Category Archives: Alaska

Rising waters

The community of Manley Hot Springs

No one was surprised to hear the National Weather Service issuing flood watches and warnings throughout Alaska’s Interior this past weekend. With a Top Ten Snowfall this past winter, we have been readying for the coming melt.

Manley Hot Springs is one of the first communities to come under water. An ice dam on the Tanana River has caused water to back up into Manley. As of Sunday morning, as many as 75 residents in the lower areas of the town had been displaced, many of which were seeking shelter in the Manley Hot Springs Lodge.

Reports have ice starting to move on the Tanana, which would alleviate the flooding.

Manley under water from the Tanana River

A Flood Watch had been issued for Eagle on the Yukon River, as well as Hughes on the Koyukuk. Ice now appears to be moving on both rivers and those two watches have been cancelled as of Sunday afternoon.

Temperatures for the coming week are going to dip down into the low to mid 40’s F for highs, with a (relatively) rare chance of May snow for Fairbanks. Even though we are all ready for summer and its warmer temps, a slow melt would be a good thing.


Denali Road Droop

Denali Park Road at Pretty Rocks; August 2021

The above picture is of the Denali Park Road at the Pretty Rocks formation last August. That was the last time any gravel had been dumped in this section of road that is dropping due to melting ice under the roadbed.

Denali Park Road at Pretty Rocks; Spring 2022

This spring, maintenance crews discovered that the road had dropped as much as 40 feet at the troublesome section near Pretty Rocks. It had already been decided that the park road would be closed for the 2022 season due to the roadbed situation, but the drop was more impressive than forecast.

A new bridge will be installed over the section with the melting ice formation, and will be secured into solid rock on either side of the great melt. I expect that the road into the heart of Denali Park to remain closed through the 2023 season.

Pictures credit: Denali National Park & Preserve


Magma Rising

Mount Edgecumbe displacement; Graphic credit: AVO

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the swarm of earthquakes underneath Mount Edgecumbe. The numbers are in, and radar satellite data reveals a ground deformation around the volcano. Data was analyzed for the past 7.5 years, and since 2018, an uplift around Mt Edgecumbe has been constant. The peak activity, around the crater, has shown an average uplift of 3.4″ per year since 2018, and a total uplift of 10.6″.

Earthquakes in and around Mt Edgecumbe, Map credit: AVO

With the data of the ground deformation, AVO has come to the conclusion that the swarm of earthquakes is due to the movement of magma below Mount Edgecumbe, and not due to tectonic activity.

Mount Edgecumbe, a 3200 foot high stratovolcano, lies 15 miles to the west of the community of Sitka. There is no volcanic monitoring system on Edgecumbe, but there is at Sitka. AVO plans to install instruments closer to the volcano in the near future.

The rising of magma under a volcano does not necessarily mean that an eruption is imminent. The deformation and earthquakes could cease at any time. If an eruption were to occur, warning signs such as increased rate of deformation, and an increase in the earthquake swarms, would give advance warning of an eruption.


The answer to the Bear Question

National Parks Week: Day Eight

There are four bears in the photo; Image credit: Katmai NP&P


Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve

National Parks Week: Day 6

A lone caribou in Gates of the Arctic

As much as I love Denali and Wrangell-St Elias National Parks, I think Gates of the Arctic is Alaska’s crown jewel within the national park system. It is the second largest of our national parks, and its entirety is located north of the Arctic Circle.

Mapping Alaska’s National Parks, with Gates of the Arctic highlighted

Due to the lack of any roads, and its remote location, Gates of the Arctic is the least visited of our national parks. All of that only adds to the appeal for me. In 2016, Gates of the Arctic received 10,047 visitors. In the same year, the Grand Canyon saw over 6 million.

The Park has six Wild and Scenic rivers: the Kobuk, John, Alatna, north fork of the Koyukuk, Tinayguk, and part of the famed Noatak. The Noatak is at the top of my list of rivers to float.

Caribou passing through the Gates

I have only been to the Gates of the Arctic once. A fly in camping trip. One evening, we watched a herd of caribou that probably numbered over 10,000. The entire valley below us was filled with these tundra travelers. It was one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen. The next morning, when we peaked over the ridge line, we were surprised to see that there was not one animal left in the valley. The entire herd had moved off, on their endless migration.


Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark

National Parks Week: Day Five

Kennecott

Within Wrangell-St Elias National Park is the old mill town of Kennecott. In 1900, two prospectors, “Tarantula” Jack Smith and Clarence Warner, spotted a green patch in the hills, but thought it was an odd location for a meadow. It turned out to be malachite mixed with chalcocite (copper glance). It was the beginning of the Bonanza Claim.

Kennecott Mine in its heyday

A group called the Alaska Syndicate, which included Daniel Guggenhiem and J.P. Morgan, was formed. Kennecott had five mines: Bonanza, Jumbo, Mother Lode, Erie, and Glacier. Between 1909 and 1938 over 4.6 million tons of ore was processed, which produced 1.183 billion pounds of copper.

Gilahina Trestle Bridge, CR&NW RR; Camera: Rolleiflex

To haul the ore out of the remote location of Kennecott, operations needed a railroad. Michael Heney received the right of way up to the Copper River, and started to build the Copper Line in 1906. Meanwhile, Myron Rogers received a four year contract from Guggenheim to build the Northwestern Line, which he started in 1907. That same year, Heney sold the Copper Line to the Alaska Syndicate.

The Million Dollar Bridge

The Miles Glacier Bridge, more commonly known as the Million Dollar Bridge, was one of many obstacles that the Kennecott Corporation faced in building the railroad. The bridge, completed in 1910, came with a whopping $1.4 million dollar price tag. A small nugget when compared with the $100 million profits the mine provided investors.

The last spike, a copper spike, was driven on 29 March 1911, and the first load of copper ore soon traveled down the tracks. The Copper River and Northwestern Railroad, also known locally & affectionately, as the Can’t Run & Never Will, was in operation.

Looking up at the CR&NW

Today, the road to McCarthy and Kennecott is the old CR&NW railroad bed. For years, the drive out to Kennecott was an adventure in avoiding railroad spikes. Many a tire was punctured by an old leftover spike from the Copper River & Northwestern.

I have been out to Kennecott many times. Currently, the mine ruins are undergoing a stabilization. Some buildings, like the post office, are being restored, but for the most part, the National Park Service is just trying to keep them from complete collapse. The new roofs on the buildings are obviously a great start.


Denali National Park & Preserve

National Parks Week: Day Four

Looking down on Muldrow Glacier; Image credit: Hudson Stuck

The image was taken in 1913, when Walter Harper, Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, and Robert Tatum trekked their way to Denali’s summit. It was Harper who became the first known individual to stand on the summit of North America’s highest peak.


Find the Bears

National Parks Week: Day Three

How many brown bears can you find in this image from Katmai National Park & Preserve?


Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes

National Parks Week: Day Two

The Valley, several years after the Novarupta eruption

The Ukak River Valley was dramatically altered on 6 June 1912, when Novarupta erupted for over 60 hours. The volcanic blast was the largest of the 20th Century. Pyroclastic flows filled the Ukak Valley, which was followed by a dumping of volcanic ash. The intense heat, trapped by the ash, took decades to cool. Water, also trapped by the ash, became superheated steam, and escaped through a series of fumaroles, which inspired the renaming of the valley.

The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes today

Photos credit: Katmai National Park & Preserve


Mount Edgecumbe

Mount Edgecumbe; Photo credit: AVO

Mount Edgecumbe is a 3200′ stratovolcano located on Kruzof Island. The volcano is approximately 15 miles from the town of Sitka, which was Alaska’s capital prior to its purchase from Russia by the United States.

Mount Edgecumbe has been dormant for at least 800 years. Recently, however, there has been a swarm of over 100 earthquakes from near the volcano. The swarm does not mean that an eruption is near, but the number is somewhat unusual. The previous two years saw only twenty quakes each year. Volcanologists are studying the data to see if these recent earthquakes are volcanic or tectonic in nature.

Tlingit oral┬áhistory has the volcano having small eruptions roughly 800 years ago. The last eruption in the geological record happened 4500 years ago. Mount Edgecumbe had a massive eruption 13,000 – 15,000 years ago. That eruption dropped dropped 3 feet of volcanic ash on what is now Sitka, and 98 feet of ash fell on Kruzof Island.

Alaska has had 90 volcanos that have erupted in the past 10,000 years. Currently, we have three that are at Level Orange and one that is at Level Yellow.