Tag Archives: travel

“Killer Whales in Resurrection Bay, Alaska”

Oil on panel, by Rockwell Kent; 1919

Launching balloons

An automatic weather balloon launcher, near Fairbanks

I’ve been out at Poker Flats, which is outside Fairbanks, on several occasions when they were launching weather balloons. These days, most weather balloons are filled and launched by robotic launchers called autosondes, which takes some of the romance out of weather balloons, but that’s not the purpose of this post.

In the United States alone, there are 92 sites that launch two balloons every day of the year. There are over 800 locations worldwide doing the exact same thing. Here in Alaska, we have 13 sites that launch weather balloons twice a day, every day, and always at the same time: Midnight and noon Greenwich Mean Time.

A small collection of weather instruments, called a radiosonde is attached to the balloon which collects data and transmits that data back to the NWS as it rises. A weather balloon makes it to roughly 100,000 feet before it pops and falls back to earth. These days, radio balloons are highly biodegradable.

The first weather balloon with a radiosonde launched from Fairbanks in 1933. They started launching two balloons a day in 1941. I’ll let you do the math, but no matter how you figure it, that’s a lot of balloons.


“A Dreamer’s Search”

In the summer of 1918, Rockwell Kent arrived in Seward, Alaska with his nine year old son. They spent the rest of that summer, and the following winter in a small log cabin on Fox Island out in Resurrection Bay. They rebuilt the cabin, cut firewood, explored the island, but most of all Kent worked on his art. The work that followed, including his memoir Wilderness, inspired countless numbers of artists and adventurers alike.

A Dreamer’s Search is a short film by Alaskan filmmaker Eric Downs. The film explores the Kents adventure out on Fox Island, and asks one big question:

Would you risk everything to find your true calling?


Alaska helped take down the Roman Republic

Volcano Week:

Okmok Volcano; Image credit AVO

Ice core records from the Arctic show that Alaska’s Okmok Volcano had a massive eruption in 43 BCE. Following the eruption, there was an abrupt cooling globally, which led to crop failures, famine, disease, and eventually, social unrest. The Mediterranean region was no exception to this.

Such a shift in climate, coming a year after the assassination of Caesar, would have put great pressure on local powers. Strain was also felt in Egypt.

Okmok has a very active history. At one time, it had a 150 meter deep lake in its crater. A notch in the rim eventually drained the lake, although some small remnant lakes remain near cones B & D.

The eruptions of Okmok 8300 and 2050 years ago earn a Volcanic Explosivity Index rating of 6, which puts it on par with Novarupta and Krakatoa.

On 12 July 2008, Okmok erupted without warning, sending ash 50,000 feet into the air. It erupted continuously for almost six full days, causing transportation problems in the air and on the water for the region. That eruption was ranked a 4 VEI, which is considered “cataclysmic”.

Okmok Volcano; Photo credit: AVO/Burke Mees

Back to 43 BCE. The decade following the eruption was one of the coldest in a millennia, with 43 and 42 BCE being some of the coldest years. It is believed that a temperature drop of 7C from normal was a result of the volcanic eruption on the other side of the globe.

The full, scientific report can be found here:

https://www.pnas.org/doi/full/10.1073/pnas.2002722117


The Islands of the Four Mountains

Volcano Week:

An Aleutian Caldera?

There is a cluster of volcanic islands in the Aleutian Chain that scientists have recently been asking a rather provocative question: Could they all be a part of one giant super volcano, similar to the Yellowstone Caldera?

This tight grouping of islands is home to six stratovolcanoes: Carlisle, Cleveland, Herbert, Kagamil, Tana and Uliaga. Mount Cleveland has been one of the most active volcanoes in North America over the past 20 years.

Most stratovolcanoes tend to have modest sized reservoirs of magma. Although that doesn’t mean they can’t have explosive eruptions, but they are dwarfed by caldera forming eruptions. A caldera is formed by tapping a huge reservoir of magma in the earth’s crust. A caldera forming eruption releases a massive amount of lava and ash, and they are catastrophic, often causing world-wide effects.*

Field work continues, although there is nothing easy about doing research in the Aleutians.

Mount Cleveland

Photo and map credit: USGS, *University of Alaska – Fairbanks


Volcano Week!

It’s the tail end of Volcano Week with the National Park Service. The above photo, of Mount Wrangell, was taken in 1902 by W.C. Mendenhall, of the U. S. Geological Survey. The namesake of Mendenhall Glacier.

Mount Wrangell is a andesitic shield volcano within Wrangell-St Elias National Park. Its last eruption was in 1930, but it has been actively steaming for over 100 years.


Electric Delivery

A test delivery van, followed by another EV riding shotgun

We often see test vehicles roaming our roads in the winter, although these stood out more than most. The first time I saw them, there was an entire convoy in line, but since then it’s been mostly in small groups.

Amazon is in Fairbanks testing their new EV delivery vans. This is probably not the winter to give an EV a thorough cold weather test, as it has been one of the milder winters I have experienced. Still, Amazon is having a go at it, and it should be a good test for how they handle on icy roads.

If you rear end one of these vans, you are spending way too much time on your cell phone.

Yukon Quest – Alaska

The Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race starts on Saturday morning from downtown Fairbanks. The race, 550 miles long, is roughly half the distance from what it was pre-pandemic. Gone is the international flavor of the race, with Alaska and The Yukon going their separate ways.

In addition to the 550, there will also be a 300 mile run and an 80 mile youth mush.

Only time will tell if the race can survive without the international aspect of the Whitehorse – Fairbanks cooperation.


Happy Marmot Day


Follow the leader?

On the Chena River, downtown Fairbanks, in another century

I’m not sure which I find odder: The people skating on the river, or the people on the bridge watching the skaters on the river.

Times have certainly changed.