Our length of day has dropped below 12 hours, here in the Interior of Alaska. 11 hours and 22 minutes, to be exact. The length of visible light has shrunk to 12 hours 59 minutes. Yesterday had 6 minutes and 38 seconds of more daylight.
There have been several hard frosts already, but no snow in Fairbanks. The low, so far at the cabin this autumn, was 22F.
Check those headlamps; it’s all downhill until December 21.
Moose (Alces alces), is the largest of the deer family, and the Alaska-Yukon subspecies (Alces alces gigas), is the largest of moose.
A small adult female may weigh 800 pounds, while a large adult male can reach double that at 1600 pounds. Calves are born in the spring, with single births being the majority, but twins are common. Calves weigh a mere 28-30 pounds at birth, but within 5 months they will often be pushing 300 pounds. A moose rarely lives to the age of 16 years in the wild.
There are roughly 200,000 moose distributed widely throughout Alaska. On average, 7000 moose are harvested during the hunting season, providing 3.5 million pounds of meat.
Interior Alaska had a decent cold snap drop in for the Winter Solstice and Christmas holiday. From December 17-28, Fairbanks did not see temperatures climb above zero. By Alaska standards, the period was neither long nor extreme, but we did make some ice, as they say. For comparison sake: The 11 day streak of below zero is tied for 42nd longest in the past 50 years. *
The Koyukuk & Yukon River Valleys saw the largest drops, as Allakaket and Manley Hot Springs fell to -60F and -65F respectively. The Manley temp was the coldest officially recorded in Alaska since Fort Yukon dipped to -66F in 2012.
Fairbanks officially reached -40F for the first time this season on Dec 27. That was the only day it dropped down to -40 at the cabin, as well. We had not seen -40F in Fairbanks since January 12, 2019, which is quite the stretch for us.
On December 28, the Deadhorse airport combined -38F temperatures with a 21 mph breeze, to offer a -73 degree windchill to residents of Prudhoe Bay.
No record lows were set during the 11 day period. The record low statewide for the month of December is -72F, which happened in Chicken, Alaska on New Year’s Eve of 1999.
In spite of the cold snap, there is little doubt that 2019 will be the warmest on record for Alaska. Currently, the temp outside the cabin remains above zero, some birch logs are smoldering in the wood stove, and a window is open, as I type this out, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.
Collecting Pacific cod samples; Photo in Public Domain, credit to NOAA
For the first time, the federal government has closed the cod fishery in the Gulf of Alaska for the 2020 season. The reason: Low stock.
The Blob, a marine heatwave that hit the Gulf in 2014 is taking the blunt of the blame. Ocean temperatures rose 4-5 degrees, with some areas of the Gulf rising by 7 degrees. The increase in water temperature killed off young cod.
Cod usually return to the fishery after three years or more. They can live up to 14 years, and tend to reach a weight of 12 pounds.
After the heatwave, cod numbers crashed from 113,830 metric tons in 2014 to 46,080 in 2017. The numbers have been dropping ever since.
The closing will have a huge effect on the winter economies of places like Homer and Kodiak. Prior to The Blob, the fishery was a $50 million industry for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
“The Blob” in 2014 and 2019; Image credit: NOAA
Unfortunately, the blob’s sequel looks to be heading back to Alaskan waters. As of September 2019, the water temp of Blob 2 was only two degrees shy of the original.
The Russian-American Company was established in 1799. The RAC received a renewable 20-year charter, which granted the company exclusive rights over trade in Russia’s North American territory.
The fur trade led the RAC to build a trading post on the Middle Kuskokwim River in 1841, which they named Kolmakovsky Redoubt. The blockhouse, above, was the first building erected. Eight more structures would also be constructed.
A map showing location of Kolmakovsky Redoubt on the Middle Kuskokwim
Kolmakovsky was the only Russian redoubt to be constructed in Alaska’s Interior. After the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, the redoubt eventually transferred to the Alaska Commercial Company.
The blockhouse stood alongside the Kuskokwim River for over 80 years. In 1929, the building was donated to the University of Alaska. The eight-sided log building was dismantled, the logs numbered, and then shipped to Fairbanks. It remained in storage for the next 50 years.
In 1982, the blockhouse, which has a diameter of 17′, was reconstructed behind the Museum of the North, on the UAF campus. In 2009, the University received a grant from the “Saving America’s Treasures” program to to do an all out restoration. A concrete pad was poured, any rotten logs were fabricated as the originals, and the roof was rebuilt. All but one of the interior horizontal roof supports are original.
The spruce logs are all connected by interlocking dovetail notches. There are no windows, only a low doorway, and three narrow musket slots. The Kolmakovsky blockhouse is the only Russian blockhouse ever found with a sod roof, the rest were all built with a plank roof.
Today, the blockhouse from Kolmakovsky Redoubt is still located near the Museum of the North on the University of Alaska – Fairbanks campus. The Kolmakovsky Redoubt site on the Kuskokwim has been placed on the Alaska Heritage list of historic properties and archaeological sites. A detailed excavation of the site was completed during the 1966 and 1967 summers by UCLA professor Wendall H. Oswalt. Well over 5000 artifacts were excavated, which are now a part of the collection at the Museum of the North.
“Explorers are not, perhaps, the most promising people with whom to build a society. Indeed, some might say that explorers become explorers precisely because they have a streak of unsociability and a need to remove themselves at regular intervals as far as possible from their fellow men.”
“A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”