Frontier Scientists

Photo by Astronaut Jeff Williams, NASA Earth Observatory

The Frontier Scientists blog is for travelers, teachers, students, aspiring scientists, and anyone interested in scientific discovery in the Alaskan arctic.

Come here for videos, photos and summaries that put you in the front row for breaking scientific news in the Far North. Research by our team of Alaska-based scientists includes 10,000-year-old archeological finds, photos of active Cook Inlet volcanoes taken from the space station, climate change, Denali Park’s grizzlies, the nexus of Russian and native artistic traditions, and more.

Come along as scientists themselves are startled by the unexpected in field locations so remote researchers are often the first modern visitors to set foot in them.

Contact Liz O’Connell at liz@frontierscientists.com

Predicting the effect of anomalous sea ice loss and increasing sea surface temperatures on global storm systems - 4/15/2014 8:48 pm

The ground changing under our feet – Thermokarsts - 4/8/2014 2:24 pm

Snowy Owl Irruption - 4/2/2014 7:40 am

Tram Powered International Tundra Experiment - 3/25/2014 5:40 pm

Modeling shifting oceanscapes; a collective pursuit - 3/18/2014 6:29 pm

Iditarod sled dogs’ fat burning capabilities - 3/12/2014 11:04 pm

68 million ton landslide in Alaska: Mount La Perouse - 3/5/2014 7:34 pm

Feeling the heat? 2013 fourth warmest year on record - 2/27/2014 4:23 pm

Comet ISON approaches the Sun

In this Hubble Space Telescope composite image the icy sun-approaching Comet ISON floats against a seemingly infinite backdrop of numerous galaxies and a handful of foreground stars. Taken with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 on April 30, 2013.: Credit: NASA/ESA Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)In this Hubble Space Telescope composite image the icy sun-approaching Comet ISON floats against a seemingly infinite backdrop of numerous galaxies and a handful of foreground stars. Taken with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 on April 30, 2013.: Credit: NASA/ESA Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Our patch of universe has a visitor from afar. Comet C/2012 S1 (ISON), or Comet ISON, has astronomers across the world training telescopes and eager eyes on outer space.

Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office, watches for objects whose orbits come close to Earth. He says ISON is "...Coming from the very edge of our solar system so it stills retains the primordial ices from which it formed four-and-a-half billion years ago. It's been traveling from the outer edge of the solar system for about five-and-a-half million years to reach us in the inner solar system, and it's going to make an extremely close approach" to the Sun on November 28th 2013, Thanksgiving Day.

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Learning our forests from space– mapping deforestation and regrowth

Global forest map 2000-2014: Image : NASA Goddard, based on data from Hansen et al., 2013.Global forest map 2000-2014: Image : NASA Goddard, based on data from Hansen et al., 2013.
Using Landsat imagery and cloud computing, researchers mapped forest cover worldwide as well as forest loss and gain. Over 12 years, 888,000 square miles (2.3 million square kilometers) of forest were lost, and 309,000 square miles (800,000 square kilometers) regrew.

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

"Every day, Landsat satellites provide essential information for land managers and policy makers to support wise decisions about our resources and environment in the places we live and work." (NASA)

Matthew Hansen, University of Maryland, and co-author Thomas Loveland, U.S. Geological Survey, released an unprecedented record of global deforestation and forest regrowth from 2000 to 2012. Their maps and findings

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Against the odds Antarctic sea ice is growing– here's why

In Antarctica, ozone depletion has caused more intense low pressure systems (shown in blue) to develop over the Amundsen and Ross Seas, while higher pressure systems (red) have developed on the periphery of the Southern Ocean.: Courtesy Mike Marosy, NASAIn Antarctica, ozone depletion has caused more intense low pressure systems (shown in blue) to develop over the Amundsen and Ross Seas, while higher pressure systems (red) have developed on the periphery of the Southern Ocean.: Courtesy Mike Marosy, NASA
In Antarctica, ozone depletion has caused more intense low pressure systems (shown in blue) to develop over the Amundsen and Ross Seas, while higher pressure systems (red) have developed on the periphery of the Southern Ocean. Ozone loss has likely strengthened the cyclonic wind flow across the Ross Ice Shelf and made winds cooler and stormier. / Courtesy Mike Marosy, NASA

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

"On any given day, sea ice cover in the oceans of the polar regions is about the size of the U.S.," Thorsten Markus reminds us. He's a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. "Far-flung locations like the Arctic and Antarctic actually impact our temperature and climate where we live and work on a daily basis."

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, September Arctic sea ice extent (area) has declined by 13.7 percent per decade since 1979, while Antarctic sea ice extent has been increasing at 1.1 percent per decade.

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Trapped in a cracked snow globe

A snow-bound Alaska. Image captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite.: Courtesy MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA Earth ObservatoryA snow-bound Alaska. Image captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite.: Courtesy MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA Earth Observatory

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Snowball fights. Snow angels and lovely ice sculptures. You can truck across it or ski through it. Snow might be a heavy reality you shovel every day, or a glittering crystalline landscape far away. Or both. Whatever snow means to you, it means something much more complex to the world. Snow is powerful and volatile. It governs ecosystems in the far north and impacts climate across the globe. At FrontierScientists, the scientists who are working hard to refine our understanding of snow melt are featured in our new project Arctic Snow.

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Proxy data from past climates

Preparing the ice corer for deployment, EPICA project, Antarctica: Attribution Hannes Grobe, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic)Preparing the ice corer for deployment, EPICA project, Antarctica: Attribution Hannes Grobe, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic)

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

We can't use time machines to go back and take the Earth's temperature during ancient times, yet we need past records of climate data to help calculate Earth's history, where we are now, and what our planet will look like going forward. Paleoclimatology studies ancient climates with the use of proxy data, data from natural sources that we can seek out today to learn more about the past.

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Sea otters and kelp forests helping you

Sea Otters socializing, Morro Bay, CA.: Attribution Michael L. Baird (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)Sea Otters socializing, Morro Bay, CA.: Attribution Michael L. Baird (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

The fur trade halted abruptly with the International Fur Seal Treaty of 1911, which finally forbade commercial harvesting. Hunters and trappers had run rampant during the last two centuries. The species of sea life they harvested for pelts during the 18th and 19th century were decimated: Northern fur seal populations were incredibly rare, and Sea otters were believed to be completely extinct. Then, in 1938 a small group of Sea otters was discovered living off the coast of Big Sur, California.

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Be a part of Citizen Science Projects

A dense aggregation of Medusa jellyfish (hydromedusa Solmaris rhodoloma) off the coast of California, taken using the In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS) on board the NOAA R/V Bell M. Shimada. Each medusa is about 2 cm long.: Photo provided by Plankton Portal & credited to Bob Cowen University of Miami & Oregon State UniversityA dense aggregation of Medusa jellyfish (hydromedusa Solmaris rhodoloma) off the coast of California, taken using the In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS) on board the NOAA R/V Bell M. Shimada. Each medusa is about 2 cm long.: Photo provided by Plankton Portal & credited to Bob Cowen University of Miami & Oregon State University

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Today there are a myriad of ways you can get involved in the scientific field. Modern technology lets us coordinate, putting brainpower and computing power to good use. Volunteer as a citizen scientists, and let’s get science done together.

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Frontier Scientists presents videos about Understanding Climate Change Through Archaeology

Osteoarcheology - finds from a midden.: Attribution John Tustin (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license)Osteoarcheology - finds from a midden.: Attribution John Tustin (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license)

October 8 2013— You've seen ancient bones uncovered by archaeologists in museums, dusty and mysterious, and learned something new about the past. For a zooarchaeologist, bones will give up more secrets than most. Join Mike Etnier, zooarchaeologist at Western Washington University, as he exposes the secrets of bones.

In videos "A Zooarchaeologist's Take on Climate Change" and "Using Middens as Time Machines", Etnier displays bones found in sites once occupied by ancient hunters

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Video submission invitation — Science Storytelling Workshop

Science Storytelling Workshop: Video-making Tips and Tools

Sun., 8 Dec., 3:30 P.M. – 5:30 P.M.
San Francisco Marriott Marquis - Salon 4

Video is the new tool for scientists needing to document research, explain a thesis, communicate scientific findings to the public, or just tell an interesting science story. This science storytelling workshop provides tips and tools from technology companies including Google Earth and GoPro Camera, professional video makers, and scientists with a passion for communicating science using video.

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A forest revealed under glacial ice

Icy view of Mendenhall Glacier in wintertime. Frozen Mendenhall Lake in foreground.: (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license (no author listed))Icy view of Mendenhall Glacier in wintertime. Frozen Mendenhall Lake in foreground.: (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license (no author listed))

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier is shrinking, and its retreating ice has bared the remains of an ancient forest. Preserved stumps and trunks, many still rooted and even bearing bark, sit in a gravelly mix of stone churned up by the glacier. The trees are being exposed to open air for the first time in over two thousand years.

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Beating the burn: tundra recovery after the 2007 Anaktuvuk River fire

Sparked by lightning in mid-July of 2007, the Anaktuvuk River Fire burned more than 400 square miles before snow put it out in early October.: Courtesy Bureau of Land Management, Alaska Fire ServiceSparked by lightning in mid-July of 2007, the Anaktuvuk River Fire burned more than 400 square miles before snow put it out in early October.: Courtesy Bureau of Land Management, Alaska Fire Service

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

“The same kind of vegetation that was there before the fire are the same ones we're seeing in the recovery. Some plants though, like lichens, take longer." The information comes from Syndonia Bret-Harte, a researcher studying the fire scar left after 2007’s Anaktuvuk River fire near Alaska’s Brooks Range.

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Alaska, updated — modern maps detail the 49th state

This view of Alaska at (58.670, -156.997) displays updated orthoimagery from the SPOT 5 satellite (2.5-meter spatial resolution) alongside older imagery from the Landsat 7 satellite (15-meter spatial resolution).: Thanks to the Alaska Statewide Digital Mapping Initiative (SDMI) and the UAF Geographic Information Network of Alaska (GINA), working with the U.S. Geological Survey.This view of Alaska at (58.670, -156.997) displays updated orthoimagery from the SPOT 5 satellite (2.5-meter spatial resolution) alongside older imagery from the Landsat 7 satellite (15-meter spatial resolution).: Thanks to the Alaska Statewide Digital Mapping Initiative (SDMI) and the UAF Geographic Information Network of Alaska (GINA), working with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

The U.S. Geological Survey's Alaska Mapping Initiative has released more than 400 new digital topographic maps for the state of Alaska.

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A continent of ice on the wane

A whale-watching platform made of and sitting on sea ice north of Barrow.: Photo by Ned Rozell.A whale-watching platform made of and sitting on sea ice north of Barrow.: Photo by Ned Rozell.

Ned Rozell for UAFGI

Despite taking up as much space as Australia, the blue-white puzzle of ice floating on the Arctic Ocean is an abstraction to the billions who have never seen it. But continued shrinkage of sea ice is changing life for many living things.

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Assisted migration could help plants find a new home

Seaside Arrowgrass in beautiful Alaska: CourtesyBureau of Land Management. BLM AK930, Seeds of SuccessSeaside Arrowgrass in beautiful Alaska: CourtesyBureau of Land Management. BLM AK930, Seeds of Success

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Plants, evolved to move with the natural rhythms of the world, cannot keep up with the rapid pace of climate change we are facing today. Their ideal habitats are sliding north as the world heats up. Do we get our hands dirty and help move the species most at risk, throwing the idea of conservation as preserving untouched land out the window? Or do we watch many plants go extinct before our eyes? It’s a harder question to answer than you might think.

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Safeguarding plants in an uncertain climate future

The entrance of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Spitsbergen, Norway, 2011.: Image Timo Palo (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)The entrance of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Spitsbergen, Norway, 2011.: Image Timo Palo (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

On a remote island in Norway, deep within an old coal mine sealed behind blast doors, seeds sit in the cold and quiet and wait. They are an insurance against an uncertain future. Our uncertain climate future is altering habitats so swiftly that plants can’t keep up, and we’re struggling to define how best to respond.

Preserving plant genes in seed banks

Seed banks are one tool in the fight to preserve biodiversity.

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Orbital dynamics and climate

Orbital_SolarSystemA representation of the solar system.: Courtesy NASAOrbital_SolarSystemA representation of the solar system.: Courtesy NASA

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Cyclical changes in the way the Earth circumnavigates the Sun can influence Earth’s climate. Last week, we looked at Milankovitch’s assessments of orbital dynamics, including: orbital eccentricity, Earth’s tilt or obliquity, and the precession or change in orientation of the Earth's axis of rotation which determines what direction each hemisphere points. Now, let’s examine how Milankovitch’s observations can lend themselves to an astronomical theory of paleoclimates. How have these forces shaped Earth’s climate history, and what can they tell us about Earth’s climate future?

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Earth's orbital dynamics

Image by Thomas G. Andrews, NOAA PaleoclimatologyImage by Thomas G. Andrews, NOAA PaleoclimatologyThe tilted earth revolves around the Sun on an elliptical path. Over the course of a year the orientation of the axis remains fixed in space, producing changes in the distribution of solar radiation. These changes in the pattern of radiation reaching earth's surface cause the succession of the seasons. The Earth's orbital geometry, however, is not fixed over time. Indeed, long-term variations of the Earth's orbit may help explain the waxing and waning of global climate in the last several million years.

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

In the 1930s, Serbian mathematician Milutin Milankovitch theorized that slow changes in the way the Earth moves through space about the Sun could have influenced our planet's climate past.

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Wildfires across our hot planet

Forest Fire: Courtesy U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of AgricultureForest Fire: Courtesy U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Wildfires are a hungry, terrible and complex force which we’ve long struggled to live alongside.

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Taking to the sky to better sniff the air

Cathy Cahill holds a carbon-fiber AeroVironment Raven she will use to sample plumes of hazy air.: Photo by Ned RozellCathy Cahill holds a carbon-fiber AeroVironment Raven she will use to sample plumes of hazy air.: Photo by Ned Rozell

by Ned Rozell

On a cool spring morning in the mountains of southwest Washington, 12-year old Cathy Cahill helped her dad plant scientific instruments around the base of trembling Mount St. Helens. A few days later, the volcano blew up

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Mount Redoubt sounds off

View west up the Drift River valley toward Mt Redoubt, Alaska. The entire sector east of the volcano is blanketed in ash deposits. March 31, 2009: Image by Game McGimsey, Alaska Volcano Observatory & U.S. Geological SurveyView west up the Drift River valley toward Mt Redoubt, Alaska. The entire sector east of the volcano is blanketed in ash deposits. March 31, 2009: Image by Game McGimsey, Alaska Volcano Observatory & U.S. Geological Survey

Volcanoes and Harmonic Tremors

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Volcanoes are an awe-inspiring and hazardous part of our planet. And now, they're being made to sing. Scientists are turning seismic data into audio data in order to grasp just what's going on deep in the Earth's crust

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