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29 July 2022

A high-country Eden for sockeye salmon

In late summer, a few months before this mossy valley will feel the sting of 40-below air, bright red salmon dart through a crystal-clear pool amid fragrant green vegetation. The Gulkana Hatchery has a Garden-of-Eden feel, which is fitting since millions of sockeye salmon begin life here each year.

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7 July 2022

A half century in a difficult, dynamic place

Dan Mann hands me a clump of orange dirt the size of an almond. He instructs me to put it in my mouth.
“What’s it taste like? Does it crunch? Ash crunches because there’s glass fragments in it.”
“It crunches.”
“It’s from Mount Edgecumbe,” he says, referring to a volcano 100 miles away, near Sitka. “From an eruption 13,000 years ago.”

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5 July 2022

Salmon nose deep into Alaska ecosystems

A salmon head at its final resting place on the upper Chena River, one of the most important birth streams for Chinook salmon. Photo by Ned Rozell. That’s the finding of scientists who study Alaska streams and rivers that are teeming with salmon.

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29 June 2022

Bonsai trees tell of winters long past

“These are museum-class bonsais,” Ben Gaglioti says as we walk through an elfin forest. Gaglioti, a University of Alaska Fairbanks ecologist, has led me into another landscape I have never seen in Alaska. This terrace of spongy ground above the rainforest is home to trees that Dr. Seuss might have dreamed up.

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22 June 2022

Rugged science on the Southeast coast

To the woman wearing earbuds and sitting next to me in seat 7E: I’m sorry; I did not get to shower before boarding the plane after 12 days of accompanying four scientists in the hills north of Lituya Bay. I will try to keep my arms pinned to my side and lean toward the window.

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19 May 2022

Wading into the icy Yukon River for science

Snow geese flew in a ragged V overhead, rasping as they looked down upon Alaska’s bumpy face for the first time in 2022. Nine hundred feet below, the Yukon River flowed by quietly, except for the dull thuds of icebergs skidding along the river bottom near the shore. Sensing a break in the ice traffic, U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Heather Best — wearing chest waders with a hole she would soon discover — stepped into the river.

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22 April 2022

His 48th summer on top of the world

This June, George Divoky will refurbish a cabin that sits on a lonely gravel island north of Alaska. He was not planning a remodel this year. Sometime during the winter, a polar bear tore through a plywood wall of the cabin Divoky moved 20 years ago to Cooper Island.

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11 April 2022

Live-trapping lynx in the far north

Knut Kielland, a professor with UAF’s Department of Biology and Wildlife, used to trap lynx for their fur. Here, he has captured this 22-pound female lynx as part of an Alaska-wide project he leads to better understand the ecology of the animal.

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31 March 2022

Happenings north of the Arctic Circle

Though the calendar calls it springtime, the thermometer on the truck reads minus 28 F on this sunny morning a few days past spring equinox. I am riding shotgun with Knut Kielland, an ecologist at the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He has invited me to join him for a week north of the Arctic Circle — 66.6 degrees north latitude, about 150 miles from Fairbanks.

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4 February 2022

Caribou cams give insight into secret lives

Caribou wearing cameras around their necks have filmed a secret world of mushroom nibbling, desperate head-shaking during bug episodes, and nuzzling of wet newborns seconds after they fall to the tundra.

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31 January 2022

Thirty years on semi-solid ground

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.

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18 November 2021

Listening to the voices of killer whales

Hannah Myers has listened to many hours of orca calls in the Gulf of Alaska. The University of Alaska Fairbanks graduate student often knows a killer whale’s family group after hearing just a few syllables of its call.

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11 November 2021

Blown back to Alaska, bird perseveres

A bar-tailed godwit recently arrived in New Zealand on its second attempt to get there from Alaska, after a storm had blasted it back north. Keith Woodley of the Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre on the North Island of New Zealand reported that a male godwit carrying a satellite transmitter first left the mudflats near the Kuskokwim River on Sept. 11, 2021.

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1 October 2021

Fluorescent bill may be seabird’s neon sign

The crested auklet looks like a smiling clown that never blinks. It is probably the only seabird that smells like a tangerine. Its beak — the color of a tangerine — is so bright a scientist thinks it may be fluorescent.

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17 September 2021

Setting traps to catch an Alaska virus

On this crisp, cool fall day in 2021, this trapper — who lives in Atlanta and works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — hunts for a virus that was unknown to humans until 2015. That’s when a Fairbanks doctor examined a lesion on a woman’s shoulder.

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12 August 2021

Pine grove near Yakutat is farthest north

We were on the Yakutat Forelands — a sweep of forested lowlands left behind after glaciers retreated from the landscape hundreds of years ago. Taking steps that felt like walking on a trampoline, we moved through a pine grove in a few-acre spread of open green muskeg.

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The closest people to an 8.2 earthquake

What if the country’s largest earthquake in the last half century happened as you were getting ready for bed in the only cabin on a tiny island in the North Pacific. What if the epicenter was just 50 miles away?

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15 July 2021

Visit to glacier begins with wildlife encounter

We heard a loud buzz. A hummingbird hovered in front of my cracker. As I held still, the hummingbird probed the peanut butter, twice, with its needle beak. The cracker transferred the vibration to my left hand, tickling my fingers. As the bird zoomed off, I looked over at Ben to confirm the experience.
“I think you have superpowers now,” he said.

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22 June 2021

Low-displacement landslides explain unusual West Virginia landscape features visible in lidar imagery

Like so many older landslides in the Appalachians, the significance and cause of these features is unknown. Because they are so numerous and are only visible using lidar data acquired in 2016, they may represent an untapped resource of useful information about the recent history of Appalachian landscapes.

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17 June 2021

Visit to an exotic tree plantation in Alaska

In 1964, just after Lyndon Johnson swore the oath to follow John F. Kennedy, Alaska forester Les Viereck and others planted tree seedlings at the north end of this old farm field.

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