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September 24, 2020

Message from a lonely Alaska island

That 85-year-old scientist — David Klein — is now 93. He lives in Fairbanks. He was my neighbor when he last journeyed to St. Matthew Island. I went on that trip with him and a dozen others. Klein was my cheery tent-mate.


September 21, 2020

Earthquakes and insects on Alaska road trips

A few nights ago, stretched in a tent on the blue-gray gravel of the Lowe River floodplain, I woke to a series of sharp jolts. It felt like the earth was a giant halibut, and I was the fishing pole.


September 9, 2020

Orange trees in the Alaska Range

While wandering middle Alaska this summer, I noticed orange spruce trees along the entire length of the Denali Highway, from Paxson to Cantwell. In what looked like a dendrological case of frostbite, tips of every branch were afflicted with something. The real show happened when the wind blew: An entire valley glowed apricot. After the wind died, a Tang-like orange powder floated on rivers and puddles. It was as if someone had pepper-sprayed the Denali Highway.


August 27, 2020

A bad night in a good box

Early in his career, on a wet, windy, foggy night, Guy Tytgat checked into the loneliest hotel in the Aleutians. His room was four feet wide and five feet tall, made of fiberglass, and perched on the lip of a volcanic crater.


August 21, 2020

Remembering glaciologist Konrad Steffen

“I remember Steffen as a striking figure — sandy gray hair, piercing blue eyes, his face weathered by snow, wind and sun — at the podium during press conferences at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. There, Steffen spoke to reporters about Greenland’s impressive ice melt.”


August 14, 2020

White killer whale spotted in Southeast

“There was a collective gasp from everybody on the bow,” Hayes said. They continued to watch the white orca swim with its pod — a family group including three or four others, their color a typical dairy-cow black-and-white. Having studied killer whales during her undergraduate work in British Columbia, Hayes knew they were witnessing something special. “There have only been about eight white killer whales ever recorded in the world,” she said…


August 7, 2020

Bears alert scientists to secret salmon streams

Right now, on the brushy tundra of northern Alaska, grizzly bears are gathering at quiet streams and rivers, attracted by the largest calorie reward they can find — spawning salmon. Until recently, scientists did not know salmon swam up some of these waterways, nor that grizzlies were fattening up on them before entering hibernation.


July 31, 2020

Banana slugs ooze over coastal Alaska

Not just ravens, but crows too! Pink salmon squirting like greased torpedoes through clear lagoons. The pop of kelp air sacks when stepped on at low tide. A salty tang in the air. But maybe the most striking thing was oozing along a wet trail by our boots: A Pacific banana slug.


July 24, 2020

Earthquake adds missing piece to puzzle

Late in the evening of July 21, 2020, State Seismologist Michael West heard a text alarm. His phone informed him of a large earthquake beneath the ocean, just south of the Alaska Peninsula, about 60 miles southeast of the village of Sand Point. His first thought was that this — the biggest earthquake on the planet so far in 2020 — would cause a devastating tsunami. His second thought was that a longstanding earthquake mystery may have just been solved.


July 10, 2020

Granite tors evidence of ice-free Alaska

As I started hiking a ridgetop during the July 4th weekend, a friend told me to look for the mushroom rock ahead. At first, I thought I may have heard her wrong.