Disaster in the pipeline

Published: Wednesday 31 December 1997

Scientists from the University of Washington say that temperatures in the usually cold waters of the Bering Sea rose to 13.3C. This is the highest temperature ever recorded in the sea and significantly higher than the normal temperature. The unusually high temperatures threw Alaska's salmon runs into jeopardy. "Warm waters and other marine events may be signalling that the ocean is undergoing a rapid and huge climatic change," said Jack Helle, researcher at the Auke Bay Laboratory of the US National Marine Fisheries Service. Reports say that floods caused by melting glaciers have destroyed cabins and vehicles. But the most alarming of the problems posed by these climate changes surrounds the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. This carries heated oil through pipes suspended over Alaska's permafrost over a distance of about 1,290 km from Prudhoe Bay in northern Alaska, to Valdez, a port in southern Alaska. As the tundra has begun to soften due to global warming, the pipeline could well lead to a major ecological disaster. On August 7, 1997, floods almost destroyed the pipeline. At one of the pump stations near a creek, floods peeled away the gravel that supports pillars of the pipeline. The pipe was reported to be vibrating visibly ( Earth Island Journal , Vol 12, No 4).

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