Sunday, March 20, 2011

Aluminum Blankets and Tiny Tsunamis

           I now have a new category of winter visitors to Alaska – tourists who were supposed to be going to Japan.   On Monday, we had a coach of 40 high-school students from Toronto, Canada, who had gotten stranded in Anchorage on Friday while en route to Tokyo.   Instead of turning around and going home, they apparently just decided to make the best of a bad situation, and stay in Alaska for a week.   The kids appeared to have packed for a slightly warmer climate; everyone was huddled in gift-shop Alaska sweatshirts that all look like they were bought at the Anchorage airport.   (In fact, so many of them were wearing gift shop shirts that I wonder if perhaps their luggage was sent on without them.   I hope not, but I didn't ask.)   Premier Alaska Tours is shuttling the group around; one tiny bit of good news about their trip is that in March, there is plenty of space for last-minute bookings anywhere in the state. The kids certainly improved our headcount for a Monday; I'm just sorry that it took a horrific natural disaster to get a group to visit on a weekday in March.

            There is perhaps one encouraging thing to come out of the Japanese nuclear disaster: it is now very, very obvious that nuclear power is not just an issue for the individual nations that choose to employ it – everyone has a stake in nuclear power, because everyone is affected if something goes wrong.   We need to address this issue as a global community – and maybe, just maybe, if we act like a global community to deal with one global issue, perhaps we can act as a global community to deal with others.   You know – war, hunger, climate change, and all those other issues that are guaranteed to make me want to crawl under a blanket if I think about them for too long…
            Another thought: the fact that small amounts of radiation have been released into the environment over in Japan has triggered a certain amount of concern about health risks for humans living here in the USA.   The radiation arriving here is minuscule, poses absolutely no known health risks and coming from very, very, very far away.   People in California are still buying iodine.   So my question is this: have we gotten to the point where a government (our own, for example) would be politically unable to use an atomic weapon, because their citizens would be too concerned about their own welfare to tolerate such an act?   Somehow, I find that an optimistic notion, even though the scientific illiteracy inherent in the assumption is still depressing.   Now, where's that blanket?   Maybe I should line it with aluminium, just in case the wind starts blowing in from the west...

              If anyone is curious, we did get some small tidal disturbances here in Seward, which were part of the tsunami wave generated in Japan.   There was NO actual tsunami here in Seward, although the town's tsunami siren was set off by mistake shortly before midnight on Thursday.   (Because a tsunami was predicted for part of the Aleutians, every single tsunami alarm in Alaska was triggered automatically, even for areas with no predicted waves.   They tell us they're going to fix that now.)   At around noon on Friday, near low tide, we got a foot and a half of water rushing into the boat harbor, slacking for a few minutes, and then rushing back out.   There wasn't very much of a height different, but the current it generated was very impressive, strong enough to uproot kelp all over the bay, and nearly pull the aquarium's harbor-monitoring fish trap off of its anchor.   Small-scale tidal disturbances were happening intermittently for the rest of the weekend.   It's hard to imagine the power of an event that can send waves bouncing around the Pacific Ocean the way I can send waves bouncing around a bathtub.

And just in case you haven't heard it anywhere else, you can donate to help with relief efforts in Japan through the Red Cross, or through the iTunes store.    Be someone's hero - donate!

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