Oct 17, 2023

Crammed with Tourists, Alaska's Capital Wonders What Will Happen as Its Magnificent Glacier Recedes

Thousands of tourists spill onto a boardwalk in Alaska’s capital city every day from cruise ships towering over downtown. Vendors hawk shoreside trips and rows of buses stand ready to whisk visitors away, with many headed for the area’s crown jewel: the Mendenhall Glacier.A craggy expanse of gray, white and blue, the glacier gets swarmed by sightseeing helicopters and attracts visitors by kayak, canoe and foot. So many come to see the glacier and Juneau’s other wonders that the city’s immediate concern is how to manage them all as a record number are expected this year. Some residents flee to quieter places during the summer, and a deal between the city and cruise industry will limit how many ships arrive next year.But climate change is melting the Mendenhall Glacier. It is receding so quickly that by 2050, it might no longer be visible from the visitor center it once loomed outside, The Associated Press said.That’s prompted another question Juneau is only now starting to contemplate: What happens then?“We need to be thinking about our glaciers and the ability to view glaciers as they recede,” said Alexandra Pierce, the city’s tourism manager. There also needs to be a focus on reducing environmental impacts, she said. “People come to Alaska to see what they consider to be a pristine environment and it’s our responsibility to preserve that for residents and visitors.”The glacier pours from rocky terrain between mountains into a lake dotted by stray icebergs. Its face retreated eight football fields between 2007 and 2021, according to estimates from University of Alaska Southeast researchers. Trail markers memorialize the glacier's backward march, showing where the ice once stood. Thickets of vegetation have grown in its wake.While massive chunks have broken off, most ice loss has come from the thinning due to warming temperatures, said Eran Hood, a University of Alaska Southeast professor of environmental science. The Mendenhall has now largely receded from the lake that bears its name.Scientists are trying to understand what the changes might mean for the ecosystem, including salmon habitat.There are uncertainties for tourism, too.Most people enjoy the glacier from trails across Mendenhall Lake near the visitor center. Caves of dizzying blues that drew crowds several years ago have collapsed and pools of water now stand where one could once step from the rocks onto the ice.Manoj Pillai, a cruise ship worker from India, took pictures from a popular overlook on a recent day off.“If the glacier is so beautiful now, how would it be, like, 10 or 20 years before? I just imagine that,” he said.Officials with the Tongass National Forest, under which the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area falls, are bracing for more visitors over the next 30 years even as they contemplate a future when the glacier slips from casual view.The agency is proposing new trails and parking areas, an additional visitor center and public use cabins at a lakeside campground. Researchers do not expect the glacier to disappear completely for at least a century.“We did talk about, ‘Is it worth the investment in the facilities if the glacier does go out of sight?’" said Tristan Fluharty, the forest’s Juneau district ranger. “Would we still get the same amount of visitation?”A thundering waterfall that is a popular place for selfies, salmon runs, black bears and trails could continue attracting tourists when the glacier is not visible from the visitor center, but “the glacier is the big draw,” he said.Around 700,000 people are expected to visit this year, with about 1 million projected by 2050.Other sites offer a cautionary tale. Annual visitation peaked in the 1990s at around 400,000 to the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center, southeast of Anchorage, with the Portage Glacier serving as a draw. But now, on clear days, a sliver of the glacier remains visible from the center, which was visited by about 30,000 people last year, said Brandon Raile, a spokesperson with the Chugach National Forest, which manages the site. Officials are discussing the center's future, he said.“Where do we go with the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center?" Raile said. “How do we keep it relevant as we go forward when the original reason for it being put there is not really relevant anymore?”At the Mendenhall, rangers talk to visitors about climate change. They aim to “inspire wonder and awe but also to inspire hope and action," said Laura Buchheit, the forest's Juneau deputy district ranger.After pandemic-stunted seasons, about 1.6 million cruise passengers are expected in Juneau this year, during a season stretching from April through October.The city, nestled in a rainforest, is one stop on what are generally week-long cruises to Alaska beginning in Seattle or Vancouver, British Columbia. Tourists can leave the docks and move up the side of a mountain in minutes via a popular tram, see bald eagles perch on light posts and enjoy a vibrant Alaska Native arts community.On the busiest days, about 20,000 people, equal to two-thirds of the city’s population, pour from the boats.City leaders and major cruise lines agreed to a daily five-ship limit for next year. But critics worry that won’t ease congestion if the vessels keep getting bigger. Some residents would like one day a week without ships. As many as seven ships a day have arrived this year.Juneau Tours and Whale Watch is one of about two dozen companies with permits for services like transportation or guiding at the glacier. Serene Hutchinson, the company's general manager, said demand has been so high that she neared her allotment halfway through the season. Shuttle service to the glacier had to be suspended, but her business still offers limited tours that include the glacier, she said.Other bus operators are reaching their limits, and tourism officials are encouraging visitors to see other sites or get to the glacier by different means.Limits on visitation can benefit tour companies by improving the experience rather than having tourists “shoehorned” at the glacier, said Hutchinson, who doesn't worry about Juneau losing its luster as the glacier recedes.“Alaska does the work for us, right?" she said. “All we have to do is just kind of get out of the way and let people look around and smell and breathe.”Pierce, Juneau’s tourism manager, said discussions are just beginning around what a sustainable southeast Alaska tourism industry should look like.In Sitka, home to a slumbering volcano, the number of cruise passengers on a day earlier this summer exceeded the town’s population of 8,400, overwhelming businesses, dragging down internet speeds and prompting officials to question how much tourism is too much.Juneau plans to conduct a survey that could guide future growth, such as building trails for tourism companies.Kerry Kirkpatrick, a Juneau resident of nearly 30 years, recalls when the Mendenhall’s face was “long across the water and high above our heads.” She called the glacier a national treasure for its accessibility and noted an irony in carbon-emitting helicopters and cruise ships chasing a melting glacier. She worries the current level of tourism isn't sustainable.As the Mendenhall recedes, plants and animals will need time to adjust, she said.So will humans.“There’s too many people on the planet wanting to do the same things,” Kirkpatrick said. "You don’t want to be the person who closes the door and says, you know, ‘I’m the last one in and you can’t come in.’ But we do have to have the ability to say, ‘No, no more.’”

A Norwegian who just became the fastest climber to scale all the world’s 14 highest mountains announced she was retiring from climbing high peaks on Saturday upon her return to Nepal.Kristin Harila along with her Sherpa guide Tenjin were given a hero's welcome at the Kathmandu airport where hundreds including mountaineers, government officials and well-wishers gathered to welcome them back with cheers and flower garlands.Harila and Tenjin scaled Mount K2 in Pakistan last week, thus concluding the climb of the 14th peak — that is more than 8000 meters — high in 92 days, shattering the previous record of 189 days.“I don’t think I will try any eight-thousand meters for a while." Harila said. "I have done 28 eight-thousand meters in total so I think I have done my part.”The 37-year-old climber began the mission of setting a new record in April by scaling Mount Shishapangma followed by other peaks in China as well as Nepal, including Mount Everest. She then moved on to Pakistan to complete her list of climbs.This year was her second attempt to set the record of becoming the fastest climber of the 14 peaks.Harila had initially begun her world record attempt in April 2022 with the aim of completing it by September. But she only managed 12 peaks after Chinese authorities restricted foreign travel to the country because of the coronavirus pandemic.“I am going to do running in the mountains and have already signed up for a race,” she said of her immediate plans.Harila said Mount K2, the last one on her list was the most difficult one to tackle. K2 is the second-highest peak in the world.Harila said that weather conditions usually dictate how difficult a climb can be and this year they faced “very hard conditions on K2” because of “ very deep snow.”The last record for the fastest climb of the 14 peaks was held by Nirmal Purja, a Nepal-born British citizen who scaled them in 189 days in 2019, beating the previous record of more than seven years set by a South Korean climber. Purja’s climbs were later adapted into a popular Netflix documentary, “14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible.”

Tourists at a seaside hotel on the Greek island of Rhodes snatched up pails of pool water and damp towels as flames approached, rushing to help staffers and locals extinguish one of the wildfires threatening Mediterranean locales during recent heat waves.The quick team effort meant that “by the time the fire brigade came, most of the fire actually was dealt with,” said Elena Korosteleva from Britain, who was vacationing at the Lindos Memories hotel.The next morning, some unsettled guests cut their holiday short — but most stayed on as the resort wasn't damaged in the small brush fire outside its grounds.The Greek island known for sparkling beaches and ancient sites is nursing its wounds after 11 days of devastating wildfires in July. After thousands of people were evacuated during the height of travel season, Rhodes is weighing how the crisis will affect its vital tourism sector, which fuels most of its economy and some 20% of Greece's.It’s the same for other Mediterranean destinations, like Italy and Spain, where the tourism sector also is being hit by heat waves and wildfires. Greece, Italy, Algeria and Tunisia combined lost more than 1,350 square kilometers (520 square miles) to blazes that affected 120,000 people in late July, according to European Union estimates. And Greece is expecting even more extreme heat in the coming days.According to The Associated Press, the mayor of Villardeciervos village, in part of northwestern Spain ravaged by fires last summer, said hikers are still coming.“Tourism is bound to suffer a bit in the next few years, (whether) we like it or not,” Rosa María López said. “On the hiking trails, there are no trees, and it is very sad to see. ... But this area is still highly valued by tourists in spite of everything. We will have to adapt.”Fires have chased away tourists in hard-hit parts of Greece and Italy. Rhodes saw mass cancellations of flights and the trend is similar in Sicily, said Olivier Ponti, vice president of insights at ForwardKeys, a travel data company with access to airline industry ticketing data.While travel to Greece overall has not been hit too hard, Italy isn't as lucky. Wildfires “have caused a slowdown in bookings for many Italian destinations, even places not close to the fires,” he said, noting a drop for Rome in the last week of July.Even without the flames, summer heat intensified by climate change can be a turnoff for travelers.Hoteliers are worried in southeastern Spain’s coastal resort city of Benidorm, a longtime favorite for British and Scandinavian tourists.“If heat waves were to be repeated every summer, the impact on our economy would be significant,” said Antonio Mayor, chair of the hotel and tourism association in the Valencia region, which includes Benidorm. “Our activity is centered on the three summer months.”That could mean tourists head north to Scandinavian countries or the United Kingdom instead.“Record-setting temperatures in European countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain are not scheduled to ease up as we enter August, so it might be considered a much safer option to opt for a stay in northern Europe,” said Tim Hentschel, CEO of digital booking platform HotelPlanner.The World Meteorological Organization and the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service calculated July to be the hottest month on record. Heat records foreshadow changes ahead as the planet warms, scientists say, including more flooding, longer-burning wildfires and extreme weather events that put people at risk.With that in mind, U.S.-based climate technology startup Sensible Weather is developing insurance that would compensate people if extreme heat wrecks their holiday.It's rolled out “weather guarantee” coverage to travel companies in the U.K., France and the U.S., which pays travelers if prolonged rain ruins their beach break or there’s no snow for a ski trip.Sensible Weather will soon add a heat cover option “in anticipation of next summer,” founder Nick Cavanaugh said. “People are asking me about it more because they’re thinking about these things more.”While people differ on how hot is too hot, “in the simplest version, if it was 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 Fahrenheit) for three hours in the middle of the day and you couldn’t go out and do an activity, we could give you some money back,” he said.Rhodes had expected foreign arrivals to increase 8%-10% over a bumper year in 2022, when about 2.6 million people flew in to the Greek island, mostly from Britain and Germany. But after the fires, flight cancellations in the last week of July exceeded all bookings made in the equivalent week in 2019, said Ponti of ForwardKeys.Manolis Markopoulos, head of the Rhodes hotel association, is optimistic that rebounding arrivals to parts of the island not damaged by flames can salvage much of the projected boost in tourism.“Every day we're seeing more business,” he said. “By Aug. 8-10, I think we'll be back to our normal pace at all these resorts," which account for about 90% of the island's 220,000 beds.In damaged areas, “some brave tour operators have already decided to bring customers from this coming weekend," Markopoulos said. “These areas have a longer road before they return to normality — but they're not even 10% of the (island's) total capacity.”New bookings for future travel to Rhodes did take a hit, falling 76% the week of July 17, when the fires began, over the previous week. For Greece as a whole, they slumped 10%, Ponti said.While some major British operators briefly canceled all Rhodes flights and holidays — offering refunds to people who’d booked for fire-hit areas — other budget airlines kept offering seats and reported normal travel figures, HotelPlanner’s Hentschel said.In Germany, leading travel operator TUI is again offering vacations to all parts of Rhodes after it stopped flying tourists in.“We would do more damage to the people of Rhodes if no more tourists came now after the forest fires,” TUI CEO Sebastian Ebel told Germany's dpa news agency.Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis offered an additional incentive, appearing on ITV’s “Good Morning Britain” this week to promise people whose Rhodes vacations were spoiled by the fires a free week on the island next spring or fall.Korosteleva, the Rhodes vacationer, said the blazes should motivate action against climate change.“It makes people aware what we’ve caused to the planet, that this change may not be reversible. So it’s not just about tourism,” said Korosteleva, who heads the University of Warwick’s Institute of Global Sustainable Development. “I think it actually clearly touches upon how we need to start acting now.”

Gaza residents took their seats in front of a large projector screen set up on a sandy beach, a rare event in the blockaded enclave that has no operating cinemas.

Over two weeks in summer, the "Cinema of the Sea" festival which ended Monday screened some 15 films, many of them with Palestinian actors or producers.

Providing a respite from the heat, the waterfront "is the only outlet for the residents" in the impoverished territory, said Ali Muhanna, a theater director involved in the initiative.

Around 2.3 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, which has been under a crippling Israeli-led blockade since Hamas seized power in 2007.

Sitting barefoot in a pink dress at the open-air cinema on Gaza City's beach, seven-year-old Salma Shamaleh was transfixed by the screen.

"I have never seen a TV this size," she told AFP as she watched "Ferdinand", an animated blockbuster that tells the story of a giant but soft-hearted black bull.

The first film screenings in Gaza date to the 1940s, with the opening of the Samer Cinema, whose building now houses a car dealership.

Cinemas were forced to close in the late 1980s during the first Palestinian uprising, or intifada. They reopened following the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s but for years have largely been gathering dust.

Like across much of the eastern Mediterranean, Gazans have flocked to the seaside in recent weeks to escape soaring temperatures.

Shamaleh was thrilled by the cinematic experience. "Our house is nearby, I'll ask my mum for us to come every day," she said.

The festival's program featured "Farha", a Jordanian film which, through a young girl's perspective, depicts atrocities committed against Palestinians during the 1948 conflict that led to Israel's creation.

The hard-hitting film resonated with Mona Hanafi, 50, who watched it with her daughter and dozens of other spectators.

"The film is brilliant in addressing a realistic Palestinian story... The performance and directing are impressive," she said.

"Seeing the children and people watching the open cinema in Gaza made me happy," added Hanafi.

Another audience member, Hadeel Hajji, said she had "never seen anything like that in my life".

"I was with my family when I saw the screen from far away, so I came to watch," she told AFP.

"Cinema of the Sea" was organized by Al-Bahr Elna Cooperative cafe in partnership with the culture ministry.

The cooperative was established in 2020 by a group of artists, with start-up funding from Palestinian institutions. Since that initial cash dried up, the group has relied on donations.

For Muhanna, the cafe's founder, the festival has been an opportunity to show films which demonstrate how "Palestinians contributed to producing (cinema) and conveying the values of society".

Atef Askoul, head of the Hamas-appointed body responsible for approving public art events, said Gazans who suffer from miserable living conditions under the blockade have "the right to watch films and cinema".

Federal health officials have approved the first pill specifically intended to treat severe depression after childbirth, a condition that affects thousands of new mothers in the US each year.The Food and Drug Administration on Friday granted approval of the drug, Zurzuvae, for adults experiencing severe depression related to childbirth or pregnancy. The pill is taken once a day for 14 days.“Having access to an oral medication will be a beneficial option for many of these women coping with extreme, and sometimes life-threatening, feelings," said Dr. Tiffany Farchione, FDA's director of psychiatric drugs, in a statement.Postpartum depression affects an estimated 400,000 people a year, and while it often ends on its own within a couple weeks, it can continue for months or even years. Standard treatment includes counseling or antidepressants, which can take weeks to work and don’t help everyone.The new pill is from Sage Therapeutics, which has a similar infused drug that’s given intravenously over three days in a medical facility, The Associated Press reported. The FDA approved that drug in 2019, though it isn’t widely used because of its $34,000 price tag and the logistics of administering it.The FDA's pill approval is based on two company studies that showed women who took Zurzuvae had fewer signs of depression over a four- to six-week period when compared with those who received a dummy pill. The benefits, measured using a psychiatric test, appeared within three days for many patients.

At first sight, Tiembe studies his frozen breakfast with hesitation: Chunks of red meat and bone packed in a foot-long block of ice.

The 15-year-old Angolan lion eventually licks the ice before gnawing pieces of meat free.

Animals at the Attica Zoological Park outside the Greek capital were being fed frozen meals Friday as temperatures around the country reached 40 C (107.5 F) and were set to rise further, in the fourth heat wave in less than a month.

The extreme temperatures and wildfires — a growing concern for biodiversity in southern Europe — have had an impact on Greek wildlife.

A fire on the island of Rhodes burned for 11 successive days, triggering the evacuation of 20,000 people, mostly tourists.

The island’s animals were less fortunate.

As the fire tore through mountain forests and a nature reserve, an estimated 2,500 animals and beehives were burned, along with 50,000 olive trees, according to Agriculture Ministry officials. Fallow deer, a symbol of Rhodes, were found lying dead on the roadside.

The zoo, which is about 30 kilometers (20 miles) east of Athens, is looking after an injured deer and several turtles — some fitted with wheels prized from toys to help with their mobility — which suffered burns and other injuries during the Rhodes fire.

Zoo curator Antonis Balas urged pet owners to be more mindful of their animals at times of extreme heat, noting that many of the popular breeds of pets are from native cooler climates in Northern and Central Europe.

“In general, heat affects animals in the same way that it affects humans,” Balas said, after feeding fruit popsicles to ring-tailed lemurs, some clambering onto his shoulders to get served first.

“The iced treats are a supplement to their meals ... they lick the ice and breathe in the cool air. That’s in contrast to people who sweat as a way of controlling their body temperature.

Ten major wildfires struck Greece in July, and included major blazes outside Athens. More than 450 pet dogs and cats were rescued from fires, many left in their homes as the owners fled, according to a charity that works with a state animal agency. About half have been reunited with their owners, the others placed in temporary adoption.

In the wake of the Greek fires, the international animal charity PETA urged animal owners not to abandon their pets.

Elisa Allen, the group’s vice president for programs, said the fires also served as a reminder that the animal farming industry is a major global contributor to climate change.

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire and in this case, no one should ignore how animal agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions fuel the climate catastrophe and create the conditions that let wildfires spread,” Allen told The Associated Press.

Temperatures are expected to reach 42 C (107.6 F) in parts of central Greece on Saturday before easing early next week.

Cyprus’ veterinarians association on Friday lauded a government decision to allow its stock of human coronavirus medication to be used on cats to fight a local mutation of a feline virus that has killed thousands of animals on the Mediterranean island.

The association said in a statement that it had petitioned the government for access to the medication at “reasonable prices” from the beginning of this year, when the mutation that causes lethal Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) began to noticeably crop up in the island’s cat population.

“We want to assure that we will continue to investigate and control the rise in case of FCov-2023,” the association said.

Local animal activists had claimed that the mutation had killed as many as 300,000 cats, but Association President Nektaria Ioannou Arsenoglou says that's an exaggeration.

Arsenoglou had told The Associated Press that an association survey of 35 veterinary clinics indicated an island-wide total of about 8,000 deaths.

According to Arsenoglou, FIP is nearly always lethal if left untreated, but medication can nurse cats back to health in approximately 85% of cases in both the “wet” and “dry” forms of the illness.

What made FIP treatment difficult was the high price of the medication that activists said put it out of reach of many cat care givers.

Spread through contact with cat feces, neither the virus nor its mutation can be passed on to humans. The feline coronavirus has been around since 1963. Previous epidemics eventually fizzled out without the use of any medication, Arsenoglou said.

Measures have already been enacted to prevent the export of the mutation through mandatory medical check-ups of all felines destined for adoption abroad.

It’s unclear how many feral cats live in Cyprus, where they are generally beloved and have a long history dating back thousands of years.

The Saudi Geological Survey (SGS) inaugurated on Thursday the works for establishing the Earth Sciences Data Analysis Center, one of the projects of the General Geological Survey Program, using artificial intelligence techniques during the founding meeting of the project implementation committee.

The event took place in the presence of several specialists from the public and private sectors, and experts from different countries around the world.

SGS spokesperson Tariq Aba Al-Khail said that the meeting focused on the participation of local and international bodies, companies specialized in data and mining from leading countries, such as Canada, Australia, Britain, South Africa, and China, as well as Saudi universities.

He added that the center's establishment aims to launch an advanced Saudi platform for earth sciences, which analyzes and develops all data and maximizes the benefit of its use, and build an extensive data system in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for earth sciences.

The Buraydah Dates Carnival has provided over 4,000 seasonal job opportunities, which reflects one of the most important objectives pursued by the Kingdom's promotional and tourist carnivals, mainly to localize and create jobs for Saudis.

Carnival CEO Dr. Khaled Al-Nuqidan confirmed that the job opportunities created by the carnival were provided through committees, supervising teams, points of sale, retail shops, farms, date squares and export arenas.

Jobs created where also provided through monitoring, statistics, surveillance, organization, information and relations committees, as well as delivery professions, investing services in palm plantations that are operated by the national workforce and points of sale within and outside the region, packaging and exporting, and productive families working on date manufacturing.

Double world champion swimmer Ahmed Hafnaoui said Wednesday he wants to become Tunisia's greatest ever Olympian at the Paris Games next year.

The 20-year-old, who captured the 800m and 1,500m freestyle golds at the world championships in Japan last week, said he wants to "break the record for the Tunisian having the most medals and break all the world records."

Long-distance runner Mohammed Gammoudi is Tunisia's most successful Olympian with four medals between 1964 and 1972.

Hafnaoui already has one Olympic gold courtesy of his 400m triumph in Tokyo in 2021, according to AFP.

At the world championships last week in Fukuoka, he also claimed silver in the 400m.

"Everyone should believe in themselves and to work, to make sacrifices in order to be able to succeed," Hafnaoui told reporters on his return to Tunisia from Japan.

At the Paris Olympics next year, he said he may also enter the 5km and 10km open water swimming events as well the 200m freestyle in the pool.

"But the 100m will be very difficult", said the US-based swimmer.

A team of scientists have created a “cancer-killing pill” that has appeared to “annihilate” solid tumors, leaving healthy cells unaffected.

According to Sky News, the new drug has been in development for 20 years, and is now undergoing pre-clinical research in the US.

Known as AOH1996, it targets a cancerous variant of a protein called proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA).

AOH1996 is being worked on by City of Hope, one of America’s largest cancer research and treatment organizations.

Professor Linda Malkas, who has been developing the drug, explained: “In its original form, PCNA is ‘critical’ in the replication of DNA, and the repair of all ‘expanding tumors’. However, PCNA can uniquely be altered in cancer cells.”

Unlike radiotherapy, which harms both healthy and cancer cells, “the drug targets PCNA only in cancer cells without affecting the healthy ones,” she added.

“PCNA is like a major airline terminal hub containing multiple plane gates. Our cancer-killing pill is like a snowstorm that closes a key airline hub, shutting down all flights in and out only in planes carrying cancer cells,” she said.

The team noted that their first trials involved animal and human cell models, and the initial results are promising, but they still need a clinical trial in humans.

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