Why Aren’t We Talking More About Flooding in Alaska?

Floods recently destroyed several buildings in Juneau

Aerial view of Juneau, Alaska
A view of downtown Juneau in the Tongass National Forest in Juneau, Alaska, Tuesday, July 6, 2021.
Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a state on the western coast of the U.S. is experiencing destructive flooding as a result of climate change — and it’s both alarming in its own right and concerning in terms of what it means for the future. Only this time, the state in question isn’t California; instead, Alaska is experiencing shocking conditions as a result of glaciers melting. And it’s worth looking into both why this destruction is taking place and what it might mean in the years and decades to come.

A recent Smithsonian Magazine article has a good overview of the issues at hand, complete with jaw-dropping footage of a house collapsing into the flooded Mendenhall River. The flooding — which emanated from the ominously-named Suicide Basin — prompted the National Weather Service to advise Juneau residents to avoid the river, per a New York Times report.

Thankfully, according to the Times, no one was killed or hurt, but a pair of buildings did collapse as a result of the flooding, with another eight condemned as a result of flooding-related damage.

As an Associated Press report (via KULR8) points out, this is far from the first time in recent memory that Juneau has had to contend with flooding and its aftereffects. It also points to a culprit, stating unambiguously that “[c]limate change is melting glaciers” — but also cites scientists saying that the flooding itself is less directly related to climate change.

“As a glacier is thinning and retreating and changing, you can see some floods are going to stop happening and new ones are going to start happening,” Celeste Labedz of the University of Calgary told the AP.

This issue isn’t limited to Alaska, either. As the University of Southern Alaska’s Eran Hood told NPR, similar flooding has affected locations in the Himalayas and Andes, as well as Iceland. And with climate change continuing, it seems like we’re going to be hearing more reports like this from anywhere that glaciers have begun to melt.

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