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

What I learned this Earth Day, 2014 - 4/22/2014 7:16 pm

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

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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Earthshots puts visually stunning Landsat data to use

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Every eight days, a Landsat satellite carrying delicate sensing and scanning equipment passes high above wherever you might be on the planet. Data from Landsat mission images records changes on Earth's surface since 1972, over the last four decades, and it's freely available to scientists and the public. By visiting Earthshots: Satellite Images of Environmental Change, you can explore how the surface of our planet has transformed over time.

Lake Manicouagan in central Quebec lies in an astrobleme, a scar left on the Earth’s surface from an impact of a meteorite. This astrobleme was formed about 212 million years ago when an approximately 3.1 mile-diameter asteroid crashed into Earth.: Some scientists speculate that this impact may have been responsible for the mass extinction that wiped out more than half of all living species. This natural color Landsat 7 image was collected on June 1, 2001. / Courtesy NASALake Manicouagan in central Quebec lies in an astrobleme, a scar left on the Earth’s surface from an impact of a meteorite. This astrobleme was formed about 212 million years ago when an approximately 3.1 mile-diameter asteroid crashed into Earth.: Some scientists speculate that this impact may have been responsible for the mass extinction that wiped out more than half of all living species. This natural color Landsat 7 image was collected on June 1, 2001. / Courtesy NASA

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Looking back in time at the world's oceans

A Seasat image of the Kuskokwim River Delta in Alaska, acquired July 13 1978 . Digitally processed by the Alaska Satellite Facility.: Courtesy NASAA Seasat image of the Kuskokwim River Delta in Alaska, acquired July 13 1978 . Digitally processed by the Alaska Satellite Facility.: Courtesy NASA

by Molly Rettig

A time capsule of satellite imagery of the earth will become available to scientists this month.

On June 28, digital imagery from more than three decades ago will be released by the Alaska Satellite Facility at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, NASA’s processor and distributor for this type of data. The images reveal an unprecedented view of sea ice, waves, forests, glaciers and more.

“It was awesome because I was resurrecting data that nobody has seen in 35 years, pictures of the earth from when I was a child,”

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Humble lemmings are an Arctic keystone species

Lemming in mount Njuolja, Abisko National Park in Sweden.: Attribution David Mintz (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)Lemming in mount Njuolja, Abisko National Park in Sweden.: Attribution David Mintz (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists –

Arctic temperatures are warming at twice the rate of lower latitudes', making the area one of the most rapidly changing regions on Earth. Arctic ecosystems are facing radical alteration. And, surprisingly, a tiny furry rodent may be a major player in those changes. Lemming populations have a powerful impact on Arctic flora and fauna.

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Ice restrains the floodgates

A vibrantly colored iceberg captured on camera during a 30-day mission in 2012 to map areas of the Arctic aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather.: Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationA vibrantly colored iceberg captured on camera during a 30-day mission in 2012 to map areas of the Arctic aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather.: Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists –

There's a new Titanic under construction, a grandiose ocean liner with its maiden voyage set for 2016. The Australian billionaire undertaking the recreation of the original RMS Titanic intends Titanic II it to be a near-perfect replica of the ill-fated steamship which sank in 1912 after striking an iceberg. The disaster claimed over 1,500 lives.

Recreating the voyage sounds like an ominous undertaking. Yet, thanks to international cooperation and modern technology, the Titanic II can steam forward with a good grasp of what lies in its path. The International Ice Patrol, a joint effort between the United States and Canada managed since 1913 by the United States Coast Guard, tracks icebergs that drift south past the 48th parallel where they have the potential to disrupt shipping lanes.

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Under pressure: Arctic trends sparking extreme weather at large

The Polar jet stream is pictured in this screencap of NASA video "Aerial Superhighway". This image portrays a zonal jet stream, with winds moving swiftly west-to-east. The fastest winds are colored red; slower winds are blue. : Courtesy NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Goddard Space Flight CenterThe Polar jet stream is pictured in this screencap of NASA video "Aerial Superhighway". This image portrays a zonal jet stream, with winds moving swiftly west-to-east. The fastest winds are colored red; slower winds are blue. : Courtesy NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Goddard Space Flight Center

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

In September 2012, at the end of last summer, the Arctic sea ice extent reached a record low since satellite measurements began. And, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, summer sea ice extent in the Arctic has declined roughly 40 percent in the last three decades.

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Tiny aerosol particles, big global impacts

As interest in Earth's changing climate heats up, a tiny dark particle is stepping into the limelight: black carbon. Commonly known as soot, black carbon enters the air when fossil fuels and biofuels, such as coal, wood, and diesel are burned.: Black carbon, a short-lived particle, is in perpetual motion across the globe. / Courtesy NASA, the Image of the Day GalleryAs interest in Earth's changing climate heats up, a tiny dark particle is stepping into the limelight: black carbon. Commonly known as soot, black carbon enters the air when fossil fuels and biofuels, such as coal, wood, and diesel are burned.: Black carbon, a short-lived particle, is in perpetual motion across the globe. / Courtesy NASA, the Image of the Day Gallery

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Tiny particles suspended in the air, present in the air we breathe and in the highest reaches of the atmosphere, are called aerosols. And those aerosols, though relatively short-lived, have a huge impact on global climate change.

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BARREL mission balloons fly high

One of 20 balloon launches from Antarctica for the BARREL mission in January 2013: Courtesy NASAOne of 20 balloon launches from Antarctica for the BARREL mission in January 2013: Courtesy NASA

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Balloons are far from the first things that come to mind when you hear scientific discovery, but measurements taken by a fleet of eight-story-tall balloons released earlier this year are helping scientists make new discoveries

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Eyes on Columbia Glacier's retreat

A false-color Landsat satellite image of Columbia Glacier taken September 16 2010. Ice calves from the glacial terminus and drifts away on the waters of Alaska's Prince William Sound: Courtesy NASA USGS and GoogleA false-color Landsat satellite image of Columbia Glacier taken September 16 2010. Ice calves from the glacial terminus and drifts away on the waters of Alaska's Prince William Sound: Courtesy NASA USGS and Google

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

The Landsat mission, a joint effort between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), has been collecting data on Earth's physical features via satellite since the 1970s.

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Ozone loss and recovery in the Arctic

The ozone hole is the region over Antarctica with total ozone of 220 Dobson Units or lower. This map shows the Antarctic ozone hole as of September 22, 2012. : Courtesy: NASA Goddard Space Flight CenterThe ozone hole is the region over Antarctica with total ozone of 220 Dobson Units or lower. This map shows the Antarctic ozone hole as of September 22, 2012. : Courtesy: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

The ozone hole is a problem which plagues the skies above Antarctica. Yet in 2011, Arctic skies experienced the most severe ozone depletion ever measured in the north. The reasons why are now explained

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Monitoring volcanic activity at Mount Cleveland

[] Mount Cleveland viewed from the air (May 31, 2012). / Photography by Cyrus Read. Courtesy the Alaska Volcano Observatory and U.S. Geological Survey []
(Editor's Note: At the time of posting, the Anchorage Daily News image directory is malfunctioning. Volcano images can be viewed at the original article on FrontierScientists.)

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

On Saturday May 4th the Alaska Volcano Observatory detected a series of low-level explosions at Cleveland volcano.

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Big booms over the northland

The Chelyabinsk meteorite flew over Russia early in the morning of Feb 15 2013. It exploded above Chelyabinsk city, damaging buildings. Hundreds were injured due mostly to flying glass. Photo, taken shortly after the blast, shows the meteorite's trace.: By Alex Alishevskikh (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)The Chelyabinsk meteorite flew over Russia early in the morning of Feb 15 2013. It exploded above Chelyabinsk city, damaging buildings. Hundreds were injured due mostly to flying glass. Photo, taken shortly after the blast, shows the meteorite's trace.: By Alex Alishevskikh (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

by Ned Rozell

Near a small village in Russia, Marina Ivanova stepped into cross-country skis and kicked toward a hole in the snow. The meteorite specialist with the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and Vernadsky Institute in Moscow was hunting for fragments of the great Chelyabinsk Meteorite

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New insights: global warming drivers in the 20th century and beyond

Gígjökull is an outlet glacier extending from the volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland.: Attribution: Andreas Tille ( Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.)Gígjökull is an outlet glacier extending from the volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland.: Attribution: Andreas Tille ( Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.)

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Researchers have combed through the last 2,000 years of climate records. Their assessment affirms that a persistent long-term cooling trend concluded in the late 19th century, reversed by global warming.

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VIIRS as an Arctic Nightlight

Overview of the Alaska region: Generated by GINA, image by VIIRSOverview of the Alaska region: Generated by GINA, image by VIIRS

by Liz O'Connell for Frontier Scientists During winter in the Arctic it’s “night” almost all the time, but thanks to the new Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) Day/Night Band (DNB) we no longer have to be in the dark about what’s going on with the weather.

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Burned Alaska may cause more burned Alaska

by Ned Rozell

The blackened scars that Alaska fires leave on the landscape may result in more lightning, more rain in some areas just downwind of the scars, and less rain farther away, according to two scientists.

Nicole Mölders and Gerhard Kramm, both of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, study how changes in landscapes affect the weather. After Alaska’s fire season in 2004, when smoke befouled much of the air Alaskans breathed and a collective area the size of Vermont burned, the scientists wondered how all that charred country would affect local weather patterns.

The researchers used MM5, a computer model based at Penn State University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, to simulate conditions on the ground and in the air above it. They compared the surface of Alaska before and after Alaska’s record fire season, in which 6.72 million acres burned. The model told them that fire scars larger than 250,000 acres—about the space taken up by the five boroughs of New York City—have an impact on weather close to the fire scar.

A fire scar in the making near Venetie, Alaska on June 24, 2004.: Image courtesy U.S. Geological Survey and Geographic Information Network of Alaska.A fire scar in the making near Venetie, Alaska on June 24, 2004.: Image courtesy U.S. Geological Survey and Geographic Information Network of Alaska.

“There’s more rain locally, in the lee side of the scar and then less precipitation farther out,”

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Plants march north

Eagle River Valley near Anchorage, Alaska: By Frank Kovalchek (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License)Eagle River Valley near Anchorage, Alaska: By Frank Kovalchek (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License)

Laura Nielsen for FrontierScientists

The face of the Arctic is changing as plant growth flourishes further north than before. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), "Temperature and vegetation growth at northern latitudes now resemble those found 4 degrees to 6 degrees of latitude farther south as recently as 1982." This change accompanies the ongoing anthropogenic climate change associated with our warming world. Satellite data from the past 30 years helped researchers understand the vegetative change, and the findings were presented in Nature Climate Change

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AAA Conference Gives Life to Ancient Stories and New Revelations

Liz O'Connell for Frontier Scientists

“Ancient ice is melting and yielding many things we haven’t seen before,” said Jeanne Schaaf, National Park Service archaeologist

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Permafrost scientist snowmachining from Alaska to Atlantic

Permafrost-caused polygons in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.: Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.Permafrost-caused polygons in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.: Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

by Ned Rozell

Kenji Yoshikawa will soon sleep on brilliant, blue-white landscape that has never felt the imprint of his boots. Beginning on spring equinox, the permafrost scientist and a partner will attempt to drive snowmachines from Prudhoe Bay to Canada’s Baffin Island.

While traveling a distance equal to Seattle to Tokyo to Seattle over land and sea ice, Yoshikawa will camp outside villages in an Arctic Oven tent. Along the way, stopping at village schools in Canada’s far north, he will drill holes in the ground and snake in strings of thermometers to record permafrost temperatures.

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Arctic Volcanism Helps Date Ancient Archaeological Sites

By Liz O'Connell for Frontier Scientists

“By dating ash,” said Richard Vanderhoek, “an archaeological site in Alaska, can be placed on a chronostratographic timeline.”  Or in other words: the chemical makeup of the ash, matched with a volcano eruption, will provide an approximate date of the site.  Archaeologists worldwide have dated ancient sites for the last half century in this manner.

Volcanic Ash LayersVolcanic Ash Layers

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After a lifetime of study, aurora still a mystery

A coronal mass ejection (CME) erupting into space, travelling at speeds over 900 miles per second. CMEs which connect with Earth's magnetosphere cause auroras to appear: Courtesy National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationA coronal mass ejection (CME) erupting into space, travelling at speeds over 900 miles per second. CMEs which connect with Earth's magnetosphere cause auroras to appear: Courtesy National Aeronautics and Space Administration

by Ned Rozell

Sometimes, after idling in the sky for hours as a greenish glow, the aurora catches fire, erupting toward the magnetic north pole in magnificent chaos that can last for three hours. “Substorms,” as space physicists call them, can happen two or three times each night.

The man who came up with that name half a century ago has, with a former student he once mentored, come up with a new theory on the location of heavenly energy for these auroras.

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