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April 22, 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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March 31, 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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November 4, 2021

Shorebirds depend on wee slivers of Alaska

Pencil-beaked shorebirds with the ability to stay airborne for a week — flying all the way from Alaska to New Zealand — rely on a few crescents of mudflat to fuel that incredible journey.

Scientists recently found that almost the entire population of bar-tailed godwits that breed in Alaska fatten up on clams and worms on ephemeral sand bars just west of the mouth of the Kuskokwim River. In autumn, 80 percent of the birds rest and feed on islands within 15 miles of one another.

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October 1, 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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August 12, 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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July 15, 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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June 22, 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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April 16, 2021

Listening to avalanches half a state away

High on the broken pyramid of Iliamna Volcano, rotten rock held in place by volcano-warmed ice sometimes loses its grip. Several times over the years, rock-and-ice avalanches have blasted down Iliamna at 150 miles per hour. Left behind on the mountain’s face is a dirty, five-mile scar, in the same place as the last one.

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March 24, 2021

What does that landslide actually look like, part 2: an active landslide

As indicated in the previous post, lidar-derived imagery still needs ground-truthing to maximize its usefulness as a means of characterizing landslides and other slope failures. Last June, Ken Gillon and I visited the Rutherford County, North Carolina, landslide described below as part of our work with Appalachian Landslide Consultants, PLLC (ALC) on behalf of the North Carolina Geological Survey. This slide caught my eye in lidar hillshade imagery because it appeared to share characteristics with an active slide we had visited a few days before.

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March 1, 2021

What does that landslide actually look like?

We have no constraints on the age of the slides, but they may reflect logging history in the area. The majority of these slopes were heavily and continuously logged during the past ~150 years, with logging in this area clearly occurring within the past 50 years. The slides may have developed after clear-cuts, with the rapid return of vegetation common in the region quickly making the area look less disturbed than it really is.

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