Alaska Science Forum

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April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
The year is 1905. You are a prospector in Alaska relaxing in your cabin after a chilly day of working the tailings pile. Craving a cup, you pull a tin of coffee off the shelf. Though you can’t imagine it, that distinctive red can, the one you will later use for your precious supply of nails, will long outlive you. And it will give an archaeologist a good idea of when you made a home in Alaska....
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
It's early August, 118 miles from the Arctic Circle. Time for a walk to work. The last time I wrote about hiking through the North Campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, summer was a puppy crashing into your shin. Now it has a white muzzle. I note this maturity while moving through a nice chunk of boreal forest in the mile between my workplace and my home. For a lot of reasons, I...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
Julie Hagelin needed a fake bird. She found one in an unexpected place. The biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is studying the mysterious olive-sided flycatcher, known for its piercing “quick, three beers!” heard above black spruce bogs throughout Alaska. The bird, which weighs as much as a dozen pennies and migrates as far as Bolivia, is declining throughout most of its range...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
On top of an ice body more than two miles thick, Chris Polashenski last summer hoped to find a candy wrapper that might have fallen from Carl Benson’s pocket 60 years ago. As he repeated the Alaska glaciologist’s measurements on the Greenland ice sheet, Polashenski realized that six decades of snowfall, windstorms and glacier movement had wiped out evidence of Benson’s passage. “Carl’s footprints...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
Strontium is a trace element and mineral people use to make glow-in-the-dark paints and toothpaste for sensitive teeth. In research for his college degree, Sean Brennan used strontium’s unique qualities to track salmon in an Alaska river. At Brennan’s Ph.D. defense at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, advisor Matthew Wooller praised Brennan’s ambitious plan and his execution of it up and down...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
Each fall, white-crowned sparrows hop off branches in Alaska and begin journeys toward California, Arizona, New Mexico and west Texas. On their trip of several weeks, flying mostly at night, the tiny songbirds may cut back on their sleep by two-thirds. Scientists in Wisconsin discovered the sparrow’s apparent ability to perform while cutting rest with the help of a few birds captured in Fairbanks...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
Forty-two years ago, an Army helicopter pilot flying over a tundra plateau saw a group of caribou. Thinking something looked weird, he circled for a closer look. The animals, dozens of them, were dead. The pilot reported what he saw to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The caribou, 48 adults and five calves, were lying in a group. The way their carcasses rested showed no signs that the...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
Alaska’s landscape has an unusual feature that allows us to enjoy cheap bananas in the Interior and other things that make life possible in the subarctic. The Nenana River, born on the south side of the Alaska Range, makes a u-turn and flows north through the mountains. With it comes a wide, low corridor that has favored construction of both the Alaska Railroad and the Parks Highway. “Ordinarily...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
A glaciologist once wrote that the number of glaciers in Alaska “is estimated at (greater than) 100,000.” That fuzzy number, perhaps written in passive voice for a reason, might be correct. But it depends upon how you count. Another glaciologist saw an example of the confusion when he visited Yakutat Glacier. Yakutat, near the Alaska town of the same name, is a withering glacier that calves into...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
Slicing through the top quarter of the Alaska map, the Arctic Circle marks the boundary of perpetual light. North of the line, the sun won’t set on summer solstice. But somehow the breezy, treeless tundra of Barrow has a more arctic feel than Fort Yukon, also poleward of the line but home to dense spruce forests and Alaska’s all-time high temperature of 100 degrees. A more “ecologically sound”...