Skip to main content

Bogoslof Island is the gray tip of a mountain that pokes from the choppy surface of the Bering Sea. The volcano stands alone just north of the Aleutians, far south of the larger islands of St. George and St. Paul.

Nora Rojek, a biologist at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge based in Homer, once knew Bogoslof well — its screaming seabirds and the roar of waves fizzing at its black sand shores, along with the smell of salt particles suspended in spray.

The Bogoslof Rojek knew recently reinvented itself, quadrupling in size after its latest eruption, which started about Christmastime 2016 and continued until August 2017. What had been a 74-acre island became a 321-acre island.

On her August, 2018, return to Bogoslof, Rojek crinkled her nose at the smell of sulfur. Everyone aboard the refuge ship Tiglax saw steam rising from the gray island. The ashen surface they would be stepping on would be one of the newest landscapes on Earth.

“… read more

Across Alaska and a sliver of western Canada, 280 seismic stations silently do their jobs. Hidden in dark holes drilled into rock in boreal forest, northern tundra and mountaintops, the instruments wait patiently for the next tremor.

 

The EarthScope Transportable Array of seismic monitors is now embedded across Alaska and Canada, adding 196 new stations to existing networks. The stations have spent the past year recording even the smallest earthquakes, sounding out an unprecedented level of detail about Alaska’s rumblings and transmitting that information in real-time.

 

EarthScope, its national office housed at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, is a National Science Foundation program focused on mapping the dynamic geological structure of North America. The Transportable Array is hundreds of seismic stations deployed in a grid; it has leapfrogged its way every two years across swaths of the continent for more than a decade. Now… read more

The frozen cliffs of Drew Point, Alaska, (population zero) are tumbling to the ocean faster than perhaps any other location in the Arctic. The sea has eaten house-size chunks of tundra at a rate of more than 50 feet per year recently.

 

Ben Jones has watched pieces of Alaska’s northern coast disappear since 2003. Then, as a University of Cincinnati researcher, he flew over Drew Point and saw blocks of tundra and frozen soil that had detached from the land and leaned into the sea like capsizing ships.

 

Last week, he and Chris Arp, both of UAF’s Water and Environmental Research Center, snowmachined out to Drew Point in dim winter light. With the landscape now locked up for the long polar night, they went to see if they could gather a deeper plug of soil from a chunk of land that had fallen into the ocean in summer 2018.

 

They wanted to find out if salty, unfrozen soil at its base might have something to do with why the 20-foot cliffs at… 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

For the past century, official thermometers scattered around Alaska have shown a warming trend. Most of the trusted weather stations are in river valleys; Gulkana, at 1,300 feet, is the high point of Alaska’s 21 “first order” weather stations, some of which have been running for a century.

 

But what about the weather up high? A scientist recently found evidence for even greater warming within the snows of Mount Hunter, sampled at a 13,000-foot saddle. Mount Hunter shoulders up next to Denali and Mount Foraker in Denali National Park.

 

In 2013, Dom Winski of Dartmouth College spent a few weeks living on Mount Hunter’s high plateau. He and a team from Dartmouth, the University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire twisted a hollow drill bit into ice and snow on top of the mountain. 

 

That summer they pulled out two cores of snow and ice, each in segments that added up to more than 600 feet. They transported all that ice back to a… read more

For the past century, official thermometers scattered around Alaska have shown a warming trend. Most of the trusted weather stations are in river valleys; Gulkana, at 1,300 feet, is the high point of Alaska’s 21 “first order” weather stations, some of which have been running for a century.

 

But what about the weather up high? A scientist recently found evidence for even greater warming within the snows of Mount Hunter, sampled at a 13,000-foot saddle. Mount Hunter shoulders up next to Denali and Mount Foraker in Denali National Park.

 

In 2013, Dom Winski of Dartmouth College spent a few weeks living on Mount Hunter’s high plateau. He and a team from Dartmouth, the University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire twisted a hollow drill bit into ice and snow on top of the mountain. 

 

That summer they pulled out two cores of snow and ice, each in segments that added up to more than 600 feet. They transported all that ice back to a… 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

May 11, 2017

In the early going of my second hike across Alaska along the route of the Trans-Alaska pipeline, I chose to walk the highway rather than the pipe's route to get up Thompson Pass north of Valdez. The road added six miles to our day. But I tried the pipe route up the pass 20 years ago and it was like trying to climb a 90-meter ski jump.

Most of my mileage so far on this trip has been on the shoulder of the Richardson Highway. The pipeline pad here in the mountains is still deep with punchy snow. You'd think a guy would have checked that out before starting.

The road, surprisingly, is quite pleasant. Cora doesn't seem to mind being leashed. And only about 10 cars and trucks pass us each hour. Is Alaska becoming the land gone lonesome, with people headed down the Alaska Highway and moving out? I've seen a good number of U-Hauls. Or is it not Memorial Day yet?

If the people are still on their way in, the birds have beat… read more

December 16, 2015

U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps give you a choice on the height of Mount Isto. Depending on what map scale you choose, the mountain in the Brooks Range is either higher or lower than 9,000 feet.

Using a new combination of techniques, an Alaska researcher has crowned Mt. Isto the highest peak in America's arctic, unseating longtime presumed champion Mt. Chamberlain, listed at 9,020 feet.

That scientist, UAF's Matt Nolan, spoke Dec. 16 at the 2015 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The Fairbanks resident is one of about 25,000 researchers gathering at the Moscone Center from Dec. 14-18.

Nolan has spent many hours in the Brooks Range staring at white pyramid peaks from his camps on McCall Glacier, which he has studied since 2003. About five years ago, adventurer Kit Deslauriers was waiting at the Coyote Air compound in Coldfoot for a trip in to ski the highest peak in America's… read more