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The merits of plasticity

Posted 14 August 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Whether a species thrives or flags can have resounding consequences. When we think of our changing world, we imagine an ecosystem occupied by organisms which are interlinked. ... Read more

Biological clocks: Where arctic ground squirrels meet ‘social jet lag’

Posted 6 August 2014 by Liz O'Connell

An arctic ground squirrel being weighed in a research lab. / Image Erin Hooley, University of Alaska Anchorage Office of Advancement

Arctic ground squirrels may seem like little more than a brief thrill for your dog on a hike up Flat Top, but scientists are convinced they’re worth a serious second look. ... Read more

When your only highways are ice

Posted 30 July 2014 by Liz O'Connell

River-edge ice / 2007 snowmobile expedition footage

“The first half of the trip was in the forest and the second half on the tundra. The difference that those ecosystems imposed on the snow cover was beautifully manifest,” Matthew Sturm reminisces. He’s referencing a long snowmobile journey from Fairbanks, Alaska to Hudson Bay in Canada, chronicled in his book Finding the Arctic (University of Alaska Press, 2012). But where you or I might notice the old gnarled trees of the forest or the howling wind over vast open... Read more

Matthew Sturm – insight into the Arctic

Posted 23 July 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Driving snowmobiles / 2007 expedition footage" width="569" height="460" /> Driving snowmobiles / 2007 snowmobile expedition footage

Over four decades after entering the Arctic Circle for the first time, Matthew Sturm, snow scientist and University of Alaska professor, still looks on the Arctic as a place of wonder. In Finding the Arctic (University of Alaska Press, 2012), a story of history and culture along a 2,500 mile snowmobile journey from Alaska to Hudson’s Bay, Matthew Sturm tackles an epic path across Alaska and Canada. ... Read more

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

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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