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

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

Extreme Weather, Extreme Christmas Tree

By Liz O'Connell for Frontier Scientists

A Ponderosa Pine grove towers over my house roof.  The 100 foot trees grow naturally and swiftly east of the Cascades in Oregon.  Before Thanksgiving, extreme winds blew over the Cascade mountain barrier and whipped around central Oregon. The night after, I checked my yard from a window—dried pine needle & pine cone litter but nothing unusual.  I didn’t see it until I walked out into the yard.  A ten foot tree-top lay next to the house.

Hmm, I thought, looks like a Christmas Tree. I brought my son, visiting from Portland for Thanksgiving, outside for a look.  “Christmas has come early,” he said.  And he helped me haul the sap heavy tree into the house and right it for my Christmas tree.  You can’t find a “black jack” in a tree lot, they don’t grow “Pondos” on Christmas Tree Farms. So it’s unusual; I call it my extreme x-mas tree.

SuperCell: Thanks to: University Corporation for Atmospheric ResearchSuperCell: Thanks to: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Perhaps another extreme to add to the 2012 list:  the warmest year on record, a record meltdown of ice in the Arctic ocean, hurricane Sandy, droughts in some areas, floods and fire in others.  It is Climate Change.

More people are connecting extreme events with climate change.  A few years ago when scientists began laying out the climate change evidence it was still easy to attribute events to natural variations such as volcanoes erupting or warm ocean currents.  But currently….

“The human caused climate change signal is now overwhelming the natural climate variations,” said Michael Lemonick, reporter and author of Global Weirdness, Severe Storms, Deadly Heat. The additional Carbon dioxide (CO2) caused by burning fossil fuels is adding more than normal CO2 into our earth’s system.  CO2 in the atmosphere is one-third higher than 100 years ago. People are putting these facts and events together.

Can climate change be fixed?  Have we already overwhelmed the system?

Back in 1968, I lived in Los Angeles for the summer.  I could write my name in the particulate matter that collected on my car overnight.  A lot of modifications contributed to the L.A. clean-up:  increased mileage standards, reformulating fuel, and catalytic devices on cars.  It’s an awesome transformation considering how many people live in L.A. in this 21st century enjoying air without the extreme glut of particulates.

TreeRings for Climate Research: Thanks to University Corporation for Atmospheric ResearchTreeRings for Climate Research: Thanks to University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Today to address world-wide climate change, political leaders are the ones that can help the most. It will necessitate international political action. The real fix is not wearing a mask to breathe, fortifying our coastlines or building flameproof fortresses.

My Climate Change Christmas wish list is simple-- serious local, state, and federal efforts to reverse climate change.  Reporter John Carey describes the national possibilities in his December 10th article Without Congress, There’s Still a Path to U.S. Progress on Climate.

My personal commitment is to bike and walk more, recycle and reuse, compost, conserve, shop local (and my closet), love and laugh more, and help give voice to scientists who work to understand the science and systems that we need to live.


Frontier Scientists

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