News Archive

September 4, 2014
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...
August 28, 2014
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,”...
August 21, 2014
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...
August 14, 2014
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....
August 7, 2014
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...
July 31, 2014
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...
July 24, 2014
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...
July 17, 2014
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...
July 10, 2014
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...
July 3, 2014
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...