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WASHINGTON, D.C. — At this annual gathering of thousands of scientists that has grown in step with the increasing number of people on Earth, researchers at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union again sounded the alarm for a quiet place — the top of the world.

 

At a press conference devoted to the changes in the Arctic, expert panelists spoke of dwindling northern sea ice, its probable connection with severe weather down here, decreasing caribou populations (with a notable exception in Alaska) and the discovery that the Arctic Basin has “a higher concentration of microplastics than anywhere else in the world.”

 

This was the 13th consecutive year of the December release of NOAA’s Arctic Report Card, a series of essays written by scientists.

 

Sea ice, which floats on the Arctic Ocean and is now expanding in sheets during the cold, dark polar night, has always been the leadoff topic of the press conference at AGU’s fall meeting… read more

Stone spear points from Serpentine Hot Springs on the Seward Peninsula hint that ancient people may have migrated northward between ice sheets from warmer parts of America, bringing their technology with them.

 

Heather Smith, an anthropologist at Eastern New Mexico University, wrote a recent paper based on spear-point fragments she and others found near Serpentine Hot Springs during the summers of 2010 and 2011. 

 

In her study, she wrote the stone points represent “either Clovis groups moving north through the ice-free corridor to northern Yukon and Alaska, or the interaction of Clovis groups with humans already present in the northwestern Subarctic and Arctic.”

 

Found only in North and South America, fluted points were part of a famous find near Clovis, New Mexico, that scientists radiocarbon dated to be about 13,000 years old. Anthropologists have found fluted points in several places in Alaska, including near… read more

On a November morning long ago, Jeff and Annette Freymueller were feeling the effects of the 1 a.m. flight that had carried them home, to end-of-the-line Fairbanks. There was no rush to get up on that Saturday 16 years ago. They slept in.

 

As the sky brightened, over sips of coffee the Freymuellers pondered the last few days they had spent in Southern California, where they both grew up. Faculty members at the University of California, Santa Barbara, had flown Jeff down from Alaska for a job interview. He and Annette stayed a few extra days to check out the area.

 

After their return, that sleepy November morning in Fairbanks turned out to be different than the rest. 

 

The ground shook. Their house swayed and creaked. An expert on earthquakes and the eternal creeping of Earth’s plates, Jeff recognized surface waves that were rolling through the boreal forest, and their home.

 

“This is something big… read more

DENALI NATIONAL PARK — When I was 12 years old, I didn’t know permafrost was like frozen lasagna. I didn’t know what permafrost was. I grew up in a small town on the Hudson River in New York.

 

But here is my 12-year-old daughter and her classmates, gathered amid fragrant tundra plants. She is sitting on the T-end of a pointed steel rod, in order to help shove it in the ground. She stops when she feels a gentle thud a few feet down.

 

The frozen ground she reached has survived the heat of the summer, probably many summers. She has hit permafrost, a physical reminder of a time long ago during which frigid air pulled heat from the ground, leaving it hard as a rock deep beneath the surface.

 

Here at the Denali Science School, a three-day program put on by National Park Service rangers and Alaska Geographic instructors, these Fairbanks sixth-graders are learning more about the oversized peninsula on which they live.… read more

Just outside my window here at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, workers are drilling into the asphalt of a parking lot using a truck-mounted rig. They twist a hollow bit 25 feet into the ground and pull up hard, clear evidence of why the blacktop is sinking.

 

A few days ago, John Walsh gave a talk a few hundred steps from that parking lot. Walsh has spent 17 years in Fairbanks studying Arctic climate and learning about the latest physical changes in the far north. He is the chief scientist of the International Arctic Research Center, and an expert on global warming as it applies to the Arctic and subarctic.

 

Back in the parking lot, an engineer guiding the work watches the drillers hit clear discs of ice, about 7 feet below car level. The ice had been solid for centuries, maybe thousands of years, but the construction of a parking lot in the late 1990s is making it shrink. What used to be spruce trees and an insulating carpet… read more

All of a sudden, we are again the land of no night. Summer happens every year, but it is always a surprise. Maybe because winter is the normal state of middle Alaska, with a white ground surface possible from late September until late April.

 

Over the years, I have marked this frenetic, green time by slaving my body clock to the circling sun and trying to stay awake at least once for 24 hours. Races are a convenient way to do this. This year, there was one on the calendar I could not resist.

 

The Alaska Endurance Trail Run is a six-mile loop through my backyard, the North Campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The North Campus is 1,100 acres of boreal forest, cleared fields and a few lakes owned by the university. It’s a rectangle of land with perfect ski trails in the winter and a few semi-dry running and walking loops in the summer.

 

Though we are still a few weeks from our deepest nod toward the sun (… read more

In Alan Weisman’s book, “The World Without Us,” the author ponders “a world from which we all suddenly vanished. Tomorrow.”

In his thought experiment, Weisman travels around the world to explore that question, revealing that cockroaches and bedbugs would not fare well without our sloppiness and warmth, but Theodore Roosevelt’s granite face will stare down from Mount Rushmore for the next 7.2 million years.

Weisman devotes a chapter to buildings, going into detail on their natural, gradual destruction. It all begins with water, Weisman writes, quoting a farmer who said a sure way to destroy a barn is to cut an 18-inch hole in its roof.

Posed with the question of the fate of Alaska structures without us, researchers with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks agreed that the liquid stuff of life is the most powerful agent of demise.

The research center’s Ilya Benesch has witnessed the slow and interesting fade of a mining building in Poorman… read more

“Jeremy offers us only his incessant snoring to remind us that he is a man and not a god.”

So wrote Seth Adams on an Instagram post showing Jeremy Vandermeer striding across a wind-whipped ridge near the frozen headwaters of the Ambler River. Adams is a writer and photographer in Fairbanks who accompanied Vandermeer for a good portion of a recent 500-plus mile ski traverse of Alaska.

Vandermeer is an engineer with the Alaska Center for Energy and Power at UAF. He teamed with Miles Raney, Adams and Bob Gillis in an attempt to ski from Galbraith Lake on the North Slope to Kotzebue on the Chukchi Sea, with much of the Brooks Range between the start and finish.

Gillis returned to Fairbanks from Anaktuvuk Pass and Adams flew back there from the village of Ambler.

Raney and Vandermeer started on April 1 and reached Kotzebue 20 days later. They skied into the windy village on the western coast a fews days ahead of the date they had planned.

Vandermeer is… read more

During the coldest days of the last ice age, the Bering Land Bridge was 1,000 miles wide, a belt buckle the size of Australia that connected North America and Asia.

That mysterious land of green plants, streams and hills persisted for thousands of years, until seas swelling with glacial melt ate it up. All that remains are mountaintops that are now St. Lawrence and other islands, and the outline on maps that shows the continental shelf spreading underwater like pancake batter.

Those who have spent their careers pondering Earth’s not-so-distant past wonder if the land bridge was a good place to live. Genetic information shows native North Americans split from Eurasians about 20,000 years ago. The earliest human sites in Alaska date to about 14,200 years ago. Could people have been living on the land bridge during that gap?

At a seminar at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Nancy Bigelow pointed to a map showing Earth 21,000 years ago. The sites of New York and… read more

Two things happened on top of the world this week. In Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow), on January 22 the sun topped the horizon for the first time since mid-November. 

 

The day before that, January 21, was the first time since Halloween the town’s thermometers recorded a below-normal daily average air temperature.

 

The returning daylight for the continent’s farthest north community is due to a predictable nod of the Earth back toward the Sun. Utqiagvik’s second day of direct sunlight, January 23, featured almost an hour’s increase from the day before. The town will have four hours of daylight by the end of January. By May 11, there will be no night.

 

Just as dramatic are the recent warm autumns and winters in Utqiagvik. While many people worldwide sense their favorite places are changing, residents of Utqiagvik use the past tense.

 

“The term is no longer ‘climate change’ at Utqiagvik. It is ‘climate changed.’ No doubt about it… read more

There are no photographs of bison spilling by the thousands across the Great Plains. By the time cameras came along, most of the bison were gone. John Wright of Fairbanks believes he has an Alaska version of what that photo might have been.

 

His image, 12 slide frames stitched together to show the Brooks Range rising from northern tundra, is papered on a wall of the University of Alaska Museum of the North. 

 

It takes ten steps to walk past the panorama, a vinyl print mounted at eye level just across the hall from Otto, a preserved brown bear that stands six feet tall. 

 

Wright’s image shows purple mountains above the orange-brown flats of northern Alaska. The coastal plain — miles of tundra carpet between the mountains and the ocean — is packed with caribou of the Porcupine herd. The animals resemble tan ants scrambling over treeless hills. Counting them is an intimidating proposition.

 

Wright, 69, was doing just that… read more

NEW ORLEANS — As a child, Deb Long spent many hours at the post office in Ester, Alaska. Her mother Ruth was the postmaster there. As an adult, she has settled into a funky little house that stands on brick legs in the Holy Cross section of New Orleans. She likes to listen to jazz while trimming her banana tree and working on a former wagon house she rents out as an airbnb.

 

After she purchased her New Orleans home following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, she rolled 26 tires out to the street through her wrought-iron gate. During the flood that accompanied that storm, the tires floated in over the fence. The brackish waters also soaked the walls of the house. This made the structure quite affordable when the water receded. Long purchased it because she noted that neighbors seemed to talk with one another there. It felt like home.

 

A few hundred yards south from Long’s house is a grassy hill that leads to the Mississippi River. That manmade, elogated ridge… read more

NEW ORLEANS — At this gathering of thousands scientists at a horseshoe bend of the lower Mississippi River, a few talked about a place far away they have been watching for years.

 

“The Arctic shows no sign of returning to the reliably frozen state it was a decade ago,” said Jeremy Mathis, an oceanographer with the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab in Seattle. 

 

He was one of four scientists presenting the Arctic Report Card for 2017 at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union. More than 20,000 scientists will walk through the doors of the Morial Convention Center during this second week of December.

 

Mathis and others including permafrost expert Vladimir Romanovsky of UAF’s Geophysical Institute shared many scientists’ 2017 observations of the far north during a press conference. 

 

They reported much of the same news they have since NOAA scientists presented the first Arctic Report Card in 2007: The northern cap… read more

Snow falling silently on Alaska’s mountains will in a few months transform into a medium for migrating salmon, and so much more.

 

“That snowflake that falls on the mountain now is water that flows in streams and rivers late in summer,” said Gabe Wolken, a glaciologist who works both for the state and the University of Alaska.

 

Wolken and his colleagues recently added a snow-depth button to a smartphone app that allows anyone to add information about favorite winter landscapes and help scientists in the process.

 

The free app, Mountain Hub, now allows skiers, snowmachiners, mountaineers and others to enter a snow-depth measurement that helps researchers calibrate models of snowmelt and ground truth measurements from aircraft and satellites.

 

In Alaska, figuring how much snowfall will turn into river is a guessing game backed by a few real measurements fed into computer models. In other places, snow… read more

On Halloween 2017, Alaskan Steve Ebbert, 56, retired from his job as an invasive species biologist. His longtime mission of removing arctic foxes and other human-introduced species from the Aleutian Islands has left him with a legacy few of us will match.

 

“There are hundreds of thousands more birds flying around on the planet because of that work. That’s a pretty cool accomplishment,” said Steve Delehanty, manager of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, referring to a program that began in the late 1940s. Ebbert took it over in 1995.

 

Ebbert’s job was to reverse another legacy, that of Russian and American fur trappers who, starting in the late 1700s, dropped off a few pairs of arctic foxes on Aleutian islands. Those foxes, later harvested with their offspring for their fur, ate birds and their eggs, removing birds from some of the richest nesting cliffs and rye grass tangles on Earth.

 

In 1949, Bob “Sea Otter” Jones, a… read more

A few Alaska researchers recently accepted a surprise assignment of giving Jerry Brown a tour of the Seward Peninsula.

 

The California governor was stopping in Nome on his way to a meeting in Russia. The 79-year-old environmentalist and leader of a state that resembles a progressive nation wanted to learn why the far north matters. He had never been to the Arctic or Alaska before.

 

Amy Breen and Bob Bolton were his tour guides and educators. Both work on the Seward Peninsula; Breen is a terrestrial ecologist who works with tundra plants and Bolton is a hydrologist who specializes in the interaction of the peninsula’s frozen ground with its many waterways. Both work at the International Arctic Research Center, part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

 

On Labor Day weekend, Bolton and Breen traveled to Nome. Breen texted her contact with the governor’s traveling party, which had just landed in Nome aboard a jet. Breen indicated she and… read more

In the early 1990s, Janet Collins was hiking in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge when she saw “Camp 163” labeled on her map. Intrigued, she later looked up Camp 163 in Donald Orth’s Dictionary of Alaska Place Names. Her curiosity led her to Ernest Leffingwell, the subject of a biography she has written and Washington State University Press just published.

 

In the early 1900s, Ernest Leffingwell lived for nine summers and six winters in a cabin on Flaxman Island, a wedge of sand off Alaska’s northern coast 58 miles west of Kaktovik. He mapped the coastline there, as well as inland spots like his Camp 163. He was the first person to describe and sketch underground ice wedges. He named the Sadlerochit oil formation that is the reservoir of the Prudhoe Bay oilfield. And he wrote about oil seeps that led government officials to create what is now the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

 

Not many people knew who Ernest Leffingwell was, but a few Alaska… read more

Who is this girl, hair in braids, emerging from the tent with a full backpack?

She is 10 years old, a recent fourth grade graduate, out here with a friend from her class. Within the 20-year-old tent they share, they stay up for hours, chatting and giggling. It is mountain music.

The girl, my daughter Anna, spoke to me a few days ago as I walked beside her.

"I'm never coming out here again to hike the pipeline," she said. "You made a bad decision."

At the time, it was hard to debate with her. Forty mile-per-hour winds shoved us, drilling raindrops into our cheeks. The girl is good at arguing. I tell her she would be a good lawyer, though I hope she does not pursue that line of work.

The two girls, Anna and Salak Crowe, were hiking the path of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline with me, their moms, and my friend Andy Sterns. For nine days, they joined me through the Alaska Range, from Meier's Lake to Black Rapids.

Their 60 miles of trail featured the… read more

More than 700 donors believe in an attempt to recreate the ice age in Siberia. The operators of Pleistocene Park have raised more than $100,000 in a crowdfunding effort to bring bison and yaks to eastern Russia. The creators think the animals will help convert tundra to ancient grasslands that will slow global warming.

 

An Alaska researcher has visited Pleistocene Park five times. He has affection for the directors and an admiration for their lofty mission: "Turning the Arctic into a northern Serengeti and stopping permafrost degradation on a big scale."

 

Colin Edgar is a research technician at UAF who works on devices that measure greenhouse gases wafting from the tundra. He installs, fixes and gathers data from carbon dioxide and methane meters near Toolik Field Station and Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest in Alaska. Until funding fell off, he also traveled on occasion to Pleistocene Park.

 

Edgar's trips from Fairbanks to the North-… read more

On a sunny afternoon in Nome, Jeff Oatley stepped off his fat bike. That day, for the first time since before the Super Bowl, he had nowhere to ride tomorrow.

On March 7, Oatley, with his wife Heather Best (who rode a few hundred miles of choice trail with him), finished a winter bicycle ride from Skagway to Nome.

Despite snowstorms that stalled him on the middle Yukon River for a few days, Oatley averaged 50 miles each day for more than a month. That's like biking on a snowmachine trail from Denver to New York, except with more spruce trees and wolves.

Advances in high-flotation winter bicycles with tires thick as loaves of bread have enabled some impressive feats. On March 26, six fat bikers sped over a hilly 100-mile trail in 10 hours in the White Mountains north of Fairbanks.

But the 47-year-old Fairbanks civil engineer's recent journey stands alone. Not only did he ride the frigid Yukon Quest trail this winter, Oatley also rode most of this year's… read more

By the end of this century, Alaskans may be enjoying tropical evening breezes for about a week each year. That's an increase from the almost zero such nights we currently savor.

 

But it could happen, according to a graduate student who has tightened the grids of computer models to perhaps offer a more detailed glimpse of Alaska's future.

 

A tropical night is one with a low temperature of 68 degrees F or warmer. Right now, even the warmest places in Alaska hardly ever experience this. By the year 2100, the average number of tropical nights at some location in Alaska goes to 6.8. That's according to a computer climate model run by Rick Lader. He is a graduate student at the International Arctic Research Center in Fairbanks.

 

Most global climate models predict the future of ground temperatures and other variables in 60-mile squares. Because of Alaska's mountains and deep valleys that so affect weather and temperatures, Lader customized… read more

Last month, villagers in Savoonga landed a bowhead whale. Before 2017, in every January people can remember, sea ice surrounded St. Lawrence Island, locking it in for the winter. Boat-launching and whale-taking were not possible.

 

Now, the disc of ice chunks floating on the northern oceans is smaller than any recent year except 2010. The Bering Sea west of the Alaska mainland is wide open; satellites show a patch of dark seawater there that was usually ice-covered from 1981 to 2010. A few states could disappear in that swath of blue.

 

Unless you are now eating muktuk in Savoogna, it's hard to pinpoint the effects of less sea ice floating on the northern oceans. But some researchers say the northern ocean — now absorbing so much more heat and reflecting so much less — is affecting weather far from the Arctic.

 

"It's setting up bizarre weather patterns that are happening more often," said Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University Department… read more

Hello old friend.

 

I thought you were dead. Sorry, but remember last year, when you didn't show up? It was the first recorded winter in Fairbanks when the thermometer at the airport didn't register minus 30 Fahrenheit. I didn't know what to think.

 

But here you are, a blob straight from the North Pole, squatting over middle Alaska. No records, but some impressive, dimly remembered numbers. Minus 56 at Tanana. Minus 51 right now at Fairbanks International.

 

From my perch here on the university hill, I can't see the airport. All of Fairbanks has disappeared in a fuzz of white. Remember when Carl Benson drove around town collecting particles of ice fog on plastic sheets, scraping them into a vial with a hard spatula? He wrote a classic paper on the phenomenon that happens at minus 30 or colder, when the air can't hold any more moisture. Exhaust floats behind tailpipes, as if every driver is skywriting. Please! Just keep running till we… read more

T. Neil Davis has died at 84, in his Fairbanks home.

 

The scientist/author/doer was a graduate student and later director at UAF's Geophysical Institute. In the dynamic early days of the place where people study everything from the center of the Earth to the center of the sun, Davis was there: flying over Lituya Bay to see hillsides scarred to 1,700 feet by the tallest splash wave ever recorded. On the ground in Huslia following another giant earthquake that split the trunks of spruce trees. Enlisting half the Geophysical Institute staff to cut a rocket range out of boreal forest in Chatanika. From there, 300 giant sounding rockets have launched. A half dozen more are scheduled to blast off in early 2017.

 

Here are a few words from some friends of Davis.

 

Carla Helfferich, an author, publisher and former employee:

 

"I first met Davis in 1959, when he was first among equals in the hoax- and prank-playing mob of brilliant… read more

YUKON FLATS — Out here, in a smooth plain stretching over Alaska’s wrinkled face, water and tree and mud dissolve to fuzz at each horizon. No hills or bumps. An ocean of sky. An observer once said Yukon Flats looks like a place where God forgot to put something.

 

Garrett Jones and I are camped on a giant island not far from the Yukon River map feature labeled "Halfway Whirlpool." Surrounded by gritty islands of silt and poplars and leafless willows, we are in the center of a river channel more than three miles wide. We feel like ants twitching for a hill to climb.

 

Jones, who owns Arctic River Guides, invited me on a boat trip from the upper Porcupine River to Circle, where his truck is parked. He wanted company on his last river trip before freezeup. For a few shivers, I get to see new country. This thick, twisted braid of river between Fort Yukon and Circle is, to me, the most exotic.

 

Yukon Flats is the largest mud-pie in Alaska:… read more

Rabies is a death sentence for any animal. Experts have wondered how a virus survives when it kills all the creatures it infects.

 

"We don't have a really good answer to that," said UAF's Karsten Hueffer. "It probably has to do with the long incubation time of the virus, which can be months."

 

Hueffer and his colleagues, including four university undergraduate students, wrote a paper on how Alaska's arctic foxes might be the carrier that keeps the disease present all the time in the western part of the state. Red foxes also get infected with rabies and pass it on, but the virus may not endure in their populations. In a future with less arctic foxes and more of the dominant reds, rabies might be on the wane in Alaska.

 

Scientists noted a constant presence of rabies virus in the coastal tundra home of the arctic fox. Interior forests inhabited by only the red fox seem to only have sporadic outbreaks of rabies. The researchers did their… read more

UAF FARM FIELDS — Gliding in with their wings folded like paper airplanes, nine Canada geese drop their paddle feet and prepare to land in a corner of this cleared plain.

 

On this early fall day, the birds could use an air traffic controller. Their landing zone of barley stalks is clogged with the rusty brown bodies of sandhill cranes, strutting like Mick Jagger.

 

The geese flap in and trot to the dirt, joining the cranes and a few other species of goose and duck in this stopover point between summer and winter. In these farm fields that are reminiscent of Wisconsin but feature treeless space rare in Interior Alaska, hundreds of birds are pausing. After a summer on buggy tundra, the birds rest here on one of the first steps of a journey that will take them as far as Mexico.

 

Most of the birds in the fields are cranes, bent over feeding on grains and walking. They are teeming, abundant. With a squint, they look like wildebeests on the… read more

For all the descriptive Alaska place names out there — like the Grand Canyon, the Wall of China and the three Death Valleys — there are some that make you wonder.

Elephant Point is just south of the Arctic Circle on a tundra peninsula north of Buckland. Village residents are at Elephant Point right now, living at their fish camps and catching salmon. Elephant Point was the site of a village where 100 people once lived. It is also where the Lomen brothers of Nome operated a reindeer farm with corrals, a slaughterhouse, cold storage and worker housing.

Neither fishing nor reindeer ranching explains the name, but librarian Judie Triplehorn solved the mystery of Elephant Point with a document she placed on my desk. In it, a writer for the Edinburgh Museum in Scotland in 1829 hailed the arrival of "two tusks of the Mammoth, brought home by Captain Beechey."

Frederick Beechey was an English explorer who sailed all over the world. On one of his trips, he was the first… read more

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 landscape. More than a dozen scientists coauthored a paper on places undergoing similar changes all over the top of the world. They wrote about 11 sites in Alaska, Russia and Canada.

All of the areas were like Tapkaurak, a control site to be compared to a nearby strip of tundra driven on by oil-exploration vehicles. None of them were bulldozed, buried under gravel or otherwise manipulated by people.

"These are not disturbed areas," said Anna Liljedahl of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, first author of the paper in Nature Geoscience. "The only thing that can explain… read more

ST. MATTHEW ISLAND —I’m resting on a mattress of tundra plants that are growing more than 200 miles from the nearest Alaska village. While I have snuck away here to my own private ridgetop, eight other people, all scientists, are somewhere on this 30-mile-long wedge of tundra, rocky beaches, lakes and bird cliffs in the central Bering Sea. We nine make up the entire human population of the island.

On our 25-hour boat ride here from St. Paul Island aboard the 120-foot Tiglax, Steve Delehanty, manager of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, pointed out that more people climb Mount Everest each year than walk on St. Matthew. There is one main reason.

“It’s hard to get to,” he said.

Sheer distance has saved this place from fur trapping, mining, oil drilling, airstrip building and other endeavors that leave a mark. A moist climate good for decomposition is also allowing St. Matthew to outlast an occupation by the U.S. military in World War II.

read more

As a river eats its way into Newtok, Alaska, residents are planning their moves to a new village site 12 miles away. One family will move into a house on skis with the ability to migrate as needed with self-contained water and electrical systems.

In his dozen visits to Newtok, a village of about 354 people 100 miles west of Bethel, Aaron Cooke has seen why the villagers have voted to move.

"In the seven or eight years I've been visiting there, I’ve seen football fields that have fallen away," said Cooke, an architect for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks.

The Ninglick River claims an average of 57 linear feet of Newtok's land each year. If that loss continues, houses will fall into the water as soon as two years from now.

That prompted a call from a member of the Newtok Village Council to Cooke, who had worked on prototype energy-efficient housing for another village in the Kuskokwim River Delta. The people in Newtok had heard of his… read more

Eight summers ago, a bolt of lightning struck a dry tundra hillside in northern Alaska. Fanned by a warm wind that curled over the Brooks Range, the Anaktuvuk River fire burned for three months, leaving a scar visible from the International Space Station. The charred area was larger than Cape Cod.

While northern Alaska's treeless terrain has not seen a repeat of the largest tundra fire in modern times, researchers have kept their eyes on the Anaktuvuk River site. They watched green plants return in great number. Zooming out a bit, they watched the smooth face of the landscape is become pocked with thaw-pits.

The development of what scientists call thermokarst happens often in the northern boreal forest after a fire vaporizes moss and other ground cover. In a new study, Ben Jones of the USGS Alaska Science Center looked at what happens when a big fire happens north of the tree line. He and his coauthors, including pilot and glaciologist Chris Larsen of the Geophysical… read more

This is not Henry Allen's Tanana River. Nor is it the Trail River of people living here thousands of years before the nineteenth-century government explorer struggled his way down the Tanana. But it seems close.

I'm on a family trip down the wide brown river, starting where it arcs from the mountains to Fairbanks. Wife, daughter, dog and I will float the river 150 miles to the town of Manley Hot Springs, where our car is waiting.

When viewed from a hillside or a plane, the Tanana looks like the giant it is: a tan python slithering around wooded islands.

Here on the surface as we launch from near the ghost town of Chena, the river is glassy and gentle. It is also milky with powdered mountain from Alaska Range glaciers. The suspended minerals make the canoe hiss. U.S. Geological Survey scientists once estimated that the river carried six million pounds of sediment each hour past Fairbanks, and that half of the Yukon River's load of liquid dirt comes from the… read more

In a gorgeous warm May this year, we have not yet sniffed the bitter scent of flaming spruce. When we do, many of us will think back to a year that still haunts us.

In summer 2004, a Vermont-sized patch of Alaska burned in wildfires. That hazy summer was the most extreme fire year in the half century people have kept score.

Here's how it happened.

May 2004 was warmer than average in the Interior, ground zero for Alaska’s fires because of its heat and abundance of black spruce, which a firefighter once described as “gasoline on a stick.”

But that May was also wetter. Fairbanks received 2 inches of rain, more than three times normal and still the rainiest May on record.

The first hint of something unusual came May 31. On that day, the Alaska Lightning Detection System recorded 7,876 lightning strikes. Peppered from the Kobuk River to the upper Yukon, the lightning was the highest total ever recorded for a single day in May.

All that… read more

Fairbanks's air turns bitter every winter as we fill it with woodsmoke and other things, but just down the road Denali National Park has the clearest air measured among America's monitored national parks.

 

Scientists at Colorado State University have taken a close look at Denali air as captured near the park entrance. A monitor there pulls air through a set of four filters, getting samples every third day. A park employee then mails the filters to the Lower 48.

 

Postdoctoral fellow Qijing Bian and her advisor Sonia Kreidenweis studied the particles less than 2.5 micrometers in size trapped at the Denali station from 1988 to… read more

As pungent eucalyptus trees soaked up inches of California rain, a few researchers inside San Francisco’s Moscone Center spoke of the treeless third of Alaska at the 2014 fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. The annual gathering of Earth and space scientists attracted more than 20,000 of them to San Francisco in late December.

Alaska’s tundra landscapes carpet a good portion of the state, from the North Slope to the elbow of the Alaska Peninsula. Tundra is a gathering of hardy shrubs, sedges, grasses, mosses and lichen that live in knee-high communities above soil frozen hard as concrete.

Kimberly DeGrandpre spent the last two summers amid the small plants of the Seward Peninsula and Yukon River Delta. She visited villages that are just a few feet above sea level to measure how much the land is rising or falling. DeGrandpre, a graduate student with UAF’s Geophysical Institute, set up GPS receivers near villages and let them run for at least three days.… read more

Jim Beget spends much of his time digging for clues from long ago, like when a volcanic island might have collapsed into the sea, sending giant waves to distant shores. He will soon engage in debate on a contemporary question: before carbon dioxide makes the world unlivable, what can we do about it?

In December, the UAF geologist/volcanologist will tack a poster in a San Francisco meeting hall amid the crashing surf of a thousand conversations. To educated passersby at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, he will explain his idea of capturing a greenhouse gas and raining it out over the coldest place on Earth.

"I'm a little nervous about it but I want to present it," he said.

Beget's idea is an example of geoengineering: using manmade solutions to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the 30-mile shell of gases around Earth. Accelerating levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are a frequent topic at the conference. Al Gore and climate scientist… read more

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 Park Service, has been trying to untangle the mystery of the Windfall Mountain Fire that burns above the Tatonduk River. She is one of few people to set foot on the warm flank of the mountain.

Stromquist and other professionals looked at geologic maps of the area and guessed the mountain might have a base of flammable oil shale that would explain the smoking. She grabbed a few samples of rock during a two-hour trip to the mountain in a helicopter.

"The pilot was worried about clouds of sulfur dioxide, and so was I," Stromquist said. "It was hot and steamy and… read more

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” definition of the Arctic is any area with an average July temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Alex Huryn and John Hobbie wrote this in their book, Land of Extremes: A Natural History of the Arctic North Slope of Alaska.

While that definition applies to Adak, Shemya, Wales and a few other cool places south of the circle and excludes Umiat (with a long-term July temperature average of 54.7 degrees), it includes most other towns and villages in what most people consider Alaska’s Arctic. When plotted as a line, that temperature standard somewhat marks the… read more

Just over the hill from Fairbanks is a broad, swampy lowland pocked with lakes and sliced by crooked brown streams. You could hide Anchorage in Minto Flats, home to more moose, beavers and northern pike than people.

The spongy surface of the flats is good for a few things: making mosquitoes and hiding the effects of frequent earthquakes. Seismologists can’t see any giant rips on the self-healing surface, but they know from how the earth shakes that two long faults lurk deep beneath the muskeg.

Scientists are so interested in the fault zone (which produces many of the shakes we feel in Fairbanks) that four of them embarked on a raft trip last August. For a few days, they floated into the heart of one of the largest geologic basins in Alaska.

Carl Tape is a seismologist at the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Along with State Seismologist Michael West, seismologist Matt Gardine and graduate student Celso Alvizuri, Tape shoved a blue… read more

TOOLIK FIELD STATION -- After 800-plus miles by snowmachine and three weeks of working in the same clothes, it’s time to pack our duffel bags, stuff them into a barrel and set them on fire.

Just kidding about the burn barrel, but three lake studiers and I returned last night to the slushy snow of Toolik Lake, where I got my machine stuck 50 yards from the sauna. There, the boys unrolled the tow ropes and rescued me one last time.

Thanks for that to Ben Jones of the US Geological Survey Science Center in Anchorage, who invited me on this arctic adventure, Guido Grosse of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany and Chris Arp of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Water and Environmental Research Center.

We seem to have broken the back of winter -- the four of us left this research camp in a biting wind and returned to newly emerged ground squirrels playing grab-tail. There are also many more humans here at Toolik now, including squirrel studiers from UAF and a… read more

TESHEKPUK LAKE -- Suspended in glass on the oil stove, the coffee leans south, as if the giant lake has a gravitational pull. Though Ben Jones has leveled this cabin before, he sees a useful function in the current slope, caused by thawed permafrost. Any snow blown in during the long winter will drain through the door when the warm air comes, he figures.

Jones sees most coffee pots as half full, I have observed. The geographer/interested-in-everything scientist with whom I’ve been traveling for the past two weeks works at the USGS Alaska Science Center in Anchorage. Here on the northern shore of Teshekpuk Lake, the 35-year-old raised in Cincinnati is at home in a place that couldn’t be more different.

Here on a patchwork of oval-shaped lakes and dry lake beds sprouting tundra, he has created a world of his own making. He calls it the Teshekpuk Lake Observatory (teshekpuklake.com). It consists of this small cabin, half a century old, and a pair of smaller… read more

WEST OF NUIQSUT -- A sick snowmachine awaits rescue here on the snow-covered ice of this boot-shaped lake. After an 85-mile journey from our last stop at Umiat, one of the Ski Doo Skandics sputtered to a crawl a few miles from our intended campsite here.

The loss of one of their essential research tools has not stalled the trio of scientists traversing Alaska’s North Slope to poke shallow holes into its frozen lakes and soil. Thanks to his satellite phone, trip leader Ben Jones of the USGS Alaska Science Center in Anchorage has another machine on its way from Barrow. Two men on snowmachines are sledding it about 150 miles across the great coastal plain to us.

Chris Arp’s broken machine is one of a few not-in-the-game-plan events during the first seven days of this three-week journey across the Big White Empty between the Brooks Range and the Arctic Ocean. The ecologist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Water and Environmental Research Center noticed his… read more

TOOLIK FIELD STATION -- Despite a wind that makes today’s minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit feel like minus 39, a worker at this research camp in blue-white hills north of the Brooks Range has proclaimed this the first day of summer.

Today, the population of Toolik Field Station increases from nine -- five people running the camp, three scientists and me -- to 16. Seven support staff members are making the 10-hour drive north from Fairbanks. Starting tomorrow, Toolik Field Station will be in summer mode until September. During the next few months people will sleep in dorm-style buildings, weatherports and tents as they study ground squirrels, permafrost, plants, fish and other far-north mysteries. At the peak of action here in mid-July, more than 100 scientists will clomp the gravel in rubber boots.

People have pondered things here on the treeless tundra since 1975, when the National Science Foundation funded research on nearby Toolik Lake, a splotch on the map that takes… read more

Cold water the color of iced tea wets the boots of Chris Arp as he yanks a power auger from the hole he just drilled in this quiet lake, a few miles from his office at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

A whiff of sulfur, a sign there’s not much oxygen in this pond born when ancient frozen ground thawed wafts upward as Ben Gaglioti clears slush from the hole with a shovel. Gaglioti, a graduate student and USGS student intern, and Arp, an ecologist with the university’s Water and Environmental Research Center, are on the snow-covered ice here to teach me how to gather water samples.

Starting the week of April 7, bottling lake water will be my duty as I join a caravan of snowmachining scientists on the white plains and foothills north of the Brooks Range. The water samples will end up as far away as Worcester, Mass. at Clark University, in the labs of scientists who want to learn more about arctic lakes, which take up as much space as land in northern Alaska.

read more

It’s mid-February, 118 miles from the Arctic Circle. Time for a walk to work.

The trail through the boreal forest is right outside my door. The North Campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks is 1,100 acres of spruce trees, ski trails, two lakes, an exotic tree plantation and a few dozen subtle research projects. Some are humming, twirling, measuring. Others are stained by leaf litter, falling back to the soil.

On a campus of about 2,250 acres, only 10 percent is roads, parking lots and clusters of buildings. My office and destination is in one of these developed areas called West Ridge. A north-facing window there provides a view of the same forest I see looking south from the kitchen table. The North Campus is quiet enough that if I see any creature except a raven during a morning commute, it’s a surprise.

Some days, like this one, are cold enough that I walk in rather than ski. A trail designated for dog walking offers the straightest line, just more… read more

An expected event in Alaska could affect millions of Americans. Here’s how:

On Thursday, March 27, 2014, a slab of the seafloor larger than human imagination fractures, rumbling beneath the Alaska Peninsula. In several planet-ringing minutes, thousands of years of potential energy releases to become kinetic. A great earthquake occurs right where scientists predicted it would.

The Pacific floor plows beneath Alaska in the region between Kodiak Island and the Shumagin Islands south of Sand Point. A block of sea floor the size of Kodiak Island rises. A bulge in the Pacific Ocean rebounds toward Los Angeles.

Scientists from the National Tsunami Warning Center see the rise and fall of lonely buoys and consult online seismic information and tsunami models. They call disaster-preparedness officials in Los Angeles with two messages: 1. Your city is in the crosshairs of a large tsunami, and 2. It will arrive in four hours.
 
The wave from the magnitude 9.… read more

How big is the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting held in San Francisco every December? So big it’s like everyone from Barrow attending on Monday. The residents of Soldotna get Tuesday, Valdez Wednesday, Nome Thursday and Kotzebue Friday.

More than 21,000 scientists walk through the Moscone Center during the week, along with others, like me, who are curious about what they are presenting.

Thanks again to the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, I filled a notebook with scribbles regarding the far north in December 2013. Here are a few:

By 2050, polar bears may have their summertime sea-ice habitat reduced to the northern Canadian Archipelago and northern Greenland, according to a study by George Durner of the USGS Alaska Science Center in Anchorage. Durner and his collaborators looked at data from the satellite collars of hundreds of polar bears and what it told him about the bears’ favored habitat. He plugged that information… read more

As Gary Carver stepped through the grasses of a treeless Alaska island with an archaeologist friend, he spotted a bleached driftwood log. The log rested on sand about a half mile from the beach and 50 feet above sea level.

Carver, on the island searching out Aleutian mummies for a Discovery Channel program, is an expert on tsunamis. He suspected that only a giant wave could have delivered a 30-foot log that high on uninhabited Sedanka Island, about 15 miles southeast of Dutch Harbor. Then he grabbed his shovel.

Carver, an emeritus professor at Humboldt State University who lives in Kodiak, dug a hole near the driftwood log. He saw in the soil that big waves had soaked the island at regular intervals.

“In the profile were layers of beach-like sand separated by peaty soils,” Carver said in San Francisco at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Carver was one of more than 20,000 scientists who attended the weeklong gathering of Earth and space… read more

SAN FRANCISCO — Last July, while we Alaskans enjoyed another warm day, the surface temperature dropped to minus 135.3 degrees Fahrenheit in an icy trough on a south-facing ridge in western Antarctica.  According to the man who noticed the temperature, Ted Scambos at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., that and another day during Antarctica’s polar night are the coldest surface temperatures yet recorded on Earth.

“It’s more like what you would see on Mars on a summer day,” Scambos said during a press conference here at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union.   Scambos is one of more than 20,000 scientists who will attend the week-long gathering of Earth and space scientists. His subject was apt as the San Francisco area experienced clear skies and what local meteorologists termed a “cold snap,” with low temperatures below freezing and the patchy formation of sidewalk ice, a foreign substance in the Bay Area.

Scambos noticed the… read more

NIKISKI — In a chilly building across Cook Inlet from the white pyramid of Mount Redoubt rest a few dozen plastic-lined cardboard totes filled to the brim with an amber liquid. Each chest-high cube holds about a ton of fish oil extracted this summer from the heads of salmon. It’s a product that would have been lost to the Kenai River if Pat Simpson had not recovered it.

Simpson, 49, is a fisherman-turned-entrepreneur who has for the past few summers purchased salmon heads from fish processors who do business here in this small industrial town north of the Kenai River. Using precision equipment made in Europe, Simpson’s team steams and grinds the heads of pink, chum and red salmon to render a product now available in box stores as 90-count bottles of “Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil” gel tablets.

“We sold all our fish oil the first three years (to companies that put it in capsules and sold it to large retailers),” Simpson said at his Nikiski plant, shut down and unheated for… read more

After she read a column on Alaska bats, Pat Holloway of Fairbanks sent me a photo of a little brown bat that made it into her house this summer. It surprised her, as bats tend to do when they appear in your home. After she stopped shrieking and ushered the bat out through an open screen, she searched her house the point of entry.

In her loft, Holloway saw a screen with a crack at its corner no wider than a pencil. She figures the bat landed on the screen and crawled until it found the slit. It wriggled into her home and gave her “the thrill of (her) summer” by swooping overhead as she was reclined, reading a book on her living room couch.

Joe Page of Talkeetna wrote that bats have roosted in the roof of his house for the past 20 years. Though he likes them, he is ready for the bats to stop cohabitating. In summer, he sometimes hears them rustling in his roof insulation.

“We’ve seen them as late as October 20,” Page wrote in an email. “This leads me to believe… read more

Interested people are needed to participate in a one-year study to assess the effects of long dark winters on the vitamin D and calcium levels of Fairbanks residents.

So began a recruitment poster Meredith Tallas created more than 25 years ago. Now living in California, Tallas was in 1983 a University of Alaska Fairbanks student who wanted to study how levels of a vitamin related to sun exposure fluctuated in people living so far from the equator.

“The most obvious vitamin to study in Alaska is vitamin D, because of the low light in winter,” Tallas said over the phone from her office in Berkeley.

Forty-seven people responded to Tallas’ 1983 request, and her master’s project was underway. By looking at the bloodwork of those Fairbanks residents every month and analyzing their diets, she charted their levels of vitamin D, which our skin magically produces after exposure to a certain amount of sunshine. We also get vitamin D from foods, such as vitamin-D enriched… read more

George Schaller has studied gorillas in Rwanda, lions on the Serengeti, pandas in China, antelope in Tibet, and many other animals in wild places around the planet, but he thinks the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is unique among them. He visited there in 2006 for the first time in half a century.

“On the Sheenjek (River), we climbed the same cliff I climbed in 1956, and looking out there was no difference—no roads, no buildings, no garbage dumps.

“I’m sure there are rain forests in Brazil where you can walk for a few days without seeing people or big changes to the landscape, but sites like (the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) that are ecologically whole are extremely rare.”

Schaller, possibly the most recognized biologist in the world, traveled to Alaska seven summers ago from his home in Connecticut for a trip through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with author Jon Waterman, University of Alaska Fairbanks students Betsy Young and Martin Robards,… read more

Leaning against her Thermarest pad in a helicopter coated with ice, Taryn Lopez imagined herself as the little girl rocking to sleep in her parent’s boat. Just before she drifted off on that early September night, the volcano researcher wondered if the climbing ropes would hold the Jet Ranger to the wind-pounded volcano on the spine of the Alaska Peninsula.

“We weren’t sure if we’d wake up the next morning having moved a couple feet,” she said.

In the back seat of the stranded helicopter, John Paskievitch was confident in his improvised anchors, but had a harder time falling asleep. He couldn’t help thinking of the flying-rock windstorms he had experienced in 25 years of fieldwork in the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. And how most of that extreme weather occurred in places not nearly as exposed as this.

Sleep also eluded pilot Sam Egli of King Salmon as he shifted in his seat at the unfamiliar sensation of being wrapped in a sleeping bag. Egli made the call to stay… read more

While pounding nails on a roof extension for his shed this summer, Scott Rupp heard a roar that almost scared him off the roof. Three planes with bellies full of fire retardant swooped low, then banked over the mountain behind his home.

“I looked up and saw this big smoke cloud,” said the part-time farmer and leader of an organization devoted to studying climate change. “That was my first sense that this was something that was going to personally affect me.”

“This” was one of the largest wildfires in Alaska during the hot summer of 2013. It came close enough to Rupp’s homestead that he felt smoky heat on his face, a sensation that will now be on his mind every time he tweaks a computer model that simulates future fire scenarios in Alaska.

Rupp, 46, leads two lives in his home of interior Alaska. By day, he heads the Scenarios Network for Alaska & Arctic Planning, a group of about 20 scientists and staff who try to predict the future of Alaska climate so… read more

Like a bright yellow contour line painted above the Steese Highway, the Davidson Ditch now reveals itself by the flagging autumn birches and poplars that clog its path.

The 90-mile system of canal, pipeline and tunnel becomes harder to see with each passing day, but the engineering triumph once helped prevent Fairbanks from ghosting out. The 1920s-era aqueduct provided the water needed to float dredges the size of apartment complexes and power hydraulic giants that firehosed water at Tanana River valley hillsides, stripping them to bedrock.

In the early 1900s, migrants from the Klondike gold rush were splashing through every creek around Fairbanks. By 1920, those men had panned much of the near-surface gold, and many were looking to move on to the next action. That’s when a college-educated stampeder saw a way to mine the low-grade deposits with massive machines and more efficiency.

The United States Smelting and Refining Company, a Maine corporation with… read more

Beavers and jet skis surprised four adventurers on their recent attempt to row through the Northwest Passage. Vancouver, British Columbia residents Kevin Vallely, Paul Gleeson, Frank Wolf and Denis Barnett are now back home after the team stopped short of its goal of gliding through the northern waterway on muscle power.

After ever-changing winds stalled their 25-foot rowing pod enough to put them weeks behind schedule, the four men stopped rowing when they reached Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Their original goal was to transit the Northwest Passage from west to east, beginning at Inuvik, Northwest Territories, and finishing at Pond Inlet, Nunavut, on the east coast of Baffin Island. Cambridge Bay is about as far from Pond Inlet as Denver is from Washington, D.C.

“We were way behind schedule after the first month,” Wolf said on the phone from Vancouver just before biking downtown to be interviewed by a CBS News reporter. “Heavy winds didn’t allow us to move very far.”… read more

Forty-six years ago, a ship long as the Empire State Building sailed with intention toward obstacles that captains usually avoid. The icebreaking tanker SS Manhattan was an oil company’s attempt to see if it might be profitable to move new Alaska oil to the East Coast by plowing through the ice-clogged Northwest Passage.

Begging his way aboard was Merritt Helfferich, then 31 and a do-all guy at the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Helfferich heard of Humble Oil and Refining Company executives recruiting a team of Alaska engineers to ride the ship and measure the properties of sea ice it crushed along the way. When the ship’s launch was delayed and other professors needed to teach their fall classes, Helfferich was soon gasping in wonder at a dock in Halifax, Nova Scotia. There, he saw the giant ship he was to ride all the way north to Prudhoe Bay.

The largest ship ever to fly an American flag, the SS Manhattan busted its way north in search… read more

While waiting for the talking to begin in darkened auditoriums, I sometimes scan the room, counting heads. “I’ve interviewed him, and her, and him. And her.”

At last week’s dedication of the Institute of Arctic Biology’s lovely new building on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, I saw more than a dozen people who have appeared in this space since fall 1994 (when I took over this column from Carla Helfferich).

I’ve written a lot of words about these biologists because we still know so little about far-north creatures and how they survive here, and Institute of Arctic Biology people have discovered things we did not know. One example is where chickadees roost during winter (often in tiny holes in birch trees, Susan Sharbaugh found). Another is that our rugged version of Alaska wood frogs can survive colder temperatures than Lower 48 wood frogs, which live as far south as Georgia (Brian Barnes and his physiology class uncovered that one).

Barnes, who also… read more

 A time capsule of satellite imagery of the earth will become available to scientists this month.

On June 28, digital imagery from more than three decades ago will be released by the Alaska Satellite Facility at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, NASA’s processor and distributor for this type of data. The images reveal an unprecedented view of sea ice, waves, forests, glaciers and more.

“It was awesome because I was resurrecting data that nobody has seen in 35 years, pictures of the earth from when I was a child,” said Tom Logan, the software engineer who processed the data.

The NASA Seasat satellite was launched in June 1978 as proof of concept for using satellites to monitor ocean features--like temperatures, wind and waves. Four months later, a major power failure killed the mission. For 35 years much of the imagery was stowed away in filing cabinets.

Now the data has been processed into several thousand unique gray-scale images… read more

BETHEL — Outside the Fly By Café, the ravens are flying backwards. At least they appear to be, as a powerful wind suspends them in time and space.

A brewing ground blizzard in this Southwest Alaska hub is making it difficult for Jack Hébert to get to Atmautluak, a village of less than 300 people here on the flats of the Kuskokwim River Delta. Hébert, president and founder of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks, is travelling to Atmautluak because members of the village’s tribal council called him for advice. The villagers want to both build their own homes and set up their own construction company.

Hébert, along with Aaron Cooke, an architectural designer with the center, want to partner with the people of Atmautluak as they have assisted others in places like Anaktuvuk Pass, Quinhagak, Crooked Creek and Point Lay. In Anaktuvuk, center staffers helped design and build low-cost, fuel-sipping, semi-subterranean houses that meshed with the country and… read more

In almost every patch of boreal forest in Interior Alaska that Glenn Juday has studied since the 1980s, at least one quarter (and as many as one-half) of the aspen, white spruce and birch trees are dead.

“These are mature forest stands that were established 120 to 200 years ago,” said Juday, a professor of forest ecology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences. “Big holes have appeared in the stands.”

At his Dec. 7, 2012 presentation during the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union held in San Francisco, Juday spoke of a “biome shift” now underway in Alaska — the boreal forest is suffering in the Interior and flourishing in western Alaska.

Juday presented his observations of boreal forest trees on remote and road-accessible plots along the Tanana River downstream of Fairbanks and in the White Mountains National Recreation Area. He also included results from tree-coring trips he and his colleagues… read more