Back to Seward

August 9, 2021

[Note from the present. It's April 24, 2022. A few days back we held a webinar with Dr. Bruce Molnia and it was a success. Thank you, Bruce! Attendance was quite good. For those of you who missed it, we recorded the talk and it is posted here. This is the first video on our new YouTube channel. Please subscribe on YouTube! Coincidentally, this is my last post on the Glaciers of Kenai Fjords expedition. In this one, the researchers make predictions and look at solutions. Now, back to the past....]

This is 11 of 11 log posts covering The Glaciers of Kenai Fjords expedition.

Moonlight Bay – through McArthur Pass – Granite Island – between Matuska Is and Natoa Is – Resurrection - Seward

Left to right, Reconstituted, Ancor, and Ogive Glaciers. (Photo: Author)

Weather Decision

I didn’t care for Moonlight Bay. It is too exposed to McCarty Fjord and the boat was in motion all night long. Next time, I’ll go back into Midnight Cove and just drop more chain farther out from the waterfall.

The weather forecast for the day hadn’t changed. I described to our guests what tomorrow’s conditions were going to be like, and we agreed to head back today, rather than go further west to Nuka Island, where we had only four photo spots to find. Kim counted up our work and told us we had found at least 75 spots and taken new photos. We were away at 0635.

The Run Back

The run back was, mostly, a rewind: out to McCarty, through McArthur, paravanes down, around the north end of Granite Island (there was an intrepid fishing charter there in the lee, with ten men lining the rails with poles), then off on another bearing around the outside of Matushka Island. This wasn’t the most direct route, but I was tacking, like a sailboat, to keep the swells in the 90-degree arc-of-comfort off our bow.


Bill: Okay, science guys, what’s the best thing to be done that will make a difference?

Bruce: It depends on where you are and who you are. In the US, the government has adopted this concept of mitigation and adaptation. Meaning, they realized they won’t be able to reverse it, but they have to find ways to slow down the rate of change and minimize the future impacts as the population increases.

Shawn: Is the question, “how do we get out of this?” It’s creating an environment where entrepreneurs can get us out of this. I’m not kidding. The government can’t do this. Politics either incentivizes or disincentivizes entrepreneurs from delivering solutions.

Bill: So, technology got us into hot water, and technology can get us out of it?

Shawn: Predictions are hard, especially about the future. But it's mind-blowing how fast technology changes. Look at LED lightbulbs. We probably replaced 20 or 30 billion lightbulbs in the last 10 years, and nobody noticed. And now we produce 30 percent less coal -- evil coal -- than 10 years ago. That’s mind-blowing, that rate of change. If you can ditch 30% in ten years that’s pretty good. And we did. And nobody noticed.

Bill: Is that having enough of an impact?

Bruce: No.

Shawn: No. What it shows is that it's achievable.

Bruce: We’re not the coal issue. China is still building coal-fired power plants. And I’ve been told it's one to two per week, every week. We may cut back by 70% by 2050, but they will have increased by 100%, which is five times more than what we’re doing.

Shawn: But their solar capacity exceeds ours by a long shot, too.

Bruce: Right, but we’re not aggressively doing solar or wind or any other renewable.

Shawn: This is where predictions get hard because I think the rate of change is going to greatly accelerate. It’s more calculus than arithmetic in predicting the rates of change from renewables. I’m hopeful, given the fact that younger people take climate change for granted, and the fact that we’re going to have to rebuild and restructure our electric grid anyway to accommodate electric vehicles, that it is going to come amazingly fast, like LED lightbulbs.

Bill: Someday we will figure out fusion.

Shawn: Yes. Fission reactors will go the way of coal. There will never be a new fission reactor approved in the US.

Bill: So what’s the solution?

Shawn: Stop putting carbon dioxide and methane up there and nature will take care of the rest over time. Maybe 100 years. Some people think the ocean is going to absorb it, more than the forests. Phytoplankton.

Bruce: Yeah, maybe 100 years, if we can go to net zero emissions, the third generation from now will be less polluted.

Bill: Gore lost the 2020 election by only 537 votes out of the six million cast in Florida, despite winning the popular vote nationwide. Would we be in a substantially better place right now if he had won?

Bruce: Yes.

Bill: How substantial?

Bruce: So that was 21 years ago. We would be 15 years closer to a solution. The last four years set us back at least a decade.


From Matsuhka Island it was a fairly straight shot north up Resurrection Bay and into Seward harbor at the head of it. Altogether, a nine-hour run, and not too bad.

That evening we all went out to a barbeque shack in town, Firebrand, out by the highway. It was a good last meal with friends. Sitting there eating ribs, wrapping up threads of conversations from the week, I was struck by how much these three men cared about facts, and science, and the common good, not just for their tribe or this country but for the world. We’ll see them again on the Endeavour; I have no doubt.

That night the weather got worse, as forecast, but we were comfortable at the dock.


Two days later, Patsy, Chris, and I took off down Resurrection Bay. We slowed at Thumb Cove – I had the old photos from Kim’s binder and wanted to get the shots – but it was still too cloud-covered for decent photos.

We rounded Cape Resurrection inside Barwell Island and turned east toward Prince William Sound. It was still rocking and rolling out there but we needed to be in Cordova in three days to pick up a boatload of paleontologists.

We were going to be looking backwards in time, into deep time.

Postscript, December 31, 2021

Here are a few updates since this log entry:

· On August 13, 2021, a few days after we were back in Seward, NOAA announced that the global temperature in July was hotter than the previous 1,700 months since 1880, when NOAA began keeping records.

· On October 25, 2021, the Dixie Fire, which had started on July 13, 2021, in California and burned 963,309 acres, was finally contained. It was only one of many west coast fires, whose smoke reached New York City, 2,800 miles away.

· On December 30, Senator Joe Manchin, holding the key vote, refused to support the Build Back Better bill that includes $555 billion for renewable energy over a 10-year term with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% compared to 2005 levels. Senator Manchin’s personal fortune is in his family’s coal brokerage, and his largest donors are coal-related companies (“Joe Manchin has made millions from coal...” CNN, October 27, 2021)

· Shawn sent this chart to me, supporting his belief that technology will be the solution:

· As of December 31, 2021, the Global Fiducials Library Data Access Portal (the MEDEA images) are still available online at You have to create an account with a username and password, but an account is free. The image files are detailed and enormous, and they are astonishing.

- William Urschel