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    NED ROZELL ALASKA SCIENCE (Published: August 1, 2004) Photo by NED ROZELL A fish wheel turns on the Tanana River on a smoky July afternoon. The Tanana, fed by
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2 4:37 PM

      (Published: August 1, 2004)

      Photo by NED ROZELL A fish wheel turns on the Tanana River on a smoky
      July afternoon. The Tanana, fed by water from melting glaciers and
      other sources, was flowing bank to bank while other Interior streams
      and rivers without glacial sources were trickling near-record lows.

      Click on photo to enlarge
      Here's one for the only-in-Alaska file: In mid-July 2004, wildfires
      and floods were both consuming an Alaska state forest at the same

      East of Delta Junction, the Gerstle River had overflowed its banks,
      slicing through a gravel road and flooding a portion of Tanana Valley
      State Forest. Farther north, a wildfire was turning thousands of
      acres of spruce trees and tundra in the forest to smoke and ash.

      While many Interior rivers that depend on snowmelt, springs and
      rainfall shrank during summer 2004, rivers fed by glaciers swelled
      and shifted in their channels. Supplied by Alaska Range glaciers, the
      Gerstle River forced itself out of its bed and through a road used by
      area farmers and Native villagers.

      "Like a lot of glacial streams, the Gerstle flushes lots of gravel
      down its bed at high flow, so much that the river is almost higher
      than the surrounding ground," said Al Edgren, the state forester for
      the region, who was monitoring both the flood and the nearby forest
      fire. "Since the surrounding area is almost lower than the river,
      there's a big sheet of water across the state forest land."

      The water had cut through a 14.5-mile road in six places, Edgren
      said. Flows of glacial water up to 6 feet deep on the road prevented
      people from traveling to a Native community at Healy Lake.

      "Right now, they'll have to fly in," Edgren said.

      In 2004, Fairbanks had the second-warmest June in 100 years of
      weather records, according to the Alaska Climate Research Center.
      Records were also topped at one of the longest-monitored glaciers in

      A weather station at 4,855 feet next to Gulkana Glacier recorded new
      high-temperature readings for both May and June, according to Rod
      March, a glaciologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. The glacier's
      weather station recorded an average daily temperature of 39.5 degrees
      F for May (compared with the normal reading of 34.2 and the previous
      record of 39.1) and 50.9 degrees for June (compared with the normal
      reading of 41.5 and the old record of 47.1). The thermometer next to
      the glacier that registered all-time highs this summer has been
      recording since 1967.

      The rise in temperature also showed in the increased flow of Phelan
      Creek, which drains the glacier, March said. The June flow readings
      taken from a gauge on the stream showed it at the highest levels
      since technicians installed the instrument in the late 1960s.

      Floods during the warmest part of summer will be more common if
      Alaska continues to experience record high temperatures, and the
      washing out of roads might be another consequence of a changing
      climate. Adding to the strangeness is that while some glacial rivers
      spill over their banks, rivers nearby will shrink at the same time.

      "The Tanana could be at flood stage while at the same time the Chena
      could be experiencing record low flows," said Ed Plumb, a hydrologist
      with the National Weather Service.

      Ned Rozell is a science writer at the Geophysical Institute,
      University of Alaska Fairbanks. He can be reached at


      Pat N

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