"Alaska Communities Try to Keep Their Whale Freezers Frozen"

"In the face of melting permafrost, Iñupiat communities in Alaska find new solutions to keeping traditional ice cellars cold."

"For centuries, people in communities along the shores of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas have stored foods such as whale meat and blubber, or muktuk, in siġḷuat—ice cellars dug into the perennially frozen ground. Doreen Leavitt, the director of natural resources for the Iñupiat Community of the Arctic Slope (ICAS) and a tribal member, says she can tell the difference between whale stored in an Iñupiaq ice cellar versus a conventional freezer. “It has a different taste to it,” she says. “It’s like it has a little zing to it,” adds ICAS tribal member Lars Nelson.

The ice cellars are also the right size for people’s needs. “You can put half a whale in them things. You can’t put half a whale in a little home freezer,” says ICAS executive director Morrie Lemen. ICAS serves as an umbrella tribal government for eight remote Alaska Native villages, including the largest community in the region, Utqiaġvik.

But in recent years, the icy walls of these underground food storage lockers have started to deteriorate due to a warming climate. Ice cellars throughout Alaska’s North Slope region are filling with meltwater, and some have collapsed. At least 1,000 people, out of a population of about 11,000, were considered food insecure in the North Slope Borough in 2020. Stabilizing ice cellars, according to ICAS staff, could help alleviate food insecurity concerns and maintain centuries of traditional and cultural practice. Now, they aim to use a simple and reliable technology to do just that."

Emily Schwing reports for High Country News March 6, 2023.

Source: High Country News, 03/09/2023