This May 3, 2009, photo taken in Point Hope, Alaska, provided by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, shows the entrance to an ice cellar, a type of underground food dug into the permafrost to provide natural refrigeration used for generations in far-north communities. Naturally cooled underground ice cellars, used in Alaska Native communities for generations, are becoming increasingly unreliable as a warming climate and other factors touch multiple facets of life in the far north. (Mike Brubaker/Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium via AP)

Alaska Native ice cellars failing amid environmental changes

November 24, 2019 - 10:01 pm

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Add ice cellars to the list of environmental victims in Alaska’s Native whaling villages.

The largely indigenous, far-north communities have used the underground food caches for generations. The cellars are dug like chambers into the underground permafrost, typically reachable through long shafts at the surface.

But they’ve been rendered unreliable in a new environment.

In response, one village built a new community cellar incorporating modern technology. Others are compensating with walk-in freezers.

Locals and researchers say the problem has been building for decades as a warming climate touches multiple facets of life, including thawing permafrost and shorter periods of coastal ice that provides protection from powerful storms.

One recent study concluded, however, that while a changing climate has great potential to affect ice cellars, there are other factors, including soil conditions and urban development.

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