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14 July 2022

110 years since the largest Alaska eruption

To put the largest eruption in Alaska’s written history in context, Robert Griggs pondered what might have happened if the volcano that erupted in summer of 1912 was located on Manhattan Island rather than the Alaska Peninsula. “In such a catastrophe all of Greater New York would be buried under ten to fifteen feet of ash and subjected to unknown horrors from hot gases….”

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10 December 2021

Elephant Point and trees growing on ice

Librarian Judie Triplehorn solved the mystery of Elephant Point with a yellowed document she placed on my desk. In it, a writer for the Edinburgh Museum in Scotland in 1829 hailed the arrival of “two tusks of the Mammoth, brought home by Captain Beechey.”

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29 October 2021

Bus 142 to embark on final journey

“The bus is a touchstone for many things Alaskan: wilderness, exploration, personal discovery, survival,” said Patrick Druckenmiller, director of the museum. “It evokes very strong emotions. It’s exactly for these reasons that the museum is an ideal place to display the bus.”

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28 May 2021

Alaska writer awarded an honorary degree

In “The Firecracker Boys,” Dan O’Neill explored “a piece of university history most people were happy to move on from.” He detailed a UAF president’s support of a 1950s Atomic Energy Commission proposal to create a harbor with nuclear detonations not far from the village of Point Hope.

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4 March 2021

Finding the great earthquake of 1900

The largest earthquake on the planet for the year 1900 happened somewhere near Kodiak, Alaska, on Oct. 9. Scientists know it was big, but how big? And could it happen again?

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6 November 2020

Goodbye to a raffish glacier scientist

Will Harrison, who knew the world’s bumpy plains of ice as well as his old neighborhood in Saint John, New Brunswick, has died. He was 84. From his arrival at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in January 1972, the Canada-born Harrison mapped out and executed studies of glaciers from Antarctica to Greenland. He and his charges measured and reported great changes before they became obvious.

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20 September 2019

This is an ex-eruption!

Recently, as chronicled in Scientific American, I was involved with amending the eruptive record at California’s Mount Shasta to remove an eruption that was supposedly seen by a French mapping expedition in 1786. USGS researchers had already been puzzling over it for years – evidence was slim, since the area was already prone to forest fires and there was nothing in the geologic record to suggest that it happened. William …

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16 July 2019

The thin line between Alaska and Canada

The boundary between Alaska and Canada is 1,538 miles long. The line is obvious in some places, such as the Yukon River valley, where crews have cut a straight line through forest on the 141st Meridian. The boundary is invisible in other areas, such as the summit of 18,008-foot Mt. St. Elias.

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7 June 2019

The sound of silence in Russell Fjord

Standing on this smooth gravel shoreline, 15 miles
northeast of the town of Yakutat, you can tell something big happened.
A forest of dead trees encircles the shoreline.

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21 May 2019

The man who broke through the Northwest Passage

Fifty years ago, a ship long as the Empire State Building sailed toward obstacles that captains usually avoid….Begging his way aboard was Merritt Helfferich, then 31 and a do-all guy at the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Helfferich, whose life of adventures also included the first hot-air balloon flight from Barrow, Alaska, died in New Mexico on May 2, 2019. He was 83.

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17 April 2019

Innoko is a long river short on people

A quick comparison of two great rivers in America: One, the Wabash, runs 503 miles through Indiana, flowing past 4 million people on its journey to the Ohio River. The other, the Innoko, slugs its way 500 miles through low hills and muskeg bogs in west-central Alaska to reach the Yukon. About 80 people live on the Innoko, all of them in the village of Shageluk.

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9 April 2019

Iditarod: one of the last Gold Rush towns

Iditarod City was now quiet, except for the whoosh of ravens scanning for frozen morsels in piles of straw. And (Could it be? Yes!) the melancholy howls of a half-dozen wolves, wafting from the derelict buildings 100 yards across the slough.

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25 March 2019

Sandy memories of ancient storms

Maio wants to dig deeper into the sediment archived in the lake, to see if there might be clues as to what types of storms occurred in the past. Ancient Inupiat people there dug into the sand, using driftwood and whale bones to build complex homes.

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27 February 2019

Old stone walls record history of Earth’s magnetic wanderings

Some of the remnant walls snaking through the forests of New York and New England from long-abandoned early American farms can be used as references to deduce the position of Earth’s magnetic field in previous centuries.

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26 February 2019

Some examples of the geology of “gaps” and travel on the early American frontier

The topographic features of the Powell Valley Anticline (PVA) played a significant role in the lives of both indigenous and Euro-American peoples on the American frontier in the late 18th century… Here I focus on two subjects inextricably connected to PVA topography: The Wilderness Road and Robert Benge, also known as Chief Benge, Captain Benge, Bob Benge, or simply “The Bench.” Benge and Wilderness Road users had two very opposite goals, leading to numerous clashes and Benge’s ultimate demise in the mountains of the PVA.

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16 November 2018

Century-old blast still a mystery

In 1908, a colossal blast incinerated a swath of wilderness deep in Siberia, at about the same latitude as Anchorage. The explosion that July day registered on seismic recorders all over the world. Within minutes, 80 million trees lay flat and scorched in a circle 60 miles wide. Scientists calculated the shock was more than 1,000 times stronger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

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24 August 2018

Franklin, Alaska: A town that once was

Floating down the Fortymile River, we saw a cut in the green hills that hinted of a creek. My canoeing partner and neighbor, Ian Carlson, 13, wanted to see a ghost town. The map told us one should be dead ahead.

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18 July 2018

Way back when, artist believed Alaska was a good deal

“How shall I, in few words, describe this immense stream, one that our men were wont to compare with the Mississippi! At Nulato, which is 600 miles above its mouth, it is, from bank to bank, one mile and a quarter wide …

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1 June 2018

Alaska structures crumble without us

Posed with the question of the fate of Alaska structures without us, researchers with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks agreed that the liquid stuff of life is the most powerful agent of demise.

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9 March 2018

A scientist’s view of Alaska, 150 years ago

One year before Alaska became part of America, 21-year old William Dall ascended the Yukon River on a sled, pulled by dogs. The man who left his name all over the state was in 1866 one of the first scientists to document the mysterious peninsula jutting toward Russia. He is probably the most thorough researcher to ever ponder this place.

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