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29 July 2022

This North Carolina boulder carved a satisfying track as it slid downhill, and you can see it with lidar imagery

By Philip S. Prince A few weeks ago, after years of “lidar surfing,” I finally encountered an Appalachian boulder that left clear evidence of its sliding path down a mountainside. Large boulders are common throughout all of topographically rugged Appalachia, but they typically reveal little or no evidence about their paths from upslope sources to their current resting places. This Macon County, North Carolina, boulder is a rare exception, as …

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5 July 2022

Lidar imagery reveals interesting details of debris flow movement in the eastern Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

Lidar imagery provides a way to track downslope material movement of old flows that is otherwise difficult or impossible to see in the field, which is particularly significant in forested Appalachia. This post highlights some interesting debris flow styles and paths now hidden by vegetation in Pisgah National Forest in Transylvania County, North Carolina. The age of these failures is unknown, but they likely occurred in 1916 during an extreme tropical precipitation event in the area.

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5 April 2022

Real sandbox model meets “numerical sandbox” model…an interesting comparison of dry granular media and discrete element simulation

By Philip S. Prince Back in February, I saw several references to the CDEM discrete element modeling tool on Twitter. One of the example simulations reminded me of a “real” sandbox model I made a couple of years ago while experimenting with different material properties. The two results are shown below, with the CDEM example on the left and the real sand model on the right. The CDEM example above …

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8 March 2022

Lidar reveals geologic details of the “worst” coal mine in the Valley of Virginia

Despite its apparently good location, all was not well at the Altoona Mine. Coal seams in the mine were too distorted and mixed with surrounding rock to be easily extracted, leading to its ultimate failure. Early 20th century geologist Marius Campbell addresses this issue at length in the 1925 report The Valley Coal Fields of Virginia, twice calling Altoona’s location “the worst” in the general area and the obvious reason for the mine’s closure.

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14 February 2022

The waddling boulder…a storm-induced trundle* event?

This was (and remains) the first and only boulder I have personally seen that has rolled or tumbled and come to rest recently enough for its track to be visible in the field. I thought the diagonal gouge marks were particularly interesting. For whatever reason, they caused me to visualize a slow, “waddling” rolling style like that of an American football or rugby ball rolling downhill.

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2 February 2022

Fun with ice physics in the cryosphere

By Ned Rozell  A recent winter storm that featured a heavy rainfall caused hardships for many animals of Interior Alaska, but some people found the event fascinating. Two men who live up here and study the cryosphere — the frozen and snow-covered portion of the Earth’s surface — squinted for a closer look at what the storm threw at us. When the snow-rain-snow storm began just after Christmas 2021, Matthew …

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31 January 2022

Midwinter rain-on-snow a game changer

By Ned Rozell A few hours of a December day may affect living things for years to come in the middle of Alaska. On Dec. 26, more than an inch of rain fell over a wide swath of the state. Much of the backcountry of Interior Alaska now has an ice sheet beneath a foot of fluffy snow. With half of the seven-month winter yet to come, things look grim …

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The porcupine’s winter in slow-motion

By Ned Rozell While running through Bicentennial Park in Anchorage, biologist Jessy Coltrane spotted a porcupine in a birch tree. On her runs on days following, she saw it again and again, in good weather and bad. Over time, she knew which Alaska creature she wanted to study. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, how does he do it? How does this animal make it through winter?’” Coltrane said years ago …

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25 January 2022

Two mappings of a folded thrust fault in the Appalachian Valley and Ridge, 100 years apart

These klippen are made even more interesting by the fact that they were mapped and correctly interpreted in 1924. Comparing these maps separated by 98 years and considerable changes in land use, geologic exposure, tectonic understanding, and imaging technology is very interesting to me. The same patterns and structural relationships are obviously present in both to a high level of detail, which is impressive given the much larger scale of the 1924 map project.

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10 January 2022

Is this the steepest river in the Appalachian Mountains?

Topographic superlatives are almost always a bit arbitrary, and comparing river steepness is about as arbitrary as it gets. How long of a stretch of river needs to be considered? How big does a stream need to be in order to be considered a “river?” Since a vertical waterfall is the maximum steepness possible, is the biggest river with a freefalling waterfall the winner? How tall does the waterfall have to be? These questions all have merit…

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4 January 2022

Thirty years on semi-solid ground

By Ned Rozell At the end of this month, Vladimir Romanovsky will retire after 30 years as a professor and permafrost scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute. This comes at a time when people — finally — no longer squint at him with a puzzled look when he mentions what he studies. Permafrost is ground that has remained frozen through the heat of at least two summers. …

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3 December 2021

“Squirrel tail” synclines in the Appalachian Valley and Ridge

I settled on “squirrel tails” because Bartholomew and Lewis’ cross sections of the features reminded me of how a squirrel drapes its tail over its body and head. I am not sure if this is an effective comparison or not, but the overall approach seems to have served humans well when it comes to mentally organizing patterns of stars in the night sky. This structural style came across my radar after I mapped a similar type of structure ~25 miles (40 km) to the southwest, near the town of Max Meadows itself.

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17 November 2021

Another intersection of lidar and 19th-century observations at the Silas McDowell slide, Macon County, North Carolina

McDowell described the slide as a “violent shock” which opened a “chasm” that remained visible for many years after the initial event. The date of the slide is unknown, but it probably occurred during the 1850s.

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2 November 2021

A mid-1800s description of landslide topography meets 21st century lidar at Split Mountain, Haywood County, North Carolina

The “mystery” of Split Mountain specifically refers to episodes of falling rock, formation of lumpy “hillocks” on previously smooth slopes, split and tilted trees, and cracked ground that gave the mountain its name in the mid-19th century. Interestingly, none of the features Clingman described are readily apparent today, allowing the mystery to persist.

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13 July 2021

The peak of summer warmth is near

By Ned Rozell You may not notice it as you scooped fish out of the Copper River or rode your bike through the tawny light of 10 p.m., but Alaska is about to make a left turn toward winter. Much of the state will soon reach the average yearly date when the air won’t get any warmer. In Fairbanks, on July 19 the average daily temperature based on about a …

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1 July 2021

The muskox’s odyssey: From Greenland to Alaska

By Ned Rozell Leaving cloven hoof prints from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, more than 3,500 muskoxen live in Alaska. All of those shaggy, curly-horned beasts came from one group of muskoxen that survived a most remarkable journey in the 1930s. In 1900, no muskoxen existed in Alaska. Though the stocky, weatherproof creatures have survived in the Arctic since the last ice age, the last reports …

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28 May 2021

Bringing the world to a standstill

By Ned Rozell On a fine June day about 100 years ago, in a green mountain valley where the Aleutians stick to the rest of Alaska, the world fell apart. Earthquakes swayed the alders and spruce. A mountain shook, groaned, and collapsed in on itself, its former summit swallowing rock and dust until it became a giant, steaming pit. About six miles away, hot ash began spewing from the ground …

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4 May 2021

Interesting sedimentary basin structures in fold-thrust belt outcrop patterns

By Philip S. Prince Fold-thrust belts developed in sedimentary rock sequences produce interesting and complex patterns on Earth’s surface. These patterns become even more complex and intriguing when the folded and faulted sedimentary layer sequence contains internal structures that pre-date thrust belt development. A particularly outstanding example of this effect is the Talar Syncline of the Makran fold-thrust belt, in which an extensional growth fault depocenter has been folded, uplifted, …

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30 April 2021

The secret life of an Alaska fish

By Ned Rozell In Alaska’s infinite waters swims a handsome, silvery fish. Until recently, we knew little about the Bering cisco, which exists only around Alaska and Siberia. Then a scientist combined his unique life experiences with modern tools to help color in the fish’s life history. Randy Brown is a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Fairbanks. Many years before he started that career, he …

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6 April 2021

White-winged crossbills and yellow snow

By Ned Rozell While out on a springtime snow trail, I recently saw a dozen white-winged crossbills pecking at snow on the side of the trail. When I reached the spot, I saw a yellow stain from where a team of dogs had paused. Last spring, I saw a bunch of crossbills gathered near an outhouse. They were congregated at a communal pee spot in the snow. The birds were …

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