DemosNews: Maine Waters Witness Global Warming
Maine Waters Witness Global Warming
By: Anita Spertus

Our old time Maine contact, Eric, reported that until recent years, huge eighteen wheeler trucks loaded with a mountain of timber used to barrel down frozen Moose Head Lake in northern Maine. They found the 40 some mile flat stretch the easiest path to convey their product from forest to cleared southern roads. This mild, crazy winter of Ď07, ice fishers couldnít even drive their snowmobiles with supplies onto the ice least it crack.

Maine's Kennebec River used to freeze solidly for months. Ice from its waters was so pure, it was famously cut into blocks from mid-nineteenth century on, blanketed with sawdust, and carried by ship through the Panama Canal to San Francisco and Calcutta.

Commercial ice harvest grew to a huge, labor intensive business before the invention of efficiently manufactured ice obviated it around World War I. Public bond issues of $5 million (1902) and $6 million (1912) greased the industry. Knickerbocker Ice of New York, for instance, a large player, reported working capital of $2 million in 1881, a staggering figure considering its employees earned only $1.50 a day. Its Manhattan distribution yards on 20th Street busied 2000 men, 500 wagons, and 1000 horses. Like the giant gas storage tanks at ports today, 134 large storage facilities, some preserving by insulation alone as many as 50,000 tons of ice, dotted the Hudson River. Blocks of winter ice chilled meat and produce that flooded into cities year round via the new railroads and the Erie Canal. Large quantities of frozen meat were exported to Europe, with ships sometimes carrying 60,000 tons of refrigerated boxes (one cubic foot of ice weighs 60 pounds.) Natureís ice enabled local butcher shops, fish mongers, restaurants, breweries and, hauled up by block and tackle pulleys atop brownstone facades, even the humblest family larders.

Ironically, mechanical refrigeration techniques that widely replaced the old way turned out to be enormous energy hogs, dangerously toxic and, more recently, severe contributors to ozone depletion of the upper atmosphere. As any homeowner knows, pull the plug on a refrigerator or air conditioner and electric bills fall to negligible. Sulfur dioxide or ammonium compounds, coolant of early refrigerators, corroded piping then poisoned as they leaked. Ammonia still powers large commercial chillers at firms tucked well away in an effort to minimize danger, but leaks from trucks and rail cars supplying them, or seepage from the factories themselves, periodically take their toll. Freon (dichlorodifluoromethane), ubiquitous in our time, was banned from further manufacture in America in 1995 because of its severe damage to ozone. Inert and therefore attractive because it doesnít poison humans, its very stability permits it to drift upward into the high atmosphere for a hundred years. There sunís radiation finally dismantles it, freeing chlorine radicals that bond with and gobble the ozone layer that spares earthlings that powerful radiation. Safer compounds always come forward, but one canít help thinking back to the old ways, hugely labor intensive of human and horse flesh and wagon wheels though they were, but absent catastrophic chemicals and mountains of discarded refrigerator and air conditioner carcasses.

As to the Kennebec River, Boston's main coolant, it still freezes but for shorter periods year to year and with diminishing ice cover, witness to the globe's predicament.

© 2021 Anita Spertus of DemosNews

March 3, 2007 at 1:24pm
DemosRating: 4.38
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Genre: World (Western Hemisphere)
Type: Critical
Tags: global, warming, ice, harvest

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