Alaska Science Forum

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April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
A smoking mountain near the Yukon River not far from Eagle is, after further study, still a puzzle. People first noticed acrid smoke in September 2012. The mountain has been steaming ever since, even through the coldest days of winter. Scientists thought a likely cause for the smoldering mountaintop was an oily rock deposit that somehow caught fire. Linda Stromquist, a geologist for the National...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
One foggy day on St. Paul Island, a woolly mammoth stepped onto a trapdoor of greenery. It plunged thirty feet to the floor of a cave. There was no exit. A few thousand years later, a scientist who descended by ladder found the mammoth's tooth amid the bones of other mammoths, polar bears, caribou, reindeer and arctic foxes. Radiocarbon dating showed the mammoth died about 6,500 years ago....
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
During our planet's most recent cold period, a slab of ice smothered Manhattan. Canada looked like Antarctica but with no protruding mountains. When the last glacial maximum peaked about 20,000 years ago, most of the continent — from the Arctic Ocean to the Missouri River — slept under a blanket of white. Alaska was different. Anchorage and the rest of Southcentral, Southeast, and the Alaska...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
MINTO — Sarah Silas, 89, smiled as she remembered an earthquake that shook her village more than 60 years ago. The floor of her cabin swayed so that her young son staggered away from her. "My three-year old boy was laughing," she said inside her log cabin, its front door open to warm air on a golden day. "The ground was moving so much I couldn't even reach my little son....
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
Will Lentz, a reader from Fairbanks, asks a question that flares every fall: why do some aspens turn red? A few scientists from Fort Collins, Colorado, pondered that subject in the late 1970s. Curious about red aspen trees people had noticed for half a century, they studied why these existed amid those with the more common leaf color, yellow. Before getting to the scientists' results, a...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
One hundred years ago, a group of men sailed to the northern coast of Alaska to find a land mass rumored to protrude from the Arctic Ocean. They did not find the land. After wintering in the north everyone hurried back to warmer places. Except for Ernest Leffingwell. Leffingwell, a geologist, teacher, and a veteran of the Spanish-American War, stayed behind on Flaxman Island, a sandy wedge of...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
Some biologists hang from ropes to study birds. Many rise painfully early in the morning. Stacia Backensto disguised herself as a man. At the time, Backensto worked in the oilfields on Alaska’s North Slope. Her study subject was ravens, and she took to wearing a moustache because they seemed to recognize her as she roamed the industrial landscape. “All of the adults I’ve tagged remember me,”...
April 13, 2015
By
Ned Rozell
Bears have the right idea. Don’t fight the cold; just shut ‘er down for six months and emerge when it’s warmer. Why didn’t we think of that? For one thing, our bones would wither. We’d all get osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become more fragile. Bears don’t get osteoporosis, even though they hibernate for more than half the year in Alaska. What might we learn from this? Seth Donahue of...
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...