber band theory... you must like fractals and Benoît Mandelbrot too, yes?

  20. Whirlpool Cares | | #20

    It’s working properly cooktop
    On behalf of Jenn-Air, I would like to confirm that when the Jenn-Air Induction Cootkop (JIC43536XS) is in STANDBY mode, there will be a power consumption of around 0.65
    Watts. We have reached out to Mr. Duclose to investigate the unusual power consumption and will schedule service at the convenience of the cooktop owner. Thank you, Jennifer [email protected]

  21. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #21

    Response to Jennifer
    Jennifer,
    Thanks for your comment. If I understand correctly, Amanda D from Jenn-Air told Mike Duclos that standby power consumption of 40 watts was normal. Apparently, that was due to a misunderstanding on Amanda's part. Now you (Jennifer) are telling us that the standby power consumption should be 0.65 watt, not 40 watts.

    I hope that Mike Duclos is able to provide us with an update about what happened after Jenn-Air's service call.

  22. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #22

    Jenn-Air update
    Today I received an e-mail from Paul Eldrenkamp with more information on the phantom load of the Jenn-Air cooktop. Paul forwarded an e-mail from Rich Brown, who works at the Building Technology and Urban Systems Department at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Rich provided more information on the subtleties of the readings shown on Mike Duclos's meter.

    In his e-mail to me, Paul commented, "It gets pretty geeky, but at least it's a reasonably happy ending. I doubt there's a GBA post buried anywhere in here, except maybe to reinforce the notion that research labs such as LBNL are yet another reason we should be more than willing to pay our taxes every year."

    In spite of Paul's doubts, it's possible that some GBA readers are still interested in this issue.

    Here's what Rich Brown wrote in his e-mail to Mike Duclos:

    "Mike,
    "I ran your question by Steve Greenberg and Steven Lanzisera here, who know a lot about power monitoring. The conclusion we came to is that it's not as big a load as your meter is showing and the effect in the distribution system is pretty small. That said, the standby power could still be a few watts, which is not trivial in a low energy home, but it's probably not too different from the other cooktops you've measured."

    Rich included a forwarded e-mail from Steve Greenburg. Steve wrote:

    "The numbers don't quite make sense:
    Power factor of 0.006
    1.72 amps and 124.7 volts
    0.214 KW

    "Since W = V x A x PF, if all those measurements are correct, the number for real power should be 1 watt (that's all the precision that's warranted since the pf is only given to one significant digit). The 0.214 is the kVA (apparent power), NOT the kW (real power, what we get charged for). I doubt that a pf this low will be accurately measured, but the real power draw is likely to be a few watts, not a few hundred watts.

    "The poor power factor is due to some combination of inductive load (which creates phase shift between voltage and current) and non-linear load (that creates harmonic currents). The utility and distribution system needs to supply the kVA, but this is handled by power-factor correction capacitors (in the case of inductive loads) or is absorbed in distribution transformers (which convert the harmonic currents into heat). The capacitors and transformers are relatively close to the load. Thus most of the distribution system doesn't see the extra current associated with low power factor at the end-use load. If one compares this load to the total load served by the feeder/transformer/etc. in the distribution system, the effect is pretty small in most cases.

    "In short, it's not as big a problem as it appears. That said, it is always better to correct power factor at the end-use level, and there are low-cost techniques for doing this.

    "The only thing I'll add is that I believe what you're seeing is a capacitive rather than inductive load. The kVARs are negative, so it's negative imaginary impedance, ie, a capacitor. So the utility probably won't correct for this, but the home owner's power factor will be higher when their fridge is running than it was before the stove was installed!"

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