The Flying Classroom returned safely to North America this weekend, narrowly outrunning one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the North Pacific.

Late last week, former Super Typhoon Nuri came swirling across the Bering Sea from Asia with Herculean strength. Storms get their strength from low air pressure: the lower the pressure, the stronger the wind. Typically, air pressure on Earth ranges from around 980 to 1050 millibars. On Friday night, the air pressure inside Nuri dropped to an unprecedented 924 millibars. Definitely not the kind of weather Barrington wanted to be flying in!

This week, the record-setting storm is expected to bring frigid air and heavy snowfall to the northern United States. People may complain about the early winter chill, however, these clouds have a silver lining. Last April, Barrington traveled to Alaska to see one reason why snowfall is so important to our planet.

Photo by Jenny Nichols
All photos by Jenny Nichols

Photo by Jenny Nichols

Snow creates and sustains glaciers. Glaciers are massive accumulations of ice that form when snow falls in the same place year after year. New snow buries the previous layers and compresses them into ice. For the glaciers to keep growing, it needs to keep snowing.

Problem is, "now the melting is more than the snow is precipitating,” says Brigit Hagedorn, a glacial geochemist at the University of Alaska-Anchorage. "So all the glaciers in Alaska lose their ice and get smaller and smaller."

As you'll see in the video above, Brigit took Barrington up onto Matanuska Glacier. Matanuska used to stretch nearly 100 miles; now it's only 27 miles long. What happens if Matanuska and the rest of the world's glaciers melt completely?

1. We will lose a vital source of fresh water for drinking, agriculture, and industry.

2. The water trapped in the ice will enter the oceans and raise the sea level, which will submerge low lying regions around the world.

3. Greenhouses gases and heavy metals trapped in the ice will be released into the environment.

4. We will lose a habitat for many rare species, including ones we can't even see.

“Twenty years ago, people thought glaciers were abiotic, that there was no life," says Brigit. "Now we know that even here—beneath 1,300 feet of ice—there are microbes living.”

Photo by Jenny Nichols