Recent discovery of the 12 thousand year old girl in the caves of Mexico only piles the evidence upon itself. The location today known as the Bering Strait was pivotal in the development of humanity in the Americas.

20 thousand years ago temperatures were far lower than they are today. Ice covered much of the world as massive glacier advances devastated the land, leaving scars still visible today. Between Russia and Alaska lay the Bering Strait. A cold, inhospitable, and shallow sea mass. One that was quickly enveloped by the relentless force of thousands of feet of snow marching together in unison.

While temperatures may have been cold, they were not cold enough to stop one group of opportune badasses from finding the entirely new land mass once hidden by this measly 50 mile strait, and in turn forming civilizations that would last thousands of years. Stopping the Bering Strait’s selfish flow of water, enabled mankind to leap to new, previously unimaginable heights.

Our girl is part of the proof. Through genetic analysis, scientists found many unique traits that could only be found in one other group of humans at the time. A group of humans who also happened to be an entire ocean away. Had the Bering Strait had been free to flow like it does today, Columbus would have been one step closer to his grand claim, and a breadth of cultural heritage wiped clean from history.

While this Bering gap has had to drop its title of ‘awesome ice bridge’ and adopt the lesser but more apt title of ‘strait’ in the relatively recent years, it’s position still holds a unique power in the governance of the Earth. One which it is exploiting.

Today, the Bering Strait thinks it is water’s turn to flow through the strait. Let some Pacific saltwater mix with some Arctic saltwater, no big deal, right? But not all saltwater is the same. The Pacific version is actually slightly less warm and salty than its Arctic counterpart.

And therein lies its evil.

Imagine yourself in front of a warm fire place. But every time you settle in someone opens a window that pulls the heat away right before it reaches you. You try to get closer to feel the heat but another force is stopping it from reaching you… you’re just so cold.

The Bering Strait wants you to be cold.

If you have ever had a window opened on you in winter you are familiar with the basic physics. Cold air is denser than warm air, it wants to flow into the warm air to even the pressure difference. The same applies to water. So density differences driven at their core by the basic north-south pattern of temperature create a massive global circulation.

If you cook, chances are you have experienced the second part of the physics. What thaws faster, a frozen piece of chicken on your counter, or in a tub of water? Water can contain and transfer large amounts of heat. The same transfer between that chicken leg and the water (heat transfer, not that gross white stuff), occurs on a global scale thanks to water retaining heat it acquired at the equator on its journey North.

The faster this water flows, the more heat reaches the northern cities like New York and London. It brings us the joy of summers.  But if this water were to stop flowing entirely, temperatures would drop dramatically. Ice would conquer all. Doomsday would begin.

And this is exactly what the Bering Strait wants. Every second the Bering Strait pumps almost a million cubic feet of relatively fresh water into the arctic. Thats almost 10 Niagara falls! Because removing salt lowers density, this fresh water serves to even out the pressure differences that drive our heat circulation.

The circulation itself flushes a mere 21 sv* into the depths of the ocean in a fundemental process called deep water formation, crucial to keeping the wheels of water turning. Unfortunately, reserachers have found that this process is quite sensitive to changes. A bit more or less freshwater and the whole system is thrown out of whack. Does the Bering Strait know this too?

Changes are coming. The polar ice sheets are melting and releasing their fresh water more every year. The Bering Strait flow is getting warmer. What are you going to do when a bunch of BS water ruins your day? Honestly, we should dam it.







Img credit: Wikipedia

*1sv=1 mil cubic meters per second


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