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5 May 2017

First steps from Valdez, in the snow

My wife Kristen looked at the Valdez forecast on her phone as we drove to our take-off point. “It says wintery mix of snow and rain the next few days,” she said. “No one likes a wintery mix.”

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28 April 2017

Revisiting a dream, 20 years later

Twenty years ago, I was 34 when I walked away from a chain-link fence near Port Valdez and headed east. Those were the first steps on a summer-long trip across Alaska. In a few days, I will begin to retrace those steps.

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14 April 2017

Pleistocene Park an experiment in adventure

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.

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7 April 2017

Life returning to island destroyed by eruption

Nine years after it erupted, Kasatochi Island is just beginning to resemble its neighbors.

Kasatochi is a speck in the middle of the Aleutian chain between Dutch Harbor and Adak, about 75 miles east of the latter. The volcanic island had no modern history of erupting until August 2008. In a few days that summer, the island changed from the lush green home of a quarter million seabirds to a gray pile of ash.

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31 March 2017

Winter cyclist blazes an 1,800-mile trail

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.

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10 March 2017

Far-north mallards thriving on the edge

With dogs’ breath fogging the 30-below zero air at their knees, 71 Iditarod mushers steamed their way down the frozen Chena River in Fairbanks on March 6. Upstream, just a few miles behind them, 500 ducks were surviving in a one-mile stretch of open water.

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3 March 2017

Far-north lake trout living in mystery

In early March up on the frozen Arctic Coastal Plain, as the wind sculpts snow into drifts, it’s hard to tell northern lakes from surrounding tundra. But lurking deep beneath that flat white world are toothy predators as long as your arm.

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10 February 2017

More tropical nights in Alaska’s future?

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.

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3 February 2017

Lack of sea ice and Lower 48 weather

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.

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1 February 2017

Coal mine dust lowers spectral reflectance of Arctic snow by up to 84 percent, new study finds

Dust released by an active coal mine in Svalbard, Norway reduced the spectral reflectance of nearby snow and ice by up to 84 percent, according to new research.

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24 January 2017

Arctic melt ponds form when meltwater clogs ice pores

When spring comes to the Arctic, the breakup of the cold winter ice sheets starts at the surface with the formation of melt ponds. These pools of melted snow and ice darken the surface of the ice, increasing the amount of solar energy the ice sheet absorbs and accelerating melt. Now, researchers describe in a new study how these melt ponds form, solving a paradoxical mystery of how a pool of water actually sits atop highly porous ice.

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19 January 2017

An open letter to deep Interior cold

But here you are, back in Fairbanks, far from the dulling effects of the (relatively) warm ocean. There’s no buffer between us and the Neptune-like top of the winter world but a mountain range, skimpy boreal forest and tundra plants covered with snow. And in you came.

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18 January 2017

Ice-free summers in Arctic Ocean could thwart Paris Agreement objectives

A new study shows melting sea ice in the Arctic Ocean could put at risk the objectives of the Paris Agreement to address climate change. The study’s authors conclude that, due to the future increase in the sea ice-albedo feedback, global carbon dioxide emission levels would need to reach zero five to 15 years earlier than expected to meet targets set by the agreement, substantially increasing mitigation costs.

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6 January 2017

Collapsing Arctic coastlines

In a paper just published in Nature Climate Change, Michael Fritz and colleagues have highlighted the environmental impacts of collapsing Arctic coastlines.

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5 January 2017

Bringing the world to a standstill

During an eruption that lasted three days in 1912, a vibrant landscape became the gray badlands known as the Valley of 10,000 Smokes.

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15 December 2016

Tales of frozen water, from San Francisco

Dozens of the 22,000 scientists gathering here for the week are talking about ice, mostly about how much of it is disappearing, and how quickly that is happening.

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21 November 2016

Between the Trees and the Tundra

In Alaska, trees growing at the very edge of their northern range may be influenced by warming climate. Will they eventually take over the tundra beyond?

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18 November 2016

Alaska Taking Shape Near Yakutat

The relentless advance of Hubbard Glacier takes center stage in Yakutat, but the area surrounding the town is one of the world’s great examples of geology in action.

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4 November 2016

Should birds stay, or should they go?

One of the many tools birds use to migrate — besides the metal bits in their heads that help them sense Earth’s magnetism — is their ability to use infrasound. Infrasound consists of frequencies too low for us to hear. The aurora, volcanoes, underground nuclear detonations, and stormy seas emit infrasound waves. “Birds flying over the Rockies can hear the surf of both the Atlantic and Pacific,” Sharbaugh said.

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14 October 2016

Ghost towns scattered across Alaska map

During our 200-mile trip down the Porcupine’s length in Alaska, we saw no current villages, just the remains of a dozen former ones. That got me wondering about one of my favorite Alaska subjects. Do we have more than our share of ghost towns?

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