Far North Science

News, research and natural acts from Alaska

November 15th, 2007
Updated November 16, 2007 @ 7:45 am

Arctic surf threatens Shishmaref

Shishmaref house falls over
Storms have undercut houses in Shishmaref
Source: Shishmaref Relocation Coalition

It’s the return of an annual erosion nightmare for Alaskans living in barrier island villages along the Chukchi Sea. Once again, Shishmaref faces another storm with potential to consume more its diminishing beach.

A legacy of the 2007 record meltback of sea ice, a vast expanse of open ocean now stretches for hundreds of miles off Alaska’s Northwest coast. (See the current sea ice analysis.) The relatively warm fall weather has not built shore-fast shelves of ice that could armor the beaches from surf. Add in a 40 mph north gusts and the possibility of 12-foot waves against exposed permafrost of the beach bluffs — and Shishmaref may suffer yet more damage to a sea wall intended to buy time until the village can move to a safer location.

“Everybody’s kind of anxious, but we’ll just have to see what the storm does, I guess,” said Tony Weyiouanna, Shishmaref’s transportation planner, told the Anchorage Daily News in a story published Thursday. “This is supposed to be one of the worst storms so far for this year.”

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November 15th, 2007
Updated November 16, 2007 @ 7:49 am

Indoor air quality rises in winter

asfairquality.jpg
In Alaska, indoor air quality was better in winter
than in summer for homes with attached garages.
Photo by Ned Rozell.

This column is provided as a public service by the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, in cooperation with the UAF research community. Ned Rozell is a science writer at the institute.

The National Safety Council once reported that Americans spend 90 percent of their lives inside buildings. The council didn’t say how Alaskans affected that number, but it’s a good bet most of us spend a lot more time indoors in winter.

With this inner migration comes the peril of breathing mold spores, overshot hair spray, gases wafting from new carpet, the feces of dust mites, and other indoor pollutants.

Maggie Isbell once did (an award-winning) study of indoor air pollution in Alaska, specifically two compounds in gasoline that often find their way into Alaska homes from engines stored near or inside the house.

Isbell, now on the chemistry faculty at Sacramento City College, earned a degree with her work from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

She spent a one winter and summer sampling air in Fairbanks homes and checking it for levels of benzene and toluene.

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November 15th, 2007
Updated November 15, 2007 @ 2:12 pm

How the Arctic Ocean swivels its hips

jplarcticdevice.jpg
Here is an Arctic Bottom Pressure Recorder
deployed to the Arctic Ocean floor to monitor changes
in Arctic Ocean circulation.

Round and round it goes, and where it stops, the ice still floes.

Or at least that’s what a team of scientists — equipped with a gravity-detecting satellite and ocean-bottom sensors — have discovered about a dramatic reversal in the power and direction of air and ocean currents circulating around the North Pole.

This Arctic Oscillation — one of the main drivers of weather in the Northern Hemisphere — has stopped moving as it did during the 1990s, suggesting that the causes of the climate change may be even more complicated than we thought.

“Our study confirms many changes seen in upper Arctic Ocean circulation in the 1990s were mostly decadal in nature, rather than trends caused by global warming,” said lead scientist James Morison, with University of Washington’s Polar Science Center Applied Physics Laboratory, in an online news story from the Jet Propulsion Lab.

“While some 1990s climate trends, such as declines in Arctic sea ice extent, have continued, these results suggest at least for the ‘wet’ part of the Arctic — the Arctic Ocean — circulation reverted to conditions like those prevalent before the 1990s,” he added.

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