Category Archives: Alaska

Warmest March on record

Info credit: ACCAP/NOAA; Graphic credit: @AlaskaWx

55 Years Ago: Great Alaska Earthquake

Yesterday, March 27, was the anniversary of the Great Alaska Earthquake. The 9.2 magnitude quake, also known as the Good Friday Earthquake, is still the largest earthquake to hit North America, and the second largest to ever be recorded.

“We ran out of the building, and hung onto the wire mesh fence across the street. The road looked like waves in the ocean. All of the air police trucks looked like they were dancing as they were bouncing up and down.” — Airman stationed at Elmendorf AFB, Anchorage

The 1964 Earthquake and the resulting tsunamis took at least 139 lives. The earth shook for 4 minutes and 38 seconds from the main quake alone. Girdwood and Portage sank eight feet; portions of Kodiak rose over thirty feet. Seward burned; Valdez, Whittier and Chenega were destroyed, wiped off the face of the earth by the giant waves. A 75 ton locomotive was carried 300 feet by the waves in Seward, as 14 oil tankers and 40 railcars went up in flames. The tsunami that hit the WWII port of Whittier was 40′ high.

Alaska Railroad tracks near Turnagain Arm, south of Anchorage; March 28, 1964; Photo credit: USGS

Not all that glitters in Alaska is gold

This 5495 pound copper nugget was uncovered near Dan Creek, in the Wrangell Mountains, during placer mining activities in 1936.

Copper ore was originally discovered in a lode at the mouth of Dan Creek in July of 1899. The Nikolai Mine was founded the next year. The Bonanza ore body was discovered in August of 1900.

Jade is the official gem stone of Alaska. This 3550 pound jade boulder was found near the Kobuk River. Some jade boulders have been found within the state weighing upwards of two tons. Jade Mountain, on the Seward Peninsula, is an entire mountain of jade.

Green jade from Jade Mountain

At the 450 foot level on the West Wall of the Washington Monument, is a stone from the State of Alaska, honoring George Washington. Inserted into the wall on February 22, 1982, the two foot by three foot stone is made out of jade from Jade Mountain.

A Warm Winter

Data from NOAA; Collected and graphed by Rick Thoman

Fairbanks could almost call the Winter of 2018-19 as the Winter that Wasn’t. Since September 1st, we have seen 80 days that have been at least 10F degrees warmer than normal. Fairbanks saw 13 days that were 10F degrees or more colder than normal.

For those that like their math: 76% of the days since September 1, have had above normal temperatures in Fairbanks.

By the way, we saw rain yesterday. Rain in March in Fairbanks, Alaska, is not the norm.

To follow Rick Thoman, the Wizard of Climate, check out his twitter-verse: @AlaskaWx

Exxon Valdez: 30 Years Later

Exxon Baton Rouge attempts to offload crude oil from the Exxon Valdez, March 26, 1989; Photo credit: AP

30 years ago today, Alaskans awoke to the horrific news that the Exxon Valdez had inexplicably ran aground on Bligh Reef in Price William Sound. The tanker, bound for Long Beach, California, was carrying 53.1 million gallons of crude.

A crew attempts to clean the shoreline of Naked Island in Prince William Sound, April 2, 1989; Photo credit: Mike Blake/Rueters

11 million gallons of that crude spilled into Prince William Sound. At the time, the Valdez spill was the largest in U.S. waters. The Deep Horizon disaster has since eclipsed it. The Valdez spill is still considered one of the most devastating human caused environmental disasters.

A dead gray whale on the shore of Latoucha Island, April 9, 1989; Photo credit: John Gaps III/AP

The spill eventually impacted over 1300 miles of coastline. No booms or skimmers were readily available during the first 24 hours of the spill. Over 11,000 Alaskans converged on the area to help with the cleanup. In total, it has been estimated that far less than 10% of the spilled oil was cleaned from the surfaces that were impacted.

Bill Scheer of Valdez, Alaska on beach cleanup duty, April 13, 1989; Photo credit: John Gaps III/AP

Unfortunately, many of the chemicals used to disperse the crude did their own damage, killing plankton, which is the basis of the coastal marine food chain. Bacteria and fungus was also killed, which can facilitate the biodegradation of oil. In addition, the chemicals that were sprayed on the oil slick were not fully tested, and many workers on the cleanup crew were subject to agents that caused liver, kidney, lung, nervous system and blood disorders later in life.

A crude covered Red Necked Grebe from the Exxon Valdez spill, March 30, 1989; Photo credit: AP

The Exxon spill had an immediate effect on wildlife. Between 100,000 – 250,000 sea birds were killed in the weeks after the spill. At least 2800 sea otters, 12 river otters, 300 harbor seals, 247 bald eagles, 22 orcas, and an unknown number of salmon and herring were also destroyed.

The oil lingers. NMFS 2015 survey. Photo credit: NOAA

Surveys conducted in 2001 estimated that 60.62 tons (55,000 kg) of crude oil remained on the beaches of Prince William Sound.
In 2015, the National Marine Fisheries Service went back to the beaches that were impacted by the Exxon Valdez spill. They found patches of crude were still distributed under the beaches of Prince William Sound. What’s more, they found that the crude’s chemical composition had not changed over the years.

Some of the beaches in question, simply do not get the wave action, or ground water discharge to disperse the oil. Others have a composition of a permeable top layer, and a non-permeable lower level, trapping the crude between the layers. As it stands, scientists believe that “letting nature take its course” is the best option, because “Removal of buried oil would likely be more disruptive than beneficial”. Scientists also warn, that a major storm hitting the area, like a once in 100 years type of storm, will release the oil back into the environment.*


Vernal Equinox

March 20 means that spring has sprung, and for Fairbanks, it actually feels like spring on the first day of spring. Alaska, the Yukon and Northwest Territories have all seen record temps the past few days, and all three have seen 70F degrees this month. It is the earliest on record for all of us to hit that mark.

The third, and final Supermoon of the year is also taking place on the first day of spring. This full moon, is also known as the Worm Moon. Not as catchy as the Super Blood Wolf Moon, but as it historically signals when worms start coming out of the frozen earth, I can get into the Worm Moon. Quite honestly, even though this has been an insanely mild winter in the far north, I am more than ready for spring. I only have three salmon fillets left in my freezer.

Goose watching season has also begun here in Fairbanks. Alaskans are easily entertained, so we have an annual bet on when the first Canadian Goose shows up at Creamer’s Field. Whoever guesses the date and time of the first goose landing, without going over, wins $500.

Fairbanks Weather Almanac for March 20:

High temp………………….. +39F
Low temp…………………… +26F

Record high………………… +56F
Record low…………………. -37F

Average high……………….. +28F
Average low………………… – 1F

Sunrise……………………. 7:52am
Sunset…………………….. 8:07pm
Length of day………………. 12 hrs 15 mins
….. For a gain of 6 mins 44 secs from yesterday

Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery

The Rose Berry Art Gallery is located on the upper floor of the Museum of the North. The Alaska Territorial Legislature included the museum in the charter for the University of Alaska in 1917. The museum had its first exhibit in 1929, a collection of ethnological, archeological and paleontological material that had been collected by the famed local naturalist, Otto Geist. The large brown bear at the entrance to the museum’s Alaska Gallery is named “Otto” in honor of Mr Geist. In 1929, the University’s small collection of paintings were also placed on exhibit.

Warning: Do not touch the bear! I think it’s safe to say the bear’s nose gets rubbed for luck on occasion.

The art gallery is home to 2000 years of Alaskan art, from ancient ivory carvings, to contemporary sculpture and paintings.

“The Muries in Alaska”, oil on canvas by M.C. “Rusty” Heurlin

Artwork by “Rusty” Heurlin is displayed throughout the gallery. Heurlin spent several years living in the bush with his Alaska Native friends. The Muries, subject of the painting above, traveled throughout Alaska by dogsled. Margaret Murie was the first woman to graduate from the University of Alaska.

The gallery has over 3700 works of art on display. The current building was completed in 2005. Prior to that, much of the artwork was not displayed. Even with the new space, the vast majority of the collection is not on display. The Archaeology Collection alone has over 750,000 artifacts.

The work ranges from photographs by Ansel Admas, a painting of Denali by Sidney Laurence, to sculptures including the two thousand year old Okvik Madonna which originated in the Bering Sea region.

Walk to the River

In addition to paintings of wooly mammoths, there is a large selection of contemporary art as well. One of the most prominent is a rather large and elaborate outhouse. I did not take a picture of the impressive throne, but I did check to see if it was authentic. It was; it had a styrofoam seat. I did not check to see if it had been used recently.

Admission to the art gallery comes with admission to the museum. Don’t forget to check out the Place Where You Go to Listen. An “ever changing musical ecosystem, giving voice to the darkness, daylight, phases of the moon, seismic activity of the earth, and the dance of the aurora borealis”. It is honestly, quite the experience.