Lab fridge Arctic ground squirrels

Posted 2 December 2014 by Liz O'Connell


"They do their best to approximate a sphere," Loren Buck explained as he removed the ground squirrel from its lab-made hibernaculum. Hibernating Arctic ground squirrels can sustain a core body temperature of just -2.9°C [26.78°F]. "It’s cold… Do you want to touch it?" Buck uncurled the animal carefully. "He knows he’s being handled, it just takes a while for him to ramp up his metabolism to warm. So you can stretch him out." ARCTIC GROUND SQUIRRELS: Monday, December 1st 2014, watch the FrontierScientists... Read more

Many angles to decode frozen debris lobes

Posted 25 November 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Darrow with inclinometer, bear-chewed casing and instruments / Image Laura Nielsen

“Something chewed on the casing,” Margaret Darrow explained. “Probably a bear.” Blue chips were scattered from the cracked ABS pipe. Inside the casings that protect the holes drilled in and around frozen debris lobe -A there’s non-toxic propylene glycol. Propylene glycol, this brand a clear greenish liquid, prevents freezing – helpful for scientific instruments – but it also tastes slightly sweet. And bears are curious creatures. Later, taking measurements, Darrow, geological engineer and associate professor at University of Alaska Fairbanks,... Read more

Effective stress and FDL science

Posted 17 November 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Exposed wall / Image Laura Nielsen

"It's a very dynamic slope," Margaret Darrow said, standing in front of frozen debris lobe -A. FDL-A is a slow landslide; among the frozen debris lobes documented it's the closest to the Dalton Highway and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Although the lobes likely began their life as debris left over when Pleistocene glaciers disappeared 10 to 14 thousand years ago, their speed has recently increased. Now when Darrow describes FDL-A she states truly: "It moves so fast that you can watch it... Read more

Temperamental machinery and FDL science

Posted 6 November 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Vivian the differential GPS / Image Laura Nielsen

When the machinery mounted to the man-height pole announced "RTK initialized," the scientists gave a cheer. It was late afternoon and the morning's downpour had finally cleared. They were gathered in a sunny spot discussing what was still on the agenda for the day when the rover – the pole and its paramount differential GPS unit – announced its good news. Geologist Ronald Daanen grabbed the rover and raced to the toe of the lobe, hoping to get the measurement... Read more

Droughts and fish highways

Posted 27 October 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Arctic grayling (Thymallus arcticus) ; this male shows the iridiscent, colored dorsal fin of the species. / Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

"I grew up on the shores of Connecticut looking into tidal pools and wondering about the plants and animals living there: where they move to when the tide goes out, and from when the tide comes in, and why. Once I even tracked my cat out my 3rd floor window and onto the roof to see how she accessed my bedroom at night. So I’ve always been curious about movement patterns in nature. The whys and hows of nature are... Read more

The chemical map of otoliths

Posted 20 October 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Highly magnified view of an otolith, an Arctic grayling inner ear bone / Image Heidi Golden

It's about the size of a diamond and comes from the inner ear of a fish. This tiny construction holds a treasure trove of information, a calcium carbonate microchip made of bone and accessed by a laser. Let's take a look at the science of otoliths. ... Read more

The Frontier Scientists TV series is premiering October 6th!

Posted 6 October 2014 by Liz O'Connell

The Frontier Scientists TV series is premiering October 6th! Frontier Scientists programs will be featured weekly on 360 North, streaming online at and available in Alaska over the air in Anchorage and Juneau, and on GCI Cable, DirectTV, & Dish Network. Mondays at 8pm {5am UTC} Oct.6th - Dec.8th 2014, catch ten installments of 30 minute Frontier Scientists video programs featuring contemporary scientific discoveries. Real scientists present their work – impactful science underway in one of the last great... Read more

Grayling and the great commute

Posted 5 October 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Arctic grayling / Image Heidi Golden

I remember vivid visuals which manage to compress something immense into the space of seconds: the cosmic force of a big bang flinging matter across the universe, Ice Age glaciers clamoring down from the north then retreating again, time-lapse footage of the tides' rhythmic breathing. Even commuters dancing the stop-and-go of a traffic light. An Arctic grayling (Thymallus arcticus) is a fish; it's also a commuter of sorts. Its entire life is a rhythm of motion undertaken to survive and... Read more

How to catch an Arctic ground squirrel – for science!

Posted 24 September 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Kate Wilsterman releasing an Arctic ground squirrel next to its burrow / FrontierScientists footage

At Atigun River, north of the Arctic Circle, the sandy soil is run through with an interlaced network of burrows. The Arctic ground squirrels which call those burrows home have encountered something mundane to you or me, but no-doubt wondrous to them: big tasty taproots, stunningly orange. Carrots! Trapping squirrels The carrots are bait, placed carefully in wire cage traps by scientists working to learn more about the very unusual Arctic ground squirrel. Cory Williams, postdoctoral fellow at the University... Read more

The abundantly peculiar Arctic ground squirrel

Posted 17 September 2014 by Liz O'Connell

They survive colder core body temperatures than any other known vertebrate, sustaining a temperature below freezing yet not becoming frozen. They emerge from hibernation with clock-like accuracy ... Read more