These Ice Cellars Fed Arctic People for Generations. Now They're Melting.
Native people in Alaska and Russia store their whale meat and other traditional foods in permafrost. But their underground freezers are thawing, causing food problems.
Building an underground ice cellar to store bowhead whale and other meat in Barrow, Alaska, is no small task. Even in the summertime, permafrost is hard as a rock a foot or so below the surface.
Last year Herman Ahsoak employed a jackhammer and drill to construct a cellar for the whaling crew he has captained for more than a decade. But in the spring, melting snow penetrated the hatch, and the 14-foot deep cellar “filled all the way to the top with water,” Ahsoak says.
Maintaining ice cellars has always been hard work for subsistence hunters in Barrow, the northernmost city in the United States. But warming temperatures have now rendered many of these underground freezers unusable. (Read about how