Tag Archives: UAF

Some summer numbers

Map credit: ACCAP/UAF/NOAA

Wildfires within Alaska burned less than half the usual acreage in 2020, which is not really a surprise with an unusually wet summer.

Fairbanks had its 12th warmest and 20th wettest summer in the past 90 years.

Anchorage saw its 23rd warmest and 28th wettest in the past 70 years.

Juneau had its 10th warmest and 15th wettest in the past 81 years.

The western coast of Alaska was just plain wet.

Bristol Bay had some very rough seas during the fishing season, but that didn’t keep them from setting a record year for sockeye salmon.

The Yukon River drainage had no salmon in 2020. No chums. No kings. Nada. The entire fishery was closed.

One bright spot was the amount of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea in August. It was the most we have seen in 15 years.

Denali National Park has already seen 6″ of the white stuff.

Fairbanks has already seen frost.


22 August 1907

The south bank of the Chena River, Fairbanks, Alaska 1907


Fire Season

Alaska smokejumpers land among the muskox

Luckily, we have not had a bad wildfire season in Alaska for 2021. We did have a fire flare up close to Fairbanks late last week, when smokejumpers, seen above, landed at UAF’s LARS location, where the herd of muskox can be seen roaming the hills. From the muskox field, the smokejumpers hiked the half mile to the fire’s location. That fire was quickly under control, and the firefighters went back to the Munson Creek fire soon after they were dispatched.

With just under 180,000 acres burned within the state so far this season, it puts us roughly equal with 2020 and within the lowest range of burned area since 2008. The Interior remains in a burn ban, but historically, 2/3 of acreage within a season has burned by July 15.

Figures,facts, graphics and video all from the Alaska Division of Forestry


Mail Run

Film Friday:

Photo courtesy of University of Alaska Archives

The Yukon River mail run, leaving Eagle, Alaska around 1906. Currently, only media mail still travels this way within the state.


Glacier on the move

Muldrow Glacier in Denali National Park is surging:

Muldrow Glacier, with Traleika Glacier coming in from the top left

In early March, pilot Chris Palm, who took the photo above, noticed something very different about Denali Park’s famed Muldrow Glacier. The normally smooth surface of the glacier was broken up by crevasses stretching across the width of Muldrow.

The long awaited surge had begun.

The 39 mile long, Muldrow Glacier last surged in 1957, so scientists were thrilled to study a natural phenomenon that has not occurred here in 64 years.

Surge-type glaciers are relatively rare, with approximately 1% of the glaciers world-wide being surge glaciers. Denali National Park has several, most of which get their start from the face of North America’s tallest peak.

Newly formed transverse crevasses on Muldrow

As snow and ice builds up at the higher elevations of a glacier, meltwater is also building up underneath the glacier. This meltwater acts as a lubricant when the weight from above passes equilibrium. The glacier then surges downward at a rate of up to 100 times faster than normal. At some point, the meltwater trapped under the glacier will be released in an outburst flood. Once the water is reduced significantly, the glacier’s surge will slow and it will go back to a state of quiescent (non-surge) once again. Over time, the process repeats itself. Muldrow Glacier has a history of surging roughly every 50 years.

An animated time-lapse of Muldrow Glacier on the northeast flank of Denali. The starting time is August 2018.

There are two GPS stations on the glacier to monitor its movement. There are also four time-lapse cameras facing different areas of the glacier, including one at the terminus to monitor the glacier’s “bulldozing action”. Another is looking over the McKinley River in order to capture images of the outburst flood. The Alaska Earthquake Center also has a seismic monitoring station, and a sound station has also been installed in an attempt to capture the grinding sound of the surging glacier.

Mapping Muldrow’s movement

In 1957, most accounts have the surge starting in May, 1956 on Traleika Glacier, which is the main tributary of Muldrow. Muldrow Glacier would advance over 4 miles before the surge ended in September of 1957. Approximately 3.3 cubic kilometers of ice was redistributed from the upper reaches of the glacier to its toe. At the upper levels, the ice thickness had dropped as much as 170 meters, but the toe rose to a 200 foot tall ice wall.

Currently, the Muldrow Glacier is moving between 10 to 20 meters per day, and is only 800 meters short of the 1957 terminus. At the current rate of surge, Muldrow will reach the 1957 distance in June.

All images, photos and maps are courtesy of the NPS; Sources include: NPS – Denali NP&P, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, University of Alaska – Fairbanks


Bowhead Whale Exhibit

Bowhead whale skull at the Museum of the North

In 1963, a young, male bowhead whale was harvested by Native Whalers in Utqiaġvik. The skeleton of the 43′ whale was eventually offered to the University of Alaska – Fairbanks, and it has been in the collection of the Museum of the North ever since. Only the skull has been put on display.

That is about to change, as the Museum is currently putting together the entire skeleton, and will display it from the lobby ceiling once it is complete.

The above video from the UAF Museum of the North, details some repair that had to be done to the ribs of the bowhead whale.


Bomb Cyclone

New Year’s Eve storm over the Aleutians; Image credit: CIRA/NOAA

The Aleutian Chain was rocked by an incredible storm over New Years. The wonderfully named Bomb Cyclone, set a record in Alaska for a low pressure system.

High and low-pressure systems form when air mass and temperature differences between the surface of the Earth, and the upper atmosphere, create vertical currents. In a low pressure system, the air currents flow upward, sucking air away from the earth’s surface like a giant Shop*Vac.

Eareckson Air Force Base on Shemya Island recorded the record low pressure at 924.8 millibars.

The record breaking low pressure system; Image credit: Tomer Burg

A sea buoy off of Amchitka Island, registered a wave at 58.1 feet. Winds at Shemya hit gusts of 83 mph. This was an impressive storm that pummeled the outer islands of the Aleutian Chain. From Atka to Adak, the islands were seeing 40-50 foot waves and hurricane force winds.

Graphic credit: National Weather Service – Fairbanks

St Lawrence Island and the Yukon Delta saw high winds and blizzard conditions when the storm hit Alaska’s mainland.

Unlike a hurricane, which extract heat from the ocean, as they grow in power, a maritime cyclone creates energy by drawing together warm and cold air masses. It’s the energy created when the warm air rises and the cold air sinks, that gives rise to the cyclone.

Sources: NOAA, UAF, NWS, NASA


Losing Darkness

Happy Winter Solstice

Photo credit: University of Alaska Fairbanks

On the Winter Solstice, we neither gain nor lose daylight here in Interior Alaska. The day today will be the same length as yesterday: 3 hours, 47 minutes long.

But tomorrow, tomorrow we will gain 20 seconds. Christmas Eve will see a gain of a minute, and by New Year’s, our daylight will last more than 4 hours.

It’s a big deal here in the north.

Saturn and Jupiter join forces; Credit: NASA/JPL

There will be a double treat in the skies this year, as we get to experience the rare “double conjunction”. Saturn and Jupiter will be so close together in the low southwestern sky, that they will appear as one bright point. The best time for viewing will be one hour after sunset.

The last time Jupiter and Saturn put on this “joint force” in the sky was in 1623.

And for any readers south of the equator:

Cheers!


Aurora Watch

There is a Geomagnetic Storm Watch in place for December 9-11. A coronal mass ejection (CME) happened on December 7, and that explosion of energy is headed our way.

The aurora should put on quite a show over the next few nights for those of us in viewing range and with clear skies.

Fairbanks, which is usually dead center of aurora viewing, is actually on the northern end of the spectrum. Looking south for the northern lights!

Map credit: University of Alaska Geophysical Institute


Up river with a cabin

Cabin floats up the Nome River; Photo credit: Jim Dory

A recent storm that hit Nome, Alaska had such a storm surge, that it took a cabin off its foundation, floating it upstream on the Nome River.

The cabin, owned by Rita Hulkill (82) of Nome, had been on the site for decades. According to Hulkill, the water had never been that high, ever. Without any sea ice, there was nothing to protect Nome from the surge. The cabin sat on a parcel of land that was a part of a native allotment that belonged to the Hulkill family. Much of that allotment has been eroded away, and only a few feet remain.

The cabin, at its new location on the Nome River; Photo credit: James Mason

The cabin, originally built in the 1970’s, was deposited, intact, up river from its original location. It had been used primarily as a subsistence residence in recent years.

Sources: The Nome Nugget; UAF’s ACCAP; @AlaskaWX