News Archive

March 24, 2016
Ships with no humans aboard have long ridden the seas, often floating with supernatural stories of being piloted by dead crew members or becoming visible to sailors and then vanishing. Alaska has its own ghost ship. Workers for the Hudson Bay Company abandoned the S.S. Baychimo just offshore of Wainwright 85 years ago. Sea ice trapped the 230-foot cargo steamship during an early winter in October...
March 17, 2016
For half the year, Alaska's big rivers provide a somewhat flat surface, allowing travel by snowmachine, dog team, ski, bike, snowshoe and foot. For a few weeks during their spring transition to liquid water, those useful ribbons of ice become a threat to river communities. Massive ice-jam floods happen every few years on Alaska rivers. Some of them are large enough to cause damage more than $80...
March 10, 2016
Last Friday, an email popped up in all the mailboxes of people with the Geophysical Institute: Someone saw what might have been a wolf on the trails north of the UAF campus. "Please be cautious if skiing in the area." A few people responded, saying they had seen one or two coyotes roaming the 1,000-plus acres of trails and frozen wetlands just north of campus buildings and roads. UAF ski trail...
March 3, 2016
For a town of its size (4,300 people), Barrow receives more visits by scientists than anyplace in America. The northernmost community in the U.S. has hosted researchers since Army Lieutenant P. Henry Ray built a polar observatory there in 1882. This different-than-anywhere-else place with fewer people than a one-stoplight town in Texas has attracted scientists from all over the globe. Why?...
February 25, 2016
In anticipation of an arctic science conference happening next month in Fairbanks, an editor asked me to write a column on climate change in the north. I told her climate stability would be the bigger story, since basswood trees used to grow in Fairbanks and redwoods once dropped their cones into the Porcupine River. Climate is always changing. But we have gotten much better at measuring those...
February 18, 2016
The upper Colville River is one of the quietest places on the planet, a land of cliffs and tundra and tangles of willow. Fashion Island is one of the most human-altered landscapes in America, where developers long ago replaced the native vegetation with a Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang's. A female peregrine falcon born in northern Alaska spent at least one of her winters on the 13th floor...
February 11, 2016
Recent research on the ice worm has shone some light on the tiny creature that appears when the sun sets on warmish glaciers. Few people have seen ice worms, but they are not mythical. Wispy and less than one inch long, ice worms live on glaciers, wriggling to the surface at night and sometimes lingering in meltwater pools during the day. They seem to be dormant during the winter. No one knows...
February 4, 2016
Stronger winds and thinner ice are forcing Alaska polar bears to work harder to remain in Alaska, according to scientists who have studied increased movements of both sea ice and bears. "There's an energetic cost to stay in Alaska," said David Douglas of the U.S. Geological Survey Science Center. He and others compared wanderings of polar bears from two periods and found the bears now need to...
January 28, 2016
Millions of people live in dimples on the Earth's surface — often near the ocean, in lowlands between mountain peaks too rugged and cold. One of these global indentations, Cook Inlet Basin, recently showed another characteristic of the planet's basins — they quiver like a bowl of jelly during an earthquake. Many people in Anchorage got rattled during the recent 7.1 earthquake on January 24. Carl...
January 21, 2016
The ice floating on top of the world covers pretty much the entire Arctic Ocean in midwinter. By late summer it shrinks to half that much. If trends continue, by mid-century the summer ice may take up less space than Japan. As the Arctic Ocean becomes more blue, it absorbs much of the sun's heat that it once reflected with great efficiency. This warmer ocean would quicken the melt of the...