Read the full story in Grist.
Adrienne Titus was heading back to her parents’ village on a sweltering afternoon in early July when she saw the dead salmon. She had been fishing upstream with her mother on the banks of the gorgeous Unalakleet River, which Chinook, pink, coho, and chum salmon travel up every year in order to spawn. Down closer to the village of Unalakleet, though, there were no signs of life on the water that day — just hundreds of soft bodies floating belly up.
Titus, a 39-year-old Iñupiat woman who lives in Fairbanks but grew up in Unalakleet, had never seen anything like it before. Neither had her mother, or any of the village elders that they asked in this small fishing community on the shores of the Norton Sound in the central Bering Sea.
“It was scary,” Titus said. “It put fear into us.”
Similar reports of dead pink salmon came in all across the Norton Sound that week as temperatures soared into the high 80s and low 90s during a statewide heatwave that “re-wrote the record books,” according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. Fisheries biologists say that’s no coincidence: Warm water stresses the animals out, and temperatures above a certain threshold can kill them. In a statement issued on July 11, the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation warned that the salmon die-offs appeared to be part of a “larger ecosystem-level shift” taking place due to rising temperatures.
It’s just one of countless alarming signs of change Alaskans have experienced lately. July was Alaska’s hottest month in recorded history, thanks in part to that torrid heat wave. March through August? The state’s warmest six-month period, with temperatures hovering 6.4 degrees F above long-term averages. From vanished sea ice to skies choked with wildfire smoke to animals appearing where they shouldn’t or not appearing where they should, the impacts of a fast-warming climate were visible everywhere residents looked.