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September 8, 2022
An attempt to de-mystify the mysterious
In this wild place where dump truck drivers once tipped load after load of gravel onto the moss to make roads and building pads, scientists rolled open an iron gate one recent Saturday afternoon. They invited in conspiracy theorists, reality-TV hosts and salmon fishermen from Chistochina to the grounds of a mysterious antenna field.
July 29, 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.
July 7, 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’s from Mount Edgecumbe,” he says, referring to a volcano 100 miles away, near Sitka. “From an eruption 13,000 years ago.”
July 5, 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.
June 29, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.