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For the 20th straight year, in December 2019 I carried a notebook into the halls of the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Most of those years the conference was in San Francisco (as it was this year). 

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A father wakes, rolls out of bed, and drops his toes to cold carpet. He grabs a flashlight and shines it outside the window. The thermometer reads 40 below zero, the only point at which the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales agree. The red liquid within his thermometer is alcohol; mercury freezes…

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North of the village of Hughes, in frigid, sluggish water, dim blue light penetrates two feet of lake ice. The ice has a quarter-size hole, maintained by a stream of methane bubbles. Every few minutes, a brutish little fish swims up, turns to sip air, and peels back to the dank.

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In spring of 1946, five men stationed at the Scotch Cap lighthouse had reasons to be happy. World War II was over. They had survived. Their lonely Coast Guard assignment on Unimak Island would be over in a few months.

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SAN FRANCISCO — “This picture is what we’re dreaming of today,” Mellisa Johnson said to reporters sitting in a packed press conference room at the Moscone Center, during the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

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On December 15, 1989, a pilot who had flown a 747 passenger jet all the way from Amsterdam was looking forward to landing in Anchorage. There, he would take a short break before continuing to Tokyo.

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When my boss, Sue Mitchell, was in Tibet recently, she asked a local guide if the glaciers there were shrinking. The guide told her no, the glaciers were fine.

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A few times each week, someone carries something dead or alive through the doors of the UA Museum of the North, hoping an expert can identify it.

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After reading my column about biologists who once stocked a Southeast Alaska island with wolves, a reader mailed me a book. In it, the author detailed peoples’ attempts to import raccoons, wild pigs and other creatures to Alaska.

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It is a pleasant day for a walk in middle Alaska, with blue sky overhead, sandhill cranes croaking above the UAF farm, and the sharp scent of sliced blades of grass, mowed for perhaps the last time in 2019.

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One fall day in Interior Alaska, a lion stalked a ground squirrel that stood at attention on a hillside. The squirrel noticed bending blades of grass, squeaked an alarm call, and then dived into its hole. It curled up in a grassy nest. A few hours later, for reasons unknown, its heart stopped.

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Alaska had been a state for one year in 1960 when its department of fish and game conducted a wolf-planting experiment on Coronation Island in southeast Alaska. At the time, the remote 45-square-mile island exposed to the open Pacific had a high density of blacktailed deer and no wolves. Tha…

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KODIAK — LeConte Glacier near Petersburg is the farthest-south glacier that spills into the sea on this side of the equator. Where that ice tongue dips into salty water, scientists recently measured melting much greater than predicted.

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KODIAK — The Piper Super Cub is a nimble favorite of Alaska bush pilots who land on and take off from gravel bars and mountaintops. Engineers who designed the plane in the 1940s found a simple model that still works.

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KODIAK — Late one night in August 1943, far out in the western Aleutians, a US Navy destroyer ran a sonar search for Japanese submarines. The ship curved figure eight patterns across the surface of a calm sea outside Kiska Harbor, while a three-quarter moon flickered through broken clouds.  …

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KODIAK — Marked by metal cones and a clear-cut swath 20 feet wide, Alaska’s border with Canada is one of the great feats of wilderness surveying.

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During Patrick Druckenmiller’s not-so-restful sabbatical year of 2015, he flew to museums around the world. In Alberta and then London, the Univer-sity of Alaska Museum’s curator of earth science looked at bones of dino-saurs similar to ones found in northern Alaska. 

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The relocation of an Alaska village is happening fast this summer, after many years of planning and work. Observers say Newtok’s transition to Mertarvik is flying along because it has to — the Ninglick River bank is crumbling less than 10 yards from a Newtok home.

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KODIAK — Everybody eats. I thought writing about nutrition would be easy, especially since I have lately spent quite some effort learning more about what foods energize and what foods actually zap us of energy. Hours later, I found myself still staring at a blank page after going down severa…

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KODIAK — On a Saturday morning near summer solstice, nine people stood on a smoothed pile of gravel at Mile 5 of the Dalton Highway. A man talking to the group, the fur of a wolverine wrapping his head, had invited us to what he called AlaskAcross 2019, a nonstop 60-mile hiking traverse in n…

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YAKUTAT — On sandy barrier islands between mountains and the sea, two different birds that look alike lay their eggs side-by-side. Biologists here are learning more about the less-common, more mysterious one.

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KODIAK — Not long ago, a glaciologist wrote that the number of glaciers in Alaska “is estimated at (greater than) 100,000.” That fuzzy number, maybe written in passive voice for a reason, might be correct. But it depends upon how you count.

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KODIAK — Every spring, millions of ducks touch down on Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, a spread of muskeg and dark water the size of Maryland. These days, more ruddy ducks seem to be among them. Recent sightings of this handsome, rust-colored bird — the males with a teal-blue beak — su…

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KODIAK — At this time of the year, Kodiak always seems to be buzzing. Everyone is busy rushing around and getting ready for something. It’s a different kind of busy than the business around Christmas time; this is more existential rather than social. Outdoor activities have sprung into full …

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KODIAK — It was Easter Sunday in Kodiak and we had snow on the ground. Actually, that is not so unusual; I remember several Easter when my now-grown son was little, where I hid eggs in the snow. This does not change the fact that the winter was extremely warm for our latitude and the Bering …

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KODIAK — Most everyone in Kodiak knows that Alaska was colonized by Imperial Russia in the late 18th century, largely to harvest sea otter furs. Not as well-known is that ice from Woody Island was the last source of income for Russian America, and was tallied as a valuable asset when Alaska …

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In the 1820s, painter and naturalist John James Audubon designed an experiment to test if birds had a sense of smell. He dragged a rotten hog carcass into a field, then piled brush on top of it. After none of the local turkey vultures appeared, Audubon concluded that vultures hunted using th…

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At the approach of a canoe, the wolverine tears into the woods, its claws spitting mud. Seconds later, ravens scatter from what resembles two branches reaching from a driftwood log.

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KODIAK — In 1908, a colossal blast incinerated a swath of wilderness deep in Siberia, at about the same latitude as Anchorage. 

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KODIAK — While most of Alaska has not felt too wintery yet, 175,000 moose have noticed a change. As biologist Tom Seaton pointed out in last week’s column, moose are now seeking out what amounts to a large dog-food sack of twigs each day. There are no more pond greens to slurp or succulent l…

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DENALI NATIONAL PARK — When I was 12 years old, I didn’t know permafrost was like frozen lasagna. I didn’t know what permafrost was. I grew up in a small town on the Hudson River in New York.

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NEW ORLEANS — At this gathering of thousands scientists at a horseshoe bend of the lower Mississippi River, a few talked about a place far away they have been watching for years.