Tag Archives: arctic

Lightning Strikes

Lightning strikes across Alaska in 2020; Map credit: Vaisala

Alaska had 415,231 lightning strikes statewide in 2020. That may seem like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to Texas. In 2020, the Second Largest State in the U.S. had 33,816,168 strikes, which led the nation. The Lone Star state also had the #1 slot in 2019.

Florida led the U.S. in strikes per square mile, with 194 events.

Rhode Island had the least lightning events with only 8551 in 2020.

There were 170 million lightning events across the United States in 2020, which was a drop of 52 million from the previous year.

Even the high Arctic receives some flashes. There were 192 events north of 85°N over the course of two days: July 1-2.

The Washington Monuments was struck on June 4.

Vaisala’s U.S. National Lightning Detection Network, records both in-cloud, and cloud to ground lightning flashes.

Source: Vaisala Annual Lightning Report: 2020


Gentle Alaskan Giants

More from The Museum of the North


A pair of whale skulls

The smaller of the two skulls came from a gray whale. Gray whales typically show up in Alaskan waters during April. May and June are the best months for sightings. After that, these whales make their way up to summer in the cool waters of the Bering & Chukchi Seas. Their migration in the Pacific Ocean can be as much as 7000 miles one way. They start their journey south again in mid-October, reaching Baja California in December and January.


A breaching gray whale

Male gray whales reach 45 feet in length on average, with females growing a bit larger. Weight runs between 30-40 tons for both sexes. Unlike humpbacks, they have no dorsal fin. Lifespan is estimated to be 50-60 years. Of the three original populations of gray whales, the eastern Pacific stock that spends part of the year in Alaska waters, is the largest. The northern Atlantic population is extinct, and the Korean, or western Pacific population is now severely depleted.


Bowhead whale skull

The larger of the two skulls is from a bowhead whale. The bowhead is Alaska’s official state marine mammal. Unlike the gray whale and humpbacks, bowheads spend their entire year in arctic and sub-arctic waters. Their great arching head can break through sea ice to create breathing holes, and their blubber can reach 20 inches thick, accounting for half their weight. Bowheads are extremely vocal mammals, which in addition to communication, seems to aid in navigating the ice filled waters of the Arctic. The bowhead may have the longest lifespan of any mammal on the planet at an estimated 200 years.


Bowhead whale

Bowheads run 45-59 feet in length, and weigh 75-100 tonnes as adults. Their population is still listed as threatened, with a world-wide population of 8000-10000. The Alaska population is doing the best, with the population tripling in the past 30 years.


Humpback whale tail

In all, Alaska has at least 14 species of whales that spend some, if not all of the year in its waters. The museum expects to put a full humpback skeleton on display soon. This particular humpback whale washed ashore near Anchorage, where a team from the museum collected the skeleton, then transported it over land to Fairbanks. The skull alone, weighed 807 pounds.


Pachyrhinosaurus skull

Alaska once had dinosaurs. A pachyrhinosaurus skull like this one, was found along the Colville River on Alaska’s North Slope. The pachyrhinosaurus roamed northwestern North America between 71 million and 67 million years ago. Distantly related to the triceratops, the pachyrhinosaurus was a large, if unaggressive beast. Reaching 20 feet in length and around 4 tons in weight. They lived in herds, were herbivores, and seemed to migrate long distances.


A rendering of a pachyrhinosaurus

In Greek, pachyrhinosaurus means “reptile with a thick nose”. Like the triceratops, the pachyrhinosaurus had a thick, boney neck frill. Unlike the triceratops, the pachyrhinosaurus did not grow horns, but had a large knobby growth protrude from it’s nose.

Thanks to the Encyclopaedia Britannica for the pachyrhinosaurus rendering; and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game for the whale photos. And a special thanks to Ancient Greece for the name pachyrhinosaurus, which in a perverse way, I enjoyed typing over and over, because the word seemed to freak out my computer.


Methane Pocket

While working on a job a while back, I suddenly was aware of the sound of running water. Almost like the sound of a fountain. Interior Alaska had a lot of snow over the winter, so there was standing water everywhere, but moving water had me curious, so I went off towards the sound.

I came to a water hole that only fills up after break up. By the end of June it would probably be dried up. But now, it was full, and in the middle of the large puddle, was a water fountain. Initially, the stream of water went up 3-4 feet above the surface of the puddle. By the time I decided to hike back to my truck to get my phone, it had dropped down to 5-6 inches. From the time I heard the water, to the time the puddle stopped percolating, was a good 90 minutes.

A pocket of methane below the service had suddenly found a way up to sunlight, and the release put on a good show. These pockets are being released all across the Arctic, and I live in a hot bed of that activity.


“Tundra Ghosts” on cam

Arctic Snowy Owl Camshot

A pair of nesting Arctic Snowy Owls on the tundra near Barrow, AK have become web celebrities here in Fairbanks. The pair have six newborn chicks in the nest.

The Tundra Cam can be seen at the website http://www.explore.org

Also on explore.org are webcams viewing Brooks Falls, where one can watch brown bears as they fish for salmon.

brown-bears_brooks_falls

Photos courtesy of explore.org