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

Predicting the effect of anomalous sea ice loss and increasing sea surface temperatures on global storm systems

Maps showing dramatic increase of surface air temperature (colored contours °C) over the Arctic and parts of mid-latitude and corresponding changes in surface wind (vectors m/s).Maps showing dramatic increase of surface air temperature (colored contours °C) over the Arctic and parts of mid-latitude and corresponding changes in surface wind (vectors m/s).

Azara Mohammadi –

To become a PhD candidate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Soumik Basu moved from his home in Kolkata, India to a region infamous for its “below zero” weather: Interior Alaska. Basu left warm weather and his family (not to mention his mother’s cooking) because “The climate is changing, so I wanted to study how these changes in the climate affect the storm activities over the Northern Hemisphere.”

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The ground changing under our feet – Thermokarsts

Thermokarst on the shore of Wolverine Lake, Alaska: FrontierScientists footageThermokarst on the shore of Wolverine Lake, Alaska: FrontierScientists footage

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Jason Dobkowski stands on the shores of Wolverine Lake. His research site is located in the North Slope of Alaska, nestled near the remote foothills of the Brooks Range.

"I’m here studying permafrost thaw slump which is depositing silt and material into the lake behind me.

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Snowy Owl Irruption

Snowy Owl in flight: Image by David Hemmings, NaturesPhotoAdventures, Quebec, Ontario (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)Snowy Owl in flight: Image by David Hemmings, NaturesPhotoAdventures, Quebec, Ontario (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

This winter snowy owls were on the move; unusually large numbers of the magnificent birds made their way to the Lower 48 United States. With a wing span greater than four feet and distinctive plumage, snowy owls are a glorious sight. The birds' winter migrations normally take them to Canada's southern provinces. Some birds come all the way to the northern U.S. – especially near the coasts. Yet this year snowy owls winged their way southward all the way to North Carolina, Florida, and even Bermuda!

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Tram Powered International Tundra Experiment

Liz O'Connell for Frontier Scientists

Multiple instruments, configured along a tram-like platform, sense the tundra below and gather detailed data while traveling along a 50 meter transect.  “We are gathering measurements

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Modeling shifting oceanscapes; a collective pursuit

The Chukchi Sea, Bering Strait, and Bering Sea west of Alaska: Image by Google Earth, accessed March 17, 2014The Chukchi Sea, Bering Strait, and Bering Sea west of Alaska: Image by Google Earth, accessed March 17, 2014

Azara Mohammadi for Frontier Scientists

In 1996, Dr. Kate Hedstrom travelled to Norway to “Sit on Paul Budgell’s steps,” as she says. She went there to get a piece of code recently improved by Paul Budgell. “He promised

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Iditarod sled dogs’ fat burning capabilities

Sled dog: Image Christine Zenino (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)Sled dog: Image Christine Zenino (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

“It is so instinctual to be doing what these dogs are doing...” Iditarod contestant and avid musher Mike Santos believes, “...That it really requires very little training.” Dogs love to run. Still, a musher’s challenges are daunting. Alaskan weather is fierce and unpredictable; handling logistics, supplies, the vagaries of trail conditions, and– perhaps most of all– knowing the capabilities of yourself and your team are vital for every racer. Santos chooses his sled dog team carefully. “Just like people, they are all suited to different temperatures, different trail lengths, team size,” &c.

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68 million ton landslide in Alaska: Mount La Perouse

Using this imagery captured by the Operational Land Imager aboard the Landsat 8 satellite on February 23, 2014, scientists have confirmed that a large landslide occurred in southeastern Alaska on the flanks of Mount La Perouse on February 16, 2014...: Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory, image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological SurveyUsing this imagery captured by the Operational Land Imager aboard the Landsat 8 satellite on February 23, 2014, scientists have confirmed that a large landslide occurred in southeastern Alaska on the flanks of Mount La Perouse on February 16, 2014...: Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory, image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

February 16, 2014– A roar sounded unheard somewhere in the vicinity of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in remote southeast Alaska. Stone and debris, long part of Mount La Perouse, suddenly bowed to gravity as one of the mountain's near-vertical flanks collapsed.  The colossal landslide carried an estimated 68 million metric tons down Mount La Perouse.

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Feeling the heat? 2013 fourth warmest year on record

Map of the 2013 global temperature anomaly.: Courtesy NASA/GSFC/Earth Observatory, NASA/GISSMap of the 2013 global temperature anomaly.: Courtesy NASA/GSFC/Earth Observatory, NASA/GISS

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

The year 2013 was the fourth warmest year on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climate Data Center.

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Atmospheric layers driving accelerated far North warming

You can see evidence of a temperature inversion in this picture taken after a cold January night. The smoke rises and then spreads out, unable to mix with the higher warmer layer of air.: Image S/V Moonrise (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence)You can see evidence of a temperature inversion in this picture taken after a cold January night. The smoke rises and then spreads out, unable to mix with the higher warmer layer of air.: Image S/V Moonrise (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence)

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Recent research published in Nature Geoscience states that the largest contributors to warming in the Arctic are the region’s distinct surface temperatures coupled with the Arctic atmosphere’s prevailing vertical temperature structure. The research suggests that diminished snow and melting ice cover, previously thought

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The Yukon Quest: a community icon in a changing environment

Sled dogs of the 2014 Yukon Quest.: Photo copyright Gene McGill, used with permissionSled dogs of the 2014 Yukon Quest.: Photo copyright Gene McGill, used with permission

Azara Mohammadi for Frontier Scientists

The Yukon Quest tradition formally began in 1984 as a 1,000-mile sled dog race beginning in Alaska and ending in Canada’s Yukon Territory. The trail commemorates an historic route, dubbed the “Highway of the North,” passed down by mushers since the Arctic Gold Rush era.

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Inter-hemispheric climate coupling

The Lake El’gygytgyn drilling site seen from the air: drilling machinery and living accomodations perched atop a frozen lake in Siberia, Russia.: Image of the Lake El’gygytgyn Drilling Project provided by the University of Massachusetts Amherst for media useThe Lake El’gygytgyn drilling site seen from the air: drilling machinery and living accomodations perched atop a frozen lake in Siberia, Russia.: Image of the Lake El’gygytgyn Drilling Project provided by the University of Massachusetts Amherst for media use

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Paleoclimatology is the study of past climates. One of the many ways to study paleoclimatology is to collect a 2.5 inch [6.6 centimeter] wide tube of mud from a well-situated site. It’s amazing how much we can learn

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Tips and Tools for Science Storytellers at AGU Fall Meeting

Would you keep watching after 30 seconds? Voting at the Science Storytelling Video Workshop with colored cards.: Photo by Laura Nielsen for FrontierScientistsWould you keep watching after 30 seconds? Voting at the Science Storytelling Video Workshop with colored cards.: Photo by Laura Nielsen for FrontierScientists

Liz O'Connell for Frontier Scientists

“Story, Story, Story,” said Nancy Linde, NOVA producer, when asked what were the three important elements in creating the perfect NOVA. This is good advice for journalists, videographers, and scientists who want to write an article or create a video about science.

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Data from an impact crater

Lake El'gygytgyn, impact crater in Russia, imaged by Terra - ASTER satellite instruments.: NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data from NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and the U.S./Japan ASTER Science TeamLake El'gygytgyn, impact crater in Russia, imaged by Terra - ASTER satellite instruments.: NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using data from NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and the U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

There's a place in Northeast Russia where, 3.6 million years ago, a meteorite slammed into Earth. A lake filled the crater. Today, the sediment that has settled at the bottom of Lake El-gygytgyn provides a rare preserved climate record: the longest sediment core record ever collected on land in the Arctic. The secrets at the bottom of the lake are being uncovered.

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Cryoseisms and depth hoar in the January cold

Hidden beauty in fallen snow - magnified surface hoar crystals.: Image Matt SturmHidden beauty in fallen snow - magnified surface hoar crystals.: Image Matt Sturm

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Cold hit hard this month. January 6 and 7, 2014, brought startlingly frigid temperatures to southern Canada and the United States, weather that swept through the Midwest and then eastward. The U.S. National Weather Service recorded widespread subzero temperatures; on January 7th over fifty U.S. sites measured record low temperatures compared to past measurements on the same calendar date.

These are weather effects: short-term changes, as compared to the longer-term trend

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Don't freeze up: the Arctic Ice Watch campaign

Drift ice in the middle of the Arctic Ocean as seen from the deck of icebreaker MV Xue Long (Snow Dragon). The Icebreaker, operated by the Polar Research Institute of China, is one of the Ice Watch participating ships.: Attribution Timo Palo (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)Drift ice in the middle of the Arctic Ocean as seen from the deck of icebreaker MV Xue Long (Snow Dragon). The Icebreaker, operated by the Polar Research Institute of China, is one of the Ice Watch participating ships.: Attribution Timo Palo (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Polar waters are unpredictable. The Antarctic rescue operation currently underway illustrates that fact thoroughly; the United States Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star is en route

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Nitrogen's intense impact

The Alaskan Tundra, August 2013.: Image Maisotti (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)The Alaskan Tundra, August 2013.: Image Maisotti (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Nitrogen is one of the most abundant elements on Earth; nitrogen gas (N2) makes up 78% of Earth’s atmosphere. Nitrogen is also an essential element for all organisms. In order to live and grow, plants and animals need the hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) which compose water, as well as carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). Organisms use nitrogen to make proteins, amino acids, and more. Plants use it to create chlorophyll, which they need to perform photosynthesis. However, organisms cannot use nitrogen gas (N2) directly. They need to obtain nitrogen in a different form.

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A new interchange for scientific solutions to real world problems

Beluga whales.: Photomanipulation by Sergio (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0) Images: Clouds by Andy Melton, Antarctic Landscape by cloudzilla, Belugas by Leon MitchellBeluga whales.: Photomanipulation by Sergio (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0) Images: Clouds by Andy Melton, Antarctic Landscape by cloudzilla, Belugas by Leon Mitchell

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

The American Geophysical Union, a nonprofit organization of geophysicists –Earth and space scientists– has launched a new initiative to help communities solve modern-day problems. The Thriving Earth Exchange gives normal people the chance to ask pressing questions and benefit from scientific research and expertise. Communities enhance their readiness to face hazards, better utilize natural resources, adapt to changing climate conditions, and work towards more sustainable futures.

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Alaska in the 2013 Arctic turmoil

Map of Arctic sea ice thickness and extent, March 1988 vs. March 2013. Multi-year ice is decreasing, leaving thinner weaker ice which melts more readily every year.: Courtesy NOAA Climate.gov team, based on data provided by Mark Tschudi, University of ColoradoMap of Arctic sea ice thickness and extent, March 1988 vs. March 2013. Multi-year ice is decreasing, leaving thinner weaker ice which melts more readily every year.: Courtesy NOAA Climate.gov team, based on data provided by Mark Tschudi, University of Colorado

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

“The Arctic is not like Vegas. What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. The major changes

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Snow's journey underground

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Update: Comet ISON beyond the Sun

Screenshot image from the NASA STEREO Ahead spacecraft, showing sungrazer Comet C/2012 S1 ISON after it has rounded the Sun.: Credit: NRL/NASAScreenshot image from the NASA STEREO Ahead spacecraft, showing sungrazer Comet C/2012 S1 ISON after it has rounded the Sun.: Credit: NRL/NASA

Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists

Last Thursday, while many gathered with loved ones for Thanksgiving, a frozen ball of ice and rock was hurtling towards the Sun reaching speeds of 225 miles/second [360 kilometers/second]. A fleet of solar-observing spacecraft had their instruments aligned, and experts were on hand to watch what unfolded. We wondered whether Comet ISON would survive its close pass with the Sun or burn up.

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