News Archive

June 2, 2016
I once wrote about how fire had ravaged more than 10 percent of Interior Alaska during two smoky summers. A wildlife biologist called me out for choosing an inadequate verb. Tom Paragi chooses words that are more positive when he looks at a burned forest. Paragi works with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks. His specialty is the ecology of disturbances to the boreal forest, among...
May 24, 2016
While boating down the Yukon River during the hottest summer recorded in Alaska (1915, when Fort Yukon reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit), missionary Hudson Stuck wrote about the wildlife that most bothered his party. “With the failure of a little breeze and the overcasting of the sky, the weather grows oppressively sultry and a swarm of horse-flies, or moose-flies as they are called in these parts...
May 19, 2016
Larger than West Virginia, the Kenai Peninsula has the best of Alaska: coastal rainforests, two icefields, majestic deepwater fiords and a sapphire river home to the largest king salmon ever caught. It also has some of the best-documented changes of any geographic feature in Alaska, enough that a biologist now sees the peninsula evolving into a human-driven system. John Morton of the Kenai...
May 12, 2016
When botanist Janet Jorgenson first visited a patch of tundra east of Kaktovik in 1988, it was flat, dry and thick with 29 species of lichens and mosses. Now, Tapkaurak is wet, gullied and fragrant with sedges and grasses. And, like other parts of Alaska's North Slope, it is a few feet farther from the clouds. Tapkaurak is part of what might be an arctic-wide thawing, draining and settling of the...
May 5, 2016
CIRCLE — As the pilot of a chartered Cessna 206 curved in for a landing above the Yukon River, his passengers squinted at white river ice that clung to the south bank near town. Chocolate brown open water filled river channels both upstream and downstream of the ice. In the seat behind the pilot, Ed Plumb of the National Weather Service scribbled in a notebook. Kerry Seifert of Alaska's Division...
April 28, 2016
NEAR BALLAINE LAKE — Over the blat of engines and hum of tires on nearby Farmers Loop, Mark Spangler hears the chuckles of the animal he is studying. Male wood frogs in a one-acre pond on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks are singing a song of spring. The mating calls of several frogs ring off the eardrum. It's a piercing noise created by air in the inflated cheeks of a creature...
April 21, 2016
NEAR MILLER CREEK — Crouching amid scratchy spruce branches and surrounded by feet of snow, Amir Allam jabs half-frozen soil with the spikey base of a white cylinder. The seismologist twists the 6-pound seismometer to orient it northward. Then he clicks a cable to a magnetic connection on top. "Starting operation," says a tinny voice that sounds like a woman from London. The words come from a...
April 14, 2016
This morning, through the west window, I noticed a flash of white. I looked up from breakfast to see a short-tailed weasel popping from a hole in the snowpack. He was sleek and streamlined and snow-white, except for where his tail looked like he dipped it in black paint. Later, a leggy snowshoe hare bounded away, and then paused nervously. Those sightings inspired a visit to my neighbor, who...
April 7, 2016
A landslide last fall caused a giant wave of the type not seen in Alaska since the storied 1958 event in Lituya Bay. After a period of heavy rains, a mountainside near Tyndall Glacier collapsed into a fiord of Icy Bay on October 17, 2015. The displaced water generated a wave that sheared alders more than 500 feet up on a hillside across from the slide. To put that in perspective, the 2011 tsunami...
March 31, 2016
About 1,000 years ago, Norse explorer Leif Ericson bumped into the New World at Newfoundland. The old world was filling up, with 300,000 people living in the Roman capital of Constantinople. Up here in Alaska, the ancestors of today's coastal Natives were quietly having one of the more successful runs in human history. The Thule people of Alaska's west and north coasts lived a good life for...