Never Alone – Iñupiat storytelling with spirit

Posted 30 January 2015 by Liz O'Connell


A young girl named Nuna aims carefully, flinging her bola at the shards of ice lingering in the windy sky above. The spirits answer. A crane appears: mysterious, beautiful, perhaps even sorrowful. Is it sorrowful for Nuna? I can’t say, but I know I’m entranced. Nuna is the heroine in Never Alone, a game crafted to introduce aspects of Alaska Native Iñupiat culture to players across the world. Never Alone was developed in partnership between E-Line Media and the Cook Inlet... Read more

Squirrels’ role in climate change puzzle

Posted 20 January 2015 by Liz O'Connell

Permafrost areas are shown in lavender over light green continents. Darkest lavender represents continuous permafrost, transitioning to discontinuous then isolated permafrost coverage. / Courtesy Cindy Starr, NASA Scientific Visualization Studio

Alaska’s North Slope is home to Arctic ground squirrels. Near the Atigun River their interlaced burrow network takes advantage of sandy soil. The burrows are so interconnected and the entrances so myriad that the scientists working there to decode Arctic ground squirrel mysteries carry a map denoting burrow entrance numbers so they can be certain to always return squirrels to their home burrows. Arctic ground squirrel lifestyle Why so much interest? Arctic ground squirrels are the only vertebrate known to... Read more

Continued Arctic changes, 2014

Posted 13 January 2015 by Liz O'Connell


During high school when the day promised heat I used to spend a minute in the morning to put sunglasses on my car. They were ‘shutter shades’, louvered sunglasses printed in bold lines on folded white cardboard meant to be spread just under the windshield. The car may not have contained power anything, a reliably functional speedometer, four working doors, or air conditioning apart from crank-open windows, but it did have science. The expanse of white cardboard reflected sunlight away... Read more

Precautions amidst uncertainty

Posted 7 January 2015 by Liz O'Connell


"The question is not 'do we know everything?' it is 'do we know enough?' or 'how can we best make a decision using what we do know?' ~ Sense About Science publication: 'Making Sense of Uncertainty' In cities where heat waves are already becoming more frequent or more intense, the installation of heat watch warning systems can prove an inexpensive and effective step to help safeguard human lives. Policy-makers of those cities needn't know precisely how hot it will be... Read more

Serious gaming STEM education

Posted 1 January 2015 by Liz O'Connell

As another ecological disaster struck the simulated Arctic spread across our table top, every player groaned. I'd retained one sea ice card in reserve so I only had to lose one from my marine ecosystem; I tried to jostle the species that had been supported by the lost ice into other positions along still thriving food chains. We were playing EcoChains: Arctic Crisis, and the ecological disasters were pummeling. I moved my belugas elsewhere, and humans transferred to a different... Read more

Defining snow, world class

Posted 23 December 2014 by Liz O'Connell


Winter started out peculiarly. Many Alaskans had no snow to shovel at all. At the same time they could watch news coverage of cars buried by blizzards in the lower 48. The unusual weather conditions were a strange state of affairs for Arctic plants and animals adapted to survive and even thrive in snowy conditions. Lemmings, for instance, require snow pack in which to dig tunnels and hide from predators. Left in the open they would freeze to death; in... Read more

Science Storytelling Workshop at AGU14

Posted 19 December 2014 by Liz O'Connell

Scientists filming at the Science Storytelling Workshop / FrontierScientists

"What does this look like?" "Zombies!" one of the scientists suggested. "Right," the cinematographer agreed. He reinforced the idea of shifting the frame to give the person on camera space for their gaze to travel - 'Lookroom'. He'd noted before that when there's an empty space looming behind a person's back it creates tension. Perhaps a zombie is about to stagger up from behind. Whoever's filming needs to keep in mind framing, or the way that visual elements are placed... Read more

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