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Fifteen miles inland from the frozen coast of the Arctic Ocean, Teshekpuk Lake is one of the largest freshwater bodies in Alaska. On its northern shoreline are sandy bluffs that hold fossils of walrus, ringed seals and beluga. Thousands of years ago, this shore was an ocean beach.

 

Digging into that beach in the middle of the tundra, a Fairbanks researcher has found evidence for what she describes as a “rogue ice sheet that isn’t on the map.”

 

Louise Farquharson wrote about that ice mass in a 2018 issue of the journal Geology. She describes something not currently in textbooks — a floating ice shelf that covered the Arctic Ocean and rammed into the coastline of northern Alaska about 80,000 years ago.

 

The first clues to the phantom ice cap emerged when Farquharson, a postdoctoral researcher at UAF’s Geophysical Institute, visited UAF’s Ben Jones at a research cabin he has restored and maintained on the northern shore of… read more

It’s midsummer, a good time to slip a canoe onto the Yukon River.

 

I start at the river town of Eagle, population 85, and will finish in Circle, population 104. Circle is about 170 twisting miles downriver. 

 

The Yukon is the longest and highest-volume river by far in Alaska. It is the third-longest in the U.S., after the Mississippi and the Missouri. At Eagle, the Yukon quietly piles into Eagle Bluff and turns northward. It is smooth, dimpled with gentle whirlpools and more than one-quarter mile wide. 

 

Eagle, Alaska, is a few hundred miles into the Yukon’s 2,000-mile run from its origin in high places of northwest Canada to the Bering Sea. 

 

The Yukon at Eagle in mid-summer carries about 180,000 cubic feet of water each second past Belle Island in front of town. This is down from the Yukon’s peak flow in mid-June, when the big river was receiving the last of winter’s snowmelt and a good pulse of… 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

Of the five species of salmon that swim Alaska waters, the pink is by far the most plentiful. Some scientists think the fish is an overabundant predator that outcompetes other salmon and some seabirds.

 

In the late 1990s, Japanese researchers noticed an intriguing pattern while studying in the Bering Sea just north of the Aleutians. During every odd-numbered year, populations of tiny ocean creatures called copepods were very low. The year after, their numbers were high.

 

Pink salmon eat copepods. And, the Japanese scientists noted, pink salmon are most abundant in odd calendar years. The Japanese scientists postulated that pinks, which have exploded in numbers since the early 1990s, had gobbled up many of the copepods.

 

About a decade ago, biologists Alan Springer and Gus van Vliet noticed a similar pattern among tufted puffins in a well-studied colony on Buldir Island in the Aleutians. The puffins were laying… 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