Arctic ground squirrel chronobiology; Wake up, guys, my biological clock says it’s…spring?

Posted 10 July 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Hibernating arctic ground squirrels can lower their core body temperature to minus 3 degrees Celcius. / Image Erin Hooley, University of Alaska Anchorage Office of Advancement

Biology major Brady Salli spends seven days a week in the vivarium making sure UAA’s arctic ground squirrels are fed, watered and, for those that are hibernating, tucked snugly into clean cotton batting. The kicker? He has to maintain a random schedule so the animals don’t “cheat” off of him. Professor Loren Buck, Department of Biological Sciences, is Brady’s mentor and boss. He is leading a team of researchers in a four-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant-funded study of the... Read more

Fitness for birds in warming Alaska

Posted 3 July 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Lapland Longspur female with Ptarmigan feather to use in nest building / FrontierScientists footage

Jonathan Perez stands in a remote part of Alaska’s North Slope while White-Crowned Sparrows sing from surrounding shrubs and a Jaeger flies overhead, calling. Perez is listening to the bird calls, recording what species sound out and how many individuals are singing. Next to him, an automated device is attempting to do the same. ... Read more

Measuring and modeling geothermal resources at Pilgrim Hot Springs

Posted 25 June 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Thermal aerial view of Pilgrim Hot Springs / Anupma Prakash

There’s a place where the perennially frozen ground of the Alaskan tundra is interrupted by 2 square miles [~ 5 km² ] of thawed soil. There, cottonwoods and thick brush grow among lazily meandering waterways. The Pilgrim Hot Springs are a pleasant symptom of the geothermal heat which warms the earth deep beneath Alaska’s Seward Peninsula, not so far south from the Arctic Circle. There, deep below the surface, hot water rises through fractures in the bedrock that comprises the... Read more

The albatross and the phytoplankton

Posted 18 June 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Phytoplankton – the foundation of the oceanic food chain, sample from NOAA’s Fisheries Collection. / Courtesy NOAA MESA Project

An albatross soaring over the wide open ocean doesn’t just rely on chance sightings of prey; it actually follows its nose. Dimethyl sulfide (DMS) is a biological sulfur compound that can result from the activity of microorganisms called phytoplankton. Not only does airborne DMS provide a wind-map for foraging seabirds, it also also aids in the formation of clouds which help cool our warming planet. Phytoplankton? University of California Davis graduate student Jesse Krause traveled to Alaska to research migratory... Read more

Geothermal energy in remote Alaska

Posted 12 June 2014 by Liz O'Connell


Geothermal energy isn't the first thing that springs to mind when I hear of Nome, Alaska. I think of the event the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race commemorates: a 1925 relay of sled dog drivers and their teams who delivered diptheria serum to the stricken gold-rush town, braving blizzards. I think of the extremely harsh winter of 2012, when the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy escorted the Russian fuel tanker Renda through winter sea ice to deliver 1.3 million... Read more

Imaging the future of Arctic plant life

Posted 4 June 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Nathan Healey operates the robotic tram, which begins to move away from the control tower. The tram carries sensors, and is suspended on wires above the tundra. / FrontierScientists footage

If you know where to look in the Arctic, you’ll find strange hexagons dotting the tundra beneath the enduring summer sun. Strange, scattered honeycomb chambers. The open-top hexagonal units shelter 1 or 2 square meters’ worth of tundra plants, passively raising the temperature within their fiberglass walls by 1-3°Celcius. ... Read more

Migration Over The Brooks Range

Posted 28 May 2014 by Liz O'Connell


Even Wacky Weather doesn't stop bird migration to Alaska. Scientists on the north side of the Brooks Range at Toolik Field Station find the birds which made it over the mountains have located their nests, indicating procreation has begun. ... Read more

Mosquito netting, vacuum power, and bug science

Posted 21 May 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Ashley Asmus vacuum sampling / FrontierScientists footage

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists – Vacuuming at home isn’t too edifying. How about vacuuming the Alaska tundra to snag a bag full of bugs? That's an entirely different story. Ashley Asmus, graduate research assistant at the University of Texas at Arlington, is using a huge reverse leaf blower to collect the bugs she'll study. It’s called vacuum sampling. ”It seems like a lot of entomologists have their own version of it. But mine is just a leaf blower with... Read more

What is (and imminently “was”) HAARP?

Posted 14 May 2014 by Liz O'Connell

HAARP Transmitter Array / Image by Chris Fallen

Azara Mohammadi for Frontier Scientists – Googling HAARP used to be useless, which was astonishing for someone of my generation. Even now, most results outline the conspiracy theories behind the $300,000,0000 facility in rural Alaska. Occasionally my good friend and coworker, Dr. Chris Fallen, spoke about HAARP and his experiments there. Over months and many cups of coffee, I gathered that Fallen was creating artificial auroras with a huge radio transmitter in order to study the natural aurora. However, Fallen... Read more

Stressed out? Every year migratory birds battle stress, and win

Posted 7 May 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Longspur held in hand / FrontierScientists footage

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists – On the tundra a wire walk-in trap has been placed over seed scattered atop icy Alaskan ground. A Longspur alights nearby. It twists its head to eye the seed, hops inside then briefly flaps – unsettled by the trap door closing behind it. The Longspur settles and eyes the ground again, beginning to peck. PhD student Jesse Krause, a researcher from the University of California Davis' Birds and Seasonality project, dashes forward to start a carefully-timed testing process. "The... Read more