Arctic bases are struggling to deal with a major threat – sunny spring days.
The United States has six arctic bases: Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Clear Space Force Station, Eielson Air Force Base, Fort Wainright, and Fort Greely in Alaska, and Thule Air Base on the Greenland ice field. None of them are large installations, but all are considered strategically important right now. Rising tensions with Russia remind us that the closest we come to Russia is across the Bering Strait and the Arctic Circle.
According to the Defense Department, “the Arctic is a potential vector for an attack on the U.S. homeland, a region where Russia and China are operating more freely, and a strategic corridor for DoD forces between the Indo-Pacific and Europe.”
A report from the DoD Inspector General indicates that none of the six bases are prepared for long-term climate change. Rising Arctic temperatures and melting permafrost and ice are already damaging roads and causing major flooding around the bases.
President Joe Biden directed that the armed forces take action to make sure their facilities were prepared for changes in climate and extreme weather. But inspectors visiting these six bases found that none of them were even assessing their facilities to learn what preparations might be needed.
“Most installation leaders at the six installations we visited in the Arctic and sub-Arctic region were unfamiliar with military installation resilience planning requirements, processes, and tools,” the inspector general reports said. Operations lacked both training and funding, and considered climate planning an optional “wish list.”
“They stated that their day-to-day focus was on reacting to immediate problems or reducing risk to existing hazards, rather than planning for future hazards,” the report noted.
The inspectors’ reports included runways made unusable by cracked and sinking pavement, damaged hangers and roads, and in Thule, a completely destroyed flood barrier. At Fort Wainwright, wildfire risks blocked nearly half a year of training in 2019.
Climate change is bringing more extreme weather everywhere in the world, but the Arctic (and Antarctic) is warming two to three times faster than the global average.
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