From Ketchikan to Barrow - Oct 2011

by  Rebecca Luczycki

Say What?

“It’s not so much ‘CSI: Otters,’ as it is ‘CSI: Coastal Health.’” —Seth Newsome, University of Wyoming researcher, who is analyzing sea-otter whiskers as part of a study to assess the health of the marine habitat on the coastlines of Alaska and California.


Using new computer simulations, scientists have come up with a possible explanation for rogue waves, those towering walls of water many times the size of surrounding waves that seem to come out of nowhere (April 2011, Page 52). Mariners have reported rogue waves for centuries, but no scientific proof existed until 1995, when a wave that hit an oilrig in the North Sea was measured by laser as 85 feet, in a storm that was otherwise producing 30-foot waves. Thomas Adcock of the University of Oxford, told that a rogue wave may result when two wave systems meet while traveling perpendicular to each other. He began to think about the possibility after watching a clip of the Discovery Channel show The Deadliest Catch. A 100-foot rogue wave almost sank the F/V Aleutian Ballad, when it crashed into the ship’s side, instead of its bow, where the rest of the waves were hitting. Adcock realized that these freak waves might be caused by two interacting wave systems traveling perpendicular to each other. He simulated the interaction of two wave systems by computer and was able to reproduce an abnormally large wave. Adcock’s study was published recently in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical & Engineering Sciences.

Former Alaskan Claims Moon Rocks

A former Alaska resident says he rescued several moon rocks from a garbage heap 38 years ago and is the rightful owner of the valuable items. Coleman Anderson, who now lives in Texas, recently sued the State of Alaska for formal title to the rocks, saying he found them in a trash heap after a fire at a state museum. State officials, meanwhile, say the moon rocks were stolen from the state museum following the fire, The Associated Press reported. Pres. Richard Nixon presented the moon rocks to Alaska Gov. Keith Miller after the Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon. The small stones, encased in acrylic and mounted on a plaque, were on display at the Alaska Transportation Museum in Anchorage when an arsonist set the building on fire on Sept. 6, 1973. Anderson’s lawsuit contends he found the rocks in a pile of debris that had been declared garbage after recovery efforts were concluded and Anderson became owner of the rocks because the state had abandoned them, the AP reported. Anderson, a crab-boat captain who appeared in early episodes of the TV show Deadliest Catch, is keeping the moon rocks outside the country until ownership is established, but has indicated he is willing to sell the rocks back to the state for 80 percent of market value, the AP reported.

Western Alaska
Speedy Birds Surprise Researchers

Birders have known for some time that Pacific golden plovers undertake impressive seasonal migrations from Hawaii to Alaska and back, across nearly 3,000 miles of ocean. But a new study has discovered that the birds make that long trip must more quickly than anyone had imagined, completing the trip in just three or four days by flying non-stop at about 39 mph, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported. Researchers, funded by Brigham Young University Hawaii with support from the Hawaii Audubon Society, captured the birds with a net gun at the birds’ winter nesting grounds near the BYUH campus. They fitted the birds with lightweight tracking devices, secured to their legs with dental floss and marine epoxy, and collected data throughout their flights from Oahu to Alaska and back again, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reported.

Alexander Archipelago
Rare Dinosaur Fossil Found on Southeast Islet

A significant fossil find is putting Southeast Alaska on the map in the paleontology world. The fossilized bones and vertebra—the first fully intact, articulated specimen of its kind found in the region—have been identified as Thalattosaur, an marine reptile from the late Triassic period of the Mesozoic era, 200 to 230 million years ago, Capital City Weekly reported. Thalattosaurs were similar to iguanas but more streamlined, with a more pointed head. They were thought to average around six feet in length or less, Capital City Weekly reported. It is unusual to find fossils from this time period intact and well preserved, because intense tectonic plate movement caused the land that the fossils were on to collide with the North American plate, creating the islands of the Alexander Archipelago. The fossil was found at low tide on an islet in Keku Strait and it took two days to extract the large slabs of rock containing the fossil because work had to be suspended when the tide was in. Scientists now postulate that there are many more such fossils under the sedimentary layers of rock of the islands, Capital City Weekly reported. The fossil is being held at the University of Alaska Museum Fairbanks and scientists are studying the bones.

Arctic Ocean
Northwest Passage Mapping Begins

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently began mapping the underwater topography of the Arctic Ocean. A major aim of the mapping effort is to assist the growing number of vessels traveling through the increasingly ice-free Northwestern Passage, the Alaska Dispatch reported. This is the first time since the 1800s—when measuring the depth of the sea floor was carried out with a lead-weighted line—that such a survey has been completed. The charts developed from sea-floor mapping will help the city of Kotzebue, 30 miles above the Arctic Circle on the Chukchi Sea, build an offshore lightering facility for the delivery of heating and fuel oil. The community is also considering digging a deepwater port to allow vessels, which must now anchor 15 miles offshore and ferry cargo and passengers to town by barge, to anchor closer to town, the Alaska Dispatch reported.

Bristol Bay
Salmon Shrinking, Scientists Say

Salmon are getting smaller, shrinking by 5 per cent since the 1940s, and fishing may be the reason. A researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle examined data from canneries handling on the size and age at maturation of red salmon from Bristol Bay, going back to 1943. She found that the fish had become, on average, 14 millimeters shorter, and more fish were spending less time in the ocean before returning to fresh water to spawn, reported. Fishing is the likely culprit because the largest fish, prized by fishermen, are often breeding females, and removing them from the population also eliminates their eggs. Body size is a heritable trait, so the genes within those eggs –some of which are associated with later maturation and large body size –are also lost to the gene pool, reported.
This fishing-induced evolutionary change could explain why the Atlantic cod stock in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence has not rebounded after the fishery there collapsed almost 30 years ago. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game recently mandated new net regulations to catch only smaller fish and leave the larger fish to breed n the Yukon River, but if the shrinking trend in Bristol Bay salmon continues, these steps could be too late and the industry –worth $5 billion between 1950 and 2008 –could become less profitable, reported.

Dutch Harbor
Pain at the Post Office

Just because the U.S. Postal Service logo is an eagle, doesn’t mean that eagles like U.S. Postal Service customers. For the second consecutive year, a pair of bald eagles nesting near the post office in Dutch Harbor dive-bombed customers as they tried to enter the building in early summer, drawing blood after hitting someone on the head in one case, Reuters reported. The pair, nesting for on a bluff nearby, was protecting their newly hatched young, wildlife officials said. Residents have been advised to keep an eye out for the dive-bombing pair and to wear hats.

50 years ago
-    Four prize Scottish Highland bulls arrived at Kodiak in July for the Ron Hurst Ranch. The first of their breed to be taken to the island, they are expected to thrive on the climate and terrain. The bulls came from the R and F Ranch at Chehalis, Wash., and one of them was grand champion at the Southwest Washington Fair in 1959. -    In a feat heralded by veteran climbers as one of the greatest ever on the 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, six Italian climbers last summer scaled the peak via its south face, which had never previously been climbed. The men had to use more than 6,000 feet of rope in making the ascent and relayed supplies from their base camp at 11,500 feet. Three members of the party were hospitalized following the successful; climb, one with his feet frozen and two suffering from frostbite. -    Thanks to GIs at the former Ladd Air Force Base near Fairbanks, the village of Minto, some 30 miles down the Tanana River from Nenana, has what is believed to be America’s farthest-north operating TV receiver. In June 1960, some 50 Minto children, on their first visit to Fairbanks to see the circus, also saw TV for the first time. Ladd men, after watching the children’s enjoyment, dug into their own pockets to finance the purchase and installation of a receiver and antennae for the village.

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