Alaska Science Forum

May 24, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
In a gorgeous warm May this year, we have not yet sniffed the bitter scent of flaming spruce. When we do, many of us will think back to a year that still haunts us. In summer 2004, a Vermont-sized patch of Alaska burned in wildfires. That hazy summer was the most extreme fire year in the half century people have kept score. Here's how it happened. May 2004 was warmer than average in the Interior...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
A scientist named Victor Hessler once made an aurora detector by driving two metal rods in the ground a few hundred feet apart and stringing a wire between them. When voltage changed along the wire, a bell rang. Hessler then pulled on his boots and went outside to take black-and-white aurora photos. During the recent St. Patrick's Day geomagnetic storm, people all over North America became...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
If a lake drains on top of the world, will anyone hear it? Ben Jones and Chris Arp did. The Anchorage- and Fairbanks-based scientists placed sensors in a bathtub-shaped lake on Alaska's northern coast a few years ago. From what they can tell, the lake topped its rim and eroded/thawed a channel to the Beaufort Sea on July 5, 2014. With a flow greater than some northern rivers, the lake's water...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
As he contemplates another long snowmachine journey, Matthew Sturm might consider packing a raincoat. Rain fell in Interior Alaska a few weeks before his trip, glazing supercooled highways and forming a crust on the snowpack. "You remember all the jokes about how climate change is going to be good for (Alaskans)?" said Sturm, a snow scientist with UAF's Geophysical Institute....
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
Fairbanks's air turns bitter every winter as we fill it with woodsmoke and other things, but just down the road Denali National Park has the clearest air measured among America's monitored national parks.   Scientists at Colorado State University have taken a close look at Denali air as captured near the park entrance. A monitor there pulls air through a set of four filters, getting samples every...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
On a February day long ago, a family living in a sod hut near the Arctic Ocean saw blocks of sea ice bulldozing their way onto shore. Winds shoved more ice until the mass towered above them and started dripping water through a ventilation hole. The father urged his family outside just before a slab fell on the hut and crushed him. An ivu — the Inupiat word for mounds of ice that sometimes plow...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
Satellite data has confirmed that the amount of freshwater released into the Gulf of Alaska from streams and rivers in Alaska and northern Canada is about 1.5 times what the Mississippi River dumps into the Gulf of Mexico each year. That astounding flow of water is from rainfalls that soak Southeast Alaska and the south side of the Alaska Range. The other half comes from the melting of snow and...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
Like flecks of pepper on chowder, all of the spectacled eiders on the planet are now gathered amid sea ice and steaming open leads in the Bering Sea. "It's a mass of life in this desolate area," said Matt Sexson, who once rode an icebreaker to see the winter gathering south of St. Lawrence Island. Sexson, a biologist with the USGS Science Center in Anchorage, just handed in a...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
North America's highest mountain should be a volcano. Denali sits about 60 miles above where the Pacific Plate grinds beneath the North American plate, as do Iliamna, Redoubt and Augustine. If you draw a line from the Aleutians to volcanic features in interior Alaska, the curve goes over Denali's summit. Like its neighbors in the Alaska Range, the big mountain shows no signs of having...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
Augustine Volcano sits alone, a 4,000-foot pyramid on its own island in Cook Inlet. Like many volcanoes, it has a tendency to become top heavy. When gravity acts on Augustine's oversteepened dome, rockslides spill into the ocean. A scientist recently found new evidence for an Augustine-generated tsunami from a time when Egyptian pharaohs built their own pyramids. Zebulon Maharrey's...