K to B December 2012

Say What?

“There’s only one thing to do with seven pounds of yeast. Well, two things. You could either feed an army or make homebrew.” —Alaska State Trooper Lt. Christopher Thompson, head of the Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics Team, which monitors the import of yeast and sugar into dry villages to help curb the production of bootleg alcohol.



Researchers with the U.S. Geological attempted to radio tag nearly three dozen walruses in northwest Alaska over the summer as part of a study to see how Pacific walrus are responding to reduced sea ice (Feb. 2010). In 2010, walruses came ashore in late August, and the onshore migration began even earlier in 2011, Alaska Newspapers reported. Walrus spend most of their lives at sea, but haul out to rest on sea ice and sometimes on land, particularly when the sea ice recedes past the continental shelf. As sea ice has been shrinking, walruses have been hauling out more often on beaches in Alaska and Russia and some have been killed in stampedes. Scientists hope radio-tracking the walruses’ movements in water and to and from land provides important insights into walrus movements and foraging behaviors in response to changing sea ice conditions. The USGS Alaska Science Center Pacific Walrus Research Program has collected data on walrus foraging behavior and movements throughout areas of the Bering and Chukchi since 2004. Earlier in 2011, the scientists also attached radio tags to 40 walruses hauled out on offshore sea ice near the edge of the continental shelf.

Denali National Park and Preserve

Manipulative Moose Encourage Fights

A new study on animal behavior could have been written about humans after a Saturday night at a singles bar. Scientists have determined that cow moose manipulate amorous bulls into fighting over them according to the study, which is based on observations made in Denali National Park, Reuters reported. The cows’ efforts are subtle and easily missed amid the posturing and antler clashing of rutting bulls, according to the study, published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Female moose moans to ward off small male suitors, and the study’s authors have also discovered that cows moans when approached by some big suitors, setting off fights between large bull moose. The biologists spent four autumns observing and recording moose in Denali, Reuters reported.

Oakland, Calif.

Alaska Fish Help Clean Toxic Soil

Environmental Protection Agency clean-up experts in Oakland, Calif. are making good use of fish waste from Alaska to decontaminate lead-laced soil. The Contra Costa Times reported that workers are mixing ground pollock bones into soil in a residential area that was found to be high in lead, where it will bind with the toxic metal as it decays, creating a tiny, harmless crystal. The method is being used in South Prescott, a six-block neighborhood one mile west of downtown Oakland, that has the heavy lead contamination found in many urban and industrialized areas. The Contra Costa Times reported that some yards there have more than five times the federal health standard of 400 parts per million of lead in soil, and the neighborhood has twice as much on average. The lead likely came from exhaust from leaded gasoline, lead-based paint in old homes and businesses and metal recycling facilities. The fish bone treatment is highly effective. One study found it reduced lead leaching through soil 100-fold, the Contra Costa Times reported. And it works quickly, cleaning the soil in just a few weeks. Even better, the method is cheaper than digging up and hauling away dirt. The fish bone cleanup costs $18 a square foot, compared with $32 a square foot for soil removal. The method has been under research for more than 15 years and has been used successfully to clean up lead at military firing ranges and ordnance test sites. This is the first time the process has been used in a residential neighborhood. The whole clean-up project will take two years, the Contra Costa Times reported.

St. Paul Island

100 Years of Sealing

The residents of St. Paul recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention of 1911. The treaty signed by the United States, Great Britain, Japan and Russia was the first international agreement to address the issue of wildlife preservation, Alaska Newspapers reported. The three-day event was planned for the last three days of the summer subsistence seal hunt and included the dedication of a seal monument, a cookout and softball game, a parade and a musical celebration. Residents also celebrated the repatriation of two human skulls taken from the Pribilof Islands by a member of the first American military mission to Alaska after the land was purchased from Russia. The skulls had been stored at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., Alaska Newspapers reported.

Kodiak Island

Town Goes Green

The town of Kodiak plans to have more than 95 percent of its electrical power generation come from renewable sources within the next few years. The Kodiak Electric Association is upgrading its hydro-electrical plant at Terror Lake, according to the Kodiak Daily Mirror, and will build a third turbine by 2013 to increase production to cover peak needs for power, such as when canneries are running, with hydro power alone. State lawmakers included two allocations of about $3.75 million each in the state budget—about half the amount needed for the project. The island’s electric authority is also working on plans to build three more wind turbines on Pillar Mountain, where three wind turbines were installed two years ago, according to the Kodiak Daily Mirror.

Ganes Creek

Gold Seeker Finds Huge Prize

Tom Cooper wasn’t out to make a fortune when he took up gold prospecting in 2005. He just thought it would be fun, so he began making an annual summer trip from his home in Sterling to a recreational mining operation at Ganes Creek, 25 miles west of McGrath. But this year, his trip paid off, when he uncovered a 10.64-ounce nugget of gold, according to the Redoubt Reporter. Cooper found the palm-size nugget used a metal detector to comb through tailings piles left by bucket-line dredges and bulldozer operations when the site was commercially operated. At first, he assumed he had found some scrap metal like a pop can, a bullet shell, or some aluminum from a piece of machinery. But, digging down about 3 feet, he unearthed a smooth, shiny rock. Cooper has been told his nugget could fetch as much as $30,000, but he plans to keep it and will it to his children, according to the Redoubt Reporter. Clark-Wiltz Mining opened the 12,000-acre mining site near McGrath to recreational gold-seekers in 2002. Visitors can stay at the mining camp and take home any nuggets they find.


Unmanned Drones Could Watch Wildlife

Scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are evaluating how unmanned aircraft—drones like those used to hunt terrorists in Afghanistan—could be used to monitor and track wildlife. They have successfully flown a 14-pound AeroVironment Puma AE, a model usually used by the military for surveillance, from a fishing boat in the Bering Sea to monitor sea lion rookeries at low altitude without disturbing the animals, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. The drones have problems in bad weather, especially gusty winds, but they could be useful for federal and state biologists who conduct aerial surveys of wildlife without spending the money or staff time it takes to send out a manned aircraft.

Arctic Circle

Arctic Dwellers Grow Bigger Brains

The farther that human populations live from the equator, the bigger their brains tend to be, according to a new study by Oxford University. But a larger brain does not mean a smarter person. People in northern climes need larger brains to accommodate bigger vision areas in the brain to cope with the low light levels at high latitudes, BBC News reported. Scientists found that people living in countries with dull, grey, cloudy skies and long winters have evolved bigger eyes and brains so they can visually process what they see, according to the study, published in the journal Biology Letters. The researchers measured the eye socket and brain volumes of 55 skulls in museum collection, dating from the 1800s. They found that the size of both the brain and the eyes could be directly linked to the latitude of the country of origin, BBC News reported. Humans have only lived in Arctic regions for a few thousand years, so this adaptation has been recent, the scientists concluded. The skulls used in the study were from the indigenous populations of England, Australia, Canary Islands, China, France, India, Kenya, Micronesia, Scandinavia, Somalia, Uganda and the United States. From measuring the brain cavity, the research suggests that the biggest brains belonged to populations who lived in Scandinavia with the smallest being Micronesians, BBC News reported. 

50 years ago

The mystery of a missing log cabin in the Willow area was solved by Alaska State Police and the case has concluded, to the satisfaction of all involved. Gust Emil Gustafson, 74, a retired trapper, complained to the police that his trapping cabin on craggy Creek, about 25 miles east of Willow, disappeared some time in June or July. A state trooper tracked material from the cabin to the homestead of Bryan Butler, who had recently brought his family north from Florida. Gustafson identified the logs and Butler readily admitted to having taken them. He said he thought the old cabin was abandoned and he needed logs to build a winter shelter to replace the tent in which his family was living. He offered to pay $100 for the material and Gustafson accepted and dropped the complaint. -    Mountain View Laundromat on the Palmer Highway became the first user of natural gas in the Anchorage area. With the successful completion of a dual pipeline across Turnagain Arm last summer, gas from the Kenai Peninsula became available to Anchorage users. Einar Hansen, owner of the Laundromat, said he is using gas for water heating and clothes drying, and he estimates he will use about 3 million cubic feet a year with a saving of about $6,000 in fuel costs.

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