Category Archives: Alaska

Breaking Trail

Snow! Finally, we received a nice dumping of snow.

I have 8-9″ of fresh snow outside my door.

I took the snowshoes out for a spin for the first time this season, which required breaking a new trail. The beavers seem to be content within their lodge and under the ice. Any remaining standing trees should be safe until spring thaw, but I’ll keep checking on them.

Otherwise, it was just a nice afternoon out in the woods, checking out the fresh tracks in the new snow. Which includes, for the first time in a few years, lynx tracks. I’ll have to get a trail cam or two out there.


Denali Fault Quake

Photo credit: Daily News-Miner

This week is the 17 year anniversary of the 2002 Denali Earthquake. At a magnitude of 7.9, to date, it is the largest quake I have personally experienced.

On 23 October 2002, the Denali Fault released a magnitude 6.7 quake. That would be a foreshock of what was to come on November 3.

Highway Shift; Richardson Highway, circa 2002

After the 6.7, I remember the Alaska Earthquake Center saying that the Denali Fault was capable of producing an 8.0. Sure enough, the fault came very close.

I was at an intersection in my ’66 Chevy C-20. All of a sudden, the truck was lurching all over the place, and I found it hard to stay on the brake pedal. There were two university students in the next lane, the passenger rolled down his window and asked what the hell was happening. I said, “Earthquake”. He then promptly hit the driver on the arm and said, “I told you it was an earthquake”.

The light changed, I drove on, but had to stop at the next light. The earth was still shaking. An elderly couple had been walking on the sidewalk, and the wife fell to the concrete, the husband was struggling to stay upright by hugging a signpost. Then the shaking was over. I rolled down the other window, to see if the couple was all right. They were, and I headed home to see if there was any damage.

The quake had ruptured 205 miles of earth along three different, yet connected faults in Interior Alaska. It was the largest ever recorded in Alaska’s Interior. It was the largest inland quake North America had seen in almost 150 years.

Both the Parks & Richardson Highways saw major damage. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline moved sideways 18 feet, and rose 5 feet. The engineers had designed for the fault, and the pipeline behaved exactly as it was designed to behave. Although, it did come within two feet of its sideways movement limit.

The Denali Earthquake was felt as far away as Louisiana.

Previously, the largest earthquake Fairbanks had experienced was a magnitude 7.3 in 1937.


Revisiting “Normal”

Halloween saw the fourth year in a row where Fairbanks officially had an inch of snowpack. Trick or Treat without bunny boots? The world is in chaos. By the end of the weekend, three inches of snow lay on top of our ice-coated roads.

Sunday morning saw the return of below zero to The Valley. Monday morning, my thermometer read -10F. It’s damn well about time. For those Outside, I’m sure excitement for below zero seems a bit mad, but Interior Alaska is built for below zero. For those who like to stay in the positive, the high temp made it to the mid-teens above.

This isn’t going to help with Alaska’s lack of sea ice. Utqiagvik, on the Arctic coast was above freezing, as was Nome.

But the Interior is at last making ice. For the moment, at least.


Taku Glacier & the Juneau Ice Field

The Juneau Ice Field, as seen from the air

The Juneau Ice Field is located just north of Alaska’s capital city. The ice field covers 1500 square miles, more than a third larger than Rhode Island, and stretches from Alaska across the border into British Columbia. The ice field is home to over 40 large glaciers and more than 100 smaller glaciers. The Juneau Ice Field has been one of the most studied in the world, with the Juneau Ice Field Research Project being conducted annually since 1946.

Taku Glacier, as seen across the Taku River

One of the most talked about glaciers within the Juneau Ice Field has been Taku Glacier. It has been the last advancing glacier within the ice field. It’s “mass balance” has been in the positive; it has been gaining more snow during the coarse of a year than it has lost in melt.

Taku Glacier from the air

Taku is the thickest measured glacier in Alaska. It is considered a high elevation glacier, which has helped it maintain the title of an advancing glacier.

That designation has officially come to an end. With the increasingly warm temperatures that Alaska has been experiencing over the past decade plus, the Taku Glacier is now retreating.

When Taku has calved in the past, it has sent icebergs into the Juneau harbor. Massive calving events would not only send icebergs to Juneau, but also into the Inside Passage.

When Columbia Glacier in Prince William Sound started its retreat, sending icebergs into The Sound, the State of Alaska was forced to create an ice-watch program for oil tankers and cruise ships.

Taku Glacier is twice the size of Columbia.


Pineapple Express

There was a time when I really enjoyed hearing terms like “Pineapple Express” and looked forward to a warm “Chinook” wind blowing through the area.

Now they comes with such frequency, that the deep freeze has replaced them as the rare events in the state.

A Pineapple Express came through Alaska over the weekend. Fairbanks saw rain and temps in the 40’sF. Our dusting of snow took a beating. The ice on The Pond has reverted back to slush.

Bethel on the western coast saw 53F on Sunday morning. The second highest temperature recorded this late in the year.

King Salmon reached 60F on Sunday, breaking their record for the warmest temperature this late in the year.

Not to be left out, McGrath in the Interior hit 50F, which tied their record set 7 years ago.

Utqiagvik on the Arctic Coast will see 38F on Monday, which will do absolutely nothing to help our utter lack of sea ice.

The times, they are a changing…


Methane Pocket

Walking blindly across ponds in the Interior of Alaska can lead to wet feet, and sometimes much worse.

Methane being released from the pond bottom, causes the ice to thin directly above the pocket of methane. With no snow to speak of right now, the pockets are easy to find. This one has caused a perfect hole to form in the ice.


Sun streaks and beaver dams

Looking across at a new beaver dam

I went for a nice long hike through the Back 400 over the weekend. The dusting of snow that we had earlier, is now long gone. The muskeg is a varied shade of brown these days.

Each step brought a crunch up from the frozen earth. The snap of twigs is amplified in the chilly air. I came across a duck carcass on one frozen puddle. A raven was picking through the feathers that were scattered across the ice. Had the duck been caught in the quickly freezing puddle, or had it been caught by a predator, and the raven only recently found the remains? The scene was a mess of feathers, and I wasn’t confident enough in the ice thickness to venture that far out. Besides, the raven was not looking for my company anyway. Our rabbit population is quite high at the moment, which explains the number of fox in the neighborhood. We have had lynx here in the past as well, but I have not seen any sign of them… yet.

At the creek, I was amused by a pair of beaver. They had been quite busy, building a new dam across the now, slow moving water. It is amazing how many birch and aspen they can cut down in such a short period of time. I pushed my luck as I tried to quietly reach the creek bank. A crunch of tundra caused a double tail slap to come from the creek. These two are more wary of me than the pair in The Pond. Once my presence was known, they kept out of view, and eventually I wandered deeper down the bank to see what else was new in the ever-changing neighborhood.


Happy Autumnal Equinox

Autumn has officially arrived. Which for those of us in the north, means snow should be just around the corner.


Walking Poker Flat

Entrance to Poker Flat Research Range

It’s early August and people were starting to think “white stuff”. I had three jobs lined up, everyone desperate for me to start, yet not one of them was ready for me. What to do with the day off?

As luck would have it, Poker Flat Research Range had one of their summer walking tours that day, so I drove the 25 miles out to Chatanika.

“The Blockhouse” or bunker

PFRR is the world’s largest land-based rocket range. The facility is owned by the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. They launch sounding rockets from the range, in order to study the Earth’s atmosphere and the interaction between the atmosphere and the space environment.

Space junk returned to Earth

Study ranges from the Earth’s magnetic field to the aurora. NASA is prominent at the range, but researchers come from all over the world. All of the rockets launched from PFRR return to the Earth’s surface, and the range collects the spent payloads every summer. There is a reward paid out to anyone finding material from Poker Flat.

Poker Flat Launch Pad

The building above is open on the far end. The interior of the building, and the actual launch pad, was off limits to photography. It’s a NASA rule that doesn’t thrill UAF apparently, but we all honored the rule. The sounding rocket is brought in on what is basically an open trailer. The rocket is loaded onto the launcher, which looks like a giant erector set with a large pivot. The building itself is sitting on a pair of tracks. When ready to begin countdown, the building is pulled back away from the pad, and the rocket is spun vertical with the large erector set pivot.

Mission Control

The control center was surprisingly manual in operation. Scientists are extremely fussy about launch conditions, and they often pull the plug with one second to go. An automatic system does not give the flexibility that is needed, so there is still a “launch button”.

Power central

That doesn’t mean there is a shortage of cable, wires, or connectors.

The touring rocket

PFRR does a good job with the tour. It’s pretty relaxed, and a nice way to spend some time outdoors, for the most part, in an Interior Alaska summer. After the tour, don’t forget to stop by the Chatanika Lodge, which is just down the highway.


Catch of Day Two

We caught some fish

Normally, we head down to Seward with the idea that we may get one day of fishing in with decent seas. This year, we went down knowing we had perfect weather for the entire time on the coast.

The second day out, we hit the silvers early and often outside of Resurrection Bay. Once we hit our limit there, we came into the Bay for the possibility of three more silvers each. The fishing within Resurrection Bay was considerably slower, but we did catch some cohos.

Since we were planning on being out on the water all day, we wrapped things up by going after rock fish. It took us a couple of stops to find them, but when we did, it was nonstop action. Rock fish are a blast to fish, and they are incredible eating too.

It was a great day out on the water, and I have a nicely stocked freezer as winter approaches.

It’s not full, but the freezer holds some fish