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June 19, 2020

World traveler visits South Fairbanks

“I saw this black-and-white bird, smaller than my hand, its beak open, music pouring out. I remembered the blackpoll warbler making headlines a few years ago. Researchers had discovered that, in fall, after crossing North America from the far north, the birds leap off branches on the East Coast. They then fly thousands of miles over the open Atlantic Ocean on their way to South America.”


June 12, 2020

When permafrost kills? A moose story

While standing over the festering moose, Douglas points out meat on the animal’s ribs, along with internal organs undamaged, seeming proof that a hungry bear or wolf did not pull it down. There are no large animal tracks nearby in the mud. Did this northern sinkhole kill the moose? Thawing permafrost — ground that has remained frozen through the heat of at least two summers — is usually a slow-motion disaster, resulting in slowly sinking buildings and roller-coaster roads.


June 4, 2020

A tale of glacier mice and young love

Green and spongy, glacier mice are not really rodents at all. They consist mostly of moss, and are the subject of a recent published study. Two of its authors are former Alaska graduate students, who met and fell in love in the company of the little green pincushions.


May 22, 2020

A COVID-19 story from a rugged Alaskan

After the final steps of a long run in early March, Greg Finstad took his pulse rate. His heart was at 38 beats per minute. Perfect. The reindeer biologist and marathon runner was in top shape to run this year’s Boston Marathon. From there, things did not follow the plan for Finstad, head of the Reindeer Research Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. After reaching his peak of fitness, not long after he was alone in his bedroom, gasping for what he thought might be his last breath. Finstad was infected with the COVID-19 virus. It knocked him down and almost took him out.


May 15, 2020

Dinosaurs striding across the land bridge

The recent discovery of the most complete dinosaur skeleton ever found in Japan suggests the duck-billed creatures once stomped across the Bering Land Bridge. The dinosaur found in Japan is very similar to Edmontosaurus, fossils of which have been found throughout Alaska. The creatures may have been more adaptable and widespread than caribou are today.


April 24, 2020

One building remains busy during quiet time

On these wet, mushy April days, as returning ducks set their wings for landing at Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks, spring breakup is proceeding as it always has. This year is different, though, noticed in the striking quiet of places that would usually be hopping… One exception to this is the Alaska State Virology Laboratory.


April 21, 2020

Life of Riley reaches its end

The biologists had an unusual opportunity with Riley, a wolf they knew since birth and one they saw often. Reading the necropsy report gave them even more appreciation for the silver wolf, said Bridget Borg, the Denali wolf biologist. “While people who saw her, like you, limping along the road, might have felt a pang of pity for her, even though her injuries were severe, she proved that she was a resilient and tough wolf until the very end.”


April 9, 2020

Howard Pass an extreme, inviting place

Howard Pass, a rock-stubbled tundra plateau in the western Brooks Range, is one of the lowest points in the mountains that arc across northern Alaska. It is a broad gateway between the great drainages of the Colville and Noatak rivers. Scientists who have visited the lonely spot say Howard Pass is noteworthy for two reasons — it features some of Alaska’s most extreme weather and, curiously, the area has an abundance of archaeological sites.


April 3, 2020

Lessons from bones, dusty and stinky

In her studies, Misarti and her colleagues found that walrus in the distant past ate a larger variety of food than they do today. Walrus eat clams almost exclusively these days, but in the past their diets may have included more fish, seabirds and even seals.


March 23, 2020

Village grave led to virus breakthrough

One-hundred-two years ago, a strain of influenza virus spread across the globe, eventually reaching Brevig Mission in Alaska. Five days after the flu hit the Seward Peninsula, 72 of the 80 villagers in Brevig Mission were dead. Through a series of events suited to a detective novel, researchers made a connection between Brevig Mission and the flu virus that helped prevent another outbreak of the 1918 flu, one of the worst epidemics ever experienced.