Sunday, February 28, 2010

Friday, February 26, 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010

since global warming is in fact global...

How to grow a glacier

BACK in the 13th century, when news of Genghis Khan and his marauding Mongol hordes reached what is now northern Pakistan, the people there came up with an unlikely means of keeping them out. According to local legend, villagers blocked the mountain passes by simply growing glaciers across them.

Whether or not these stories are true, the art of glacier growing - also known as glacial grafting - has been practised for centuries in the mountains of the Hindu Kush and Karakorum ranges. It was developed as a way to improve water supplies to villages in valleys where glacial meltwater tended to run out before the end of the growing season. Now, as these remote mountain communities come under pressure from population growth and climate change, researchers and development agencies are starting to take a serious look at whether growing new glaciers can really stop mountain streams from running dry.

Legends aside, no one really knows when the first glacier was grown in this region. Inayatullah Faizi, assistant professor in social sciences at the Government Degree College at Chitral in Pakistan's North-West Frontier province, cites evidence of a glacier being grown for irrigation purposes as long ago as 1812. However, the first documented reference to the practice does not appear until more than a century later when a British colonial administrator called D.L.R. Lorimer reported it in the 1920s. Though Lorimer described the practice as obsolete, partly thanks to guaranteed food supplies from the British Raj, the traditions of glacier growing survived.

Today, the skills and know-how needed to grow glaciers are kept alive by a handful of village elders. Ghulam Rasool is one of them. At 77, he is resident glacier-growing expert in the village of Hanouchal Haramosh in the Karakoram mountains. Like many communities in the area, Hanouchal Haramosh struggles with an uncertain water supply. Most precipitation falls as snow at altitude, while the inhabited valleys stay largely dry. To irrigate their fields, villagers rely on snow melting up in the mountains, but by the end of the growing season most of the previous winter's snow has gone. The water dries up, and crop yields suffer.

Secure supply

Other villages are luckier. They have a glacier melting into their watershed, and because this is a permanent supply of ice and because ice melts more slowly than fresh snow, the water supply lasts longer and is more predictable. If it really were possible to grow a glacier, this could be a lifeline for communities battling glacier retreat and under pressure to grow more food to feed a growing population. It's a question that prompted Ingvar Tveiten from the Department of International Environment and Development Studies at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in ├ůs to begin the most comprehensive study so far of the methods and rituals of glacier growing.

In the study, which Tveiten published last year as his master's thesis, he reports that growing a glacier takes a lot more than piling up any old snow and ice and waiting for it to freeze. According to local tradition, Tveiten says, glaciers have a gender. A "male" glacier is one that is covered in stones and soil and moves slowly or not at all. A "female" one is whiter, and grows more quickly, yielding more water. "It is important to have both sexes," a glacier grower from the village of Ghwari in Baltistan, Pakistan-administered Kashmir, told Tveiten, "The ice which we found underneath the rocks in our own valley was only of one sex. Therefore it didn't increase. We had to add the opposite sex to it so it could increase."

Finding the right site is also crucial. Tveiten reviewed 12 sites where glaciers have been grown, and visited five of them. Almost all were located at altitudes above 4500 metres, and most were in a north-west-facing cirque of steep cliffs. Avalanches and rockfall from these cliffs are, according to local people, an important part of the process.

Once the site is selected, ice is brought to rocky areas where there are small boulders about 25 centimetres across. The rocks protect the ice from sunlight, and often have ice trapped in the gaps between them. This seems to be critical to a successful "planting". Common to most of the successful artificial glaciers, Tveiten says, is the existence of ice at the site before work starts, and glacier growers will often dig for a metre or more through talus or scree to find this in-situ "male" ice.

After they have added female to the male ice (traditionally by importing 12 man-loads or about 300 kilograms of the stuff), they cover the area with charcoal, sawdust, wheat husk, nutshells or pieces of cloth to insulate it. Gourds of water placed among the ice and rocks are also critical to a glacier's chances of forming, according to Tveiten. As the glacier grows and squeezes the gourds, they burst, spreading water on the surrounding ice, which then freezes.

Any snowmelt trapped in the budding glacier also freezes, adding more ice. Pockets of cold air moving between the rocks and ice keep the glacier cool. When the mass of rock and ice is heavy enough, it begins to creep downhill, forming a self-sustaining glacier within four years or so. What's produced is hardly a glacier in the proper sense, but growing and flowing areas of ice many tens of metres long have been reported at the sites of earlier grafts.

Cold comfort

So does it work? There is no shortage of anecdotal accounts of successful grafts. The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), an NGO based in Baltistan, cites several examples of long-lasting artificial glaciers. One has been providing water since the 1940s, and another is claimed to have been grafted in the 16th century. The AKRSP has found these accounts convincing enough to fund the grafting of 17 new glaciers to improve water supply in villages with limited access to meltwater. It also recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Pakistani government to extend its activities to more villages in Baltistan and in the nearby Gilgit region. The Parbat Social Welfare Organisation, a community group based in Chilas, south of Gilgit, has funded at least 10 more since 2003.

Local people are convinced that it's worth the effort. When Tveiten visited, Ghulam Rasool's village in eastern Gilgit, 18 of the 20 people he interviewed claimed that a glacier planted in the 1950s, and still in place today, increased water supply later in the season. Many people believed that the glacier had allowed them to cultivate up to 50 per cent more land, and that it has increased water flows in the critical period late in the growing season when crops mature. Local people also say the new glacier has grown to the point where it now stretches some 800 metres down from where it was planted.

Locals believe that growing a glacier allowed them to cultivate 50 per cent more land and increased yields late in the growing season

The AKRSP is also claiming success with its more recent glacier plantings. Sher Khan, a water and environmental engineer with the AKRSP, reported in 2005 that five of 15 communities reported increased water flows late in the season, with other glaciers also growing. Since then two more glaciers have been planted, and Nazir Ahmad of the AKRSP says villagers continue to report that this has boosted their water supplies.

Tveiten is more sceptical: he suspects that in many cases, similar quantities of ice would have developed without any human intervention. "Glacier growing is conducted at locations which are already very prone to ice accumulation," he observes. He also suggests that "planting" a glacier on a frozen talus slope that is already advancing may give a false impression that human intervention has had an impact.

Calling the accumulated ice a "glacier" may also be an exaggeration at times. Tveiten visited one site in the valley above the village of Balghar, where grafting took place in 2000. This was done by placing 300 kilograms of ice, water, coal and sawdust under a 15-metre boulder inside a cave in a position where the ice was shielded from sunlight. Tveiten says he saw a metre-thick mass of ice under the entire length of the boulder. That's quite an accumulation of ice, but hardly a glacier, and it's questionable whether such accumulations could significantly increase the amount water that is available.

But as Tveiten also points out, analysing glacier growing only in technical terms may miss an important point. The practice is associated with many traditional ceremonies and rituals that help bind the community together. For people living in such a harsh environment, the experience gives them an important sense of control of their future.

Others, however, are convinced there is more to it than that. Hermann Kreutzmann, a glaciologist at the Free University of Berlin in Germany, witnessed a ceremony in Hunza, near Gilgit, in 1985. "It seemed very plausible to me to search for a specific location at the appropriate altitude with a tolerable temperature regime and to place ice there," he says. As ice can absorb and retain water, he reckons that "a substantial amount of ice in a proper location might indeed augment water supplies".

Kenneth Hewitt from the Cold Regions Research Centre at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, witnessed a glacier planting in Baltistan in 1961, making him possibly the first westerner to do so. "In literal, western terms I don't think they grow glaciers," he says. "It would be very easy to say this is all hokum, mumbo-jumbo, but I don't believe that either," he adds. "The people involved are, on their own terms, extremely practical and knowledgeable about their environment."

Hewitt agrees with Tveiten that the social value of glacier growing is important, particularly as a way to help ease communal anxiety during periods of climatic stress. But he is also interested in working out a physically plausible basis for the practice. "It would have to be about enhanced freezing or capture of available moisture in solid form," he says. This could occur through cold air drainage, evaporative cooling, and possibly deposition of rime or frost. "Given the exact setting and practices of glacier planting, I suspect they are designed to reproduce conditions known to involve evaporative cooling across the freezing point."

Khan hopes that the work being done by the AKRSP will encourage more researchers to investigate whether glacier growing can be used to provide water for expanding communities - not just in Pakistan, but also in mountain communities in other parts of the world. Researchers as far away as the Andes, where the terrain is similar, have already shown some interest. As more studies get under way, we may soon find out if the legend can survive scrutiny by modern science.

Ed Douglas is a science writer based in Sheffield, UK

Where mud and ice meet the water...

Frozen ground with no snow means much of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge is accessible to walkers. Explore the shoreline southwest of the city in this Excursion.


[really great slide show presentation on Anchorage's southwest coastline]

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Alaska Governor's Infrastructure Plan Appears Shot

Gov. Sean Parnell's $100 million deferred maintenance proposal is unlikely to pass the Legislature by next week's target date, and his administration is partly to blame, a Republican state lawmaker said Monday.

Anchorage zoning update heading for spring vote

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

stuck in the void?

Port Talks

U.S. pushes for deepwater sea port in Alaska

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young seen in a file photo.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young seen in a file photo.

Photograph by: Fred Chartrand/Pool - Harper, Alex Wong/Getty Images - Young

In a further sign of the ongoing transformation of the melting Arctic into a new strategic base for military and commercial activity, U.S. lawmakers are pushing for the construction of a deepwater sea port in Alaska near the western entrance to the disputed Northwest Passage.

"Now is the time to be investing in our infrastructure and laying the groundwork," Rep. Don Young, an Alaskan member of the U.S. House of Representatives, said in introducing legislation partnered with a proposed Senate bill for a new northern port.

"As other countries develop interests in this region, we need to ensure the protection of the U.S.'s interests and make moves now to lay our claim."

The Canadian government has already announced plans to construct a deepwater port near the waterway's eastern gate, at Nanisivik on northern Baffin Island.

But a leading expert in polar geopolitics, University of Calgary professor Rob Huebert, suspects the U.S. "could quickly overtake us, because they'll have more funding and more capabilities" to get the Arctic docking facility built.

"It'll be like the Olympics," predicts Huebert. "Yes, we got the jump on them in looking at it ahead of time. . . . But then they'll pass by us. We won't own the podium, so to speak."

Last fall, the U.S. navy issued a report calling for greater investments in the Arctic to protect U.S. national security and guarantee American economic interests in the region.

"This opening of the Arctic may lead to increased resource development, research, tourism, and could reshape the global transportation system. These developments offer opportunities for growth, but also are potential sources of competition and conflict for access and natural resources," the report stated.

"While the United States has stable relationships with other Arctic nations, the changing environment and competition for resources may contribute to increasing tension, or, conversely, provide opportunities for co-operative solutions."

The U.S. push for a deepwater Arctic port comes at a when commercial and diplomatic interest in the region is rapidly growing. An Alaska-based company, prompted by retreating sea ice, announced plans last month to run a 16,000-kilometre-long, Tokyo-to-London undersea cable through the Northwest Passage.

Meanwhile, global oil companies are jockeying for control of potentially petroleum-rich tracts of Arctic Ocean seabed — including a disputed section of the Beaufort Sea, north of the Yukon-Alaska border, that is claimed by both Canada and the U.S.

Shipping through Canada's Northwest Passage and along Russia's Northern Sea Route is expected to rise steadily in the coming years, along with Arctic tourism, fishing and mining.

But as the five Arctic Ocean coastal states — Canada, the U.S., Russia, Norway and Denmark — press forward with infrastructure projects to prepare for the expected polar business boom, there are signs of both tension and co-operation between northern nations and stakeholders.

Last week, the Canadian government opened the door to negotiations with the U.S. over the Beaufort Sea territorial dispute. Yet no resolution is in sight for the thornier question of whether Canada's view of the Northwest Passage as "internal waters" can be reconciled with the American position that the sea route is an "international strait."

And while Canada has announced plans to host a five-nation Arctic summit in late March to discuss the need for multilateral thinking on environmental protection and economic development, the move has rankled three excluded Arctic Council countries — Sweden, Finland and Iceland — and prompted loud objections from northern aboriginal leaders who are demanding a seat at the conference table.

Canada and the other coastal states are also gathering geological data throughout the Arctic Ocean to secure new seabed territory under a UN treaty. Overlapping claims are likely to be submitted for the sea floor near the North Pole and in other areas where maritime boundaries meet, but the "Arctic 5" nations have pledged to let scientific evidence and international law — not military might — decide the outcome.

Huebert has raised alarms about potential challenges to Canadian interests in the Arctic — including Russia's resurgent militarism — while fellow Canadian Arctic expert Michael Byers has downplayed the likelihood of conflict.

Writing in the inaugural edition of Global Brief, a new Canadian magazine on world affairs, the University of British Columbia professor argues: "whatever future the Arctic holds, it will likely be based on co-operation, consent and international law. There is no race for Arctic resources, and no appetite for conflict."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young seen in a file photo.

Photograph by: Fred Chartrand/Pool - Harper, Alex Wong/Getty Images - Young

Monday, February 22, 2010

Poll finds Anchorage likes wildlife in city

FUTURE: Most want to keep populations about the same.

Anchorage: You like having moose and bears as neighbors -- you just don't want any more of them.

Park users in particular say wildlife makes the city "more interesting and special" and see the animals as a point of pride. Bears are less welcome than moose, but 60 percent of Anchorage opposes the idea of mapping out special bear-free zones were bears would be killed on arrival.

All that according to a new survey of Anchorage residents released this month by the state Department of Fish and Game. The aim is to gauge how the city feels about the potentially dangerous wildlife at its doorstep.

At 267 pages, it's a beast of a survey. A Virginia-based research firm hired by the state asked 1,258 people roughly 70 questions each about their encounters with -- and feelings about -- moose, brown bears and black bears.

The $40,000 effort was prompted by maulings and bear encounters in the summer of 2008 and the resulting management debate, said Mark Burch, regional assistant management coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Conservation.

Among the findings:

• Anchorage residents who never see bears in their neighborhoods generally don't want them to start coming around. But just more than half of all residents oppose killing a few bears every year to reduce the numbers.

• Two-thirds of those surveyed support legal, regulated hunting as a way to control black and brown bear populations in Far North Bicentennial Park.

• About 85 percent support a rule requiring people who live in neighborhoods frequented by bears to use bear-proof trash containers, and 84 percent support levying fines for failing to properly store garbage to prevent bear troubles.

• Nearly everyone (94 percent of those surveyed) has enjoyed watching moose in the Anchorage area even though more than half of drivers and passengers report swerving or braking to avoid them.

Slightly more than 1 in 10 people polled have been in a vehicle that hit a moose, according to the survey.

The survey found people who live in East and South Anchorage were more likely to be concerned about growing bear populations than those in West Anchorage, Eagle River and Girdwood.

"If you don't like animals, there's some places in town you probably don't want to live in," said Stuckagain Heights resident Kathy Privratsky. The neighborhood is on the edge of Bicentennial Park, Chugach State Park and Fort Richardson.

She and her husband moved to Alaska in 1992 and neighbors sometimes see black bears cross her yard, she said. "I love it. Sometimes I'm pretty stupid. ... I'll go and open the front door and watch them."

Last August, Ron Jordan posted a picture on Facebook of a moose strolling down Arctic Boulevard and munching the landscaping. Relatives on the East Coast thought it was cool, he said, but to Jordan it's dangerous.

The chairman of the Taku-Campbell Community Council, he wants to see fewer moose in the city and fewer moose being killed by cars.

"As a 40-plus-year resident I'd like to see a resumption of moose hunting up on the Hillside," Jordan said.

Of those polled, 70 percent supported legal, regulated moose hunting to control moose populations in the Anchorage region, including large parks. But 68 percent said they opposed hunting moose as an indirect way to lower brown bear numbers by reducing their food supply.

The survey results are expected to factor in a series of ongoing debates at City Hall and the state capital over how to regulate bears, moose and people in Anchorage.

Still, Burch said the survey results alone won't decide public policy.

"We don't just do a poll and then make rules based on that," he said.

Responsive Management conducted the survey between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Burch said.

Of those polled, 6 percent reported having problems with black bears over the past two years -- with bears getting into garbage or into homes as the most common troubles.

About 71 percent said that if Anchorage provided bear-proof containers, they would be willing to pay more for trash service. The region with the most support for that idea -- West Anchorage -- is the least likely to encounter bears.

Respondents generally favored keeping moose and bear populations in the Anchorage area the same, rather than reducing or increasing numbers:

• 58 percent preferred no change to the black bear population, compared to 28 percent who wanted the number of black bears reduced. The numbers were similar for brown bears.

• 63 percent wanted to keep the moose population steady, while 24 percent wanted to see declines.

Most Anchorage residents, 56 percent, named growing wildlife numbers in populated areas as the most important wildlife issues facing the city.

Of those polled, 70 percent said they "strongly agree" with the notion that people who live in Anchorage should learn to live with some conflicts or problems with wildlife.

Alaska Fishing


Our fishing season begins in Alaska King Salmon fishing trips on the Little Susitna River with Bob Bujak and company.- Rochester, New Yorklate April for Alaska Rainbow Trout, followed by Alaska King Salmon fishing which begins in mid-May. Throughout the fishing season, we fish for Alaska King Salmon, Silver Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Chum Salmon and Pink Salmon, as well as Alaska Arctic Char, Grayling and Rainbow Trout.When the Alaska King Salmon fishing season closes on July 13th, the Alaska Silver Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Chum Salmon and Pink Salmon fishing is coming into full swing. The salmon fishing season runs well into September, here in South Central Alaska, and is followed by trout fishing. Trout Fishing is great until freeze-up, in early to mid October.

The largest fish we boated, last season, was a monster Alaska King Salmon caught on the Talkeetna River weighing in at 68 pounds, 9 ounces which is believed to be the largest King Salmon boated in the Mat-Su Valley, in 2009. Unfortunately the proud angler had not signed up for the Mat-Su King Salmon Derby and the prize was taken by a 57 pound King Salmon for a $10,000 cash prize! So don't forget your King Salmon Derby ticket when you fish for the Alaska King Salmon with us in 2010!! You can buy them in Wasilla, Alaska at Three Rivers Fly Shop.


The Alaska Department of Fish and Game set up the weir and started monitoring the Alaska Salmon, on the Deshka River in South Central Alaska, just north of Anchorage in the heart of the Matanuska-Susitna Valley (Mat-Su Valley), at 11:00 am on May 29, 2009 which is one of the earliest counts for the Alaska King Salmon.Alaska Salmon Fishing Trips on the Little Susitna River and Deshka River 90 minutes from Anchorage Alaska.
They counted a good number of Alaska King Salmon (Chinook Salmon) at 11,960! They also counted Alaska Silver Salmon(Coho Salmon) at 27,348, before pulling the weir from the cold water on September 8th. This Alaska Silver Salmon count shattered all escapement records, in the history of the Alaska Matanuska-Susitna Valley’s Deshka River. The Alaska Pink Salmon (Humpback Salmon) numbered 9,954.

Though no count is taken for Rainbow Trout, the trout fishing on the Deshka River was phenomenal, as they spent their autumn days feeding on the eggs of the Pink Salmon, Silver Salmon and King Salmon that had spawned their way up Mat-Su’s infamous Deshka River. Alaska Fish and Game also counted Alaska Salmon on the Matanuska-Susitna Valley’s (Mat-Su Valley’s) Little Susitna River, from August 4th through September 24th. As always the weir was not in place on the Little Su until after the Alaska King Salmon run, there is no official count. However, there was a very solid run of Alaska King Salmon with many large fish caught.

Alaska Salmon Fishing Trips on the Talkeetna River. Just 90 minutes from Anchorage Alaska enroute to Denali National Park.An escapement of 9,523 Alaska Silver Salmon (Coho Salmon) passed through the weir on the Little Su north of the launch, at our Homestead here in Houston, Alaska. The Chum Salmon (Dog Salmon) run was quite light in 2009, as was the run of Pink Salmon. Although the Alaska Sockeye Salmon run on the Little Susitna River just north of Wasilla, Alaska doesn't migrate far enough north to reach the weir and be counted, it was a solid run.

Unfortunately there is no count taken on the Talkeetna River. However, there was a very strong run of Alaska King Salmon and we were able to limit out almost every trip. The Chum Salmon and Pink Salmon came in in large numbers, as usual, and though not the best eating fish, they are super fun to fight. The Sockeye Salmon run was also generous and we had a large number of clients leaving the river banks with full coolers and sore arms!

Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game also counted 83,480 Alaska Sockeye Salmon (Red Salmon) at there weir site on Fish Creek near Anchorage and Wasilla, Alaska. They also counted, in Fish Creek, 8,214 Alaska Coho Salmon (Silver Salmon).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

More on "Environment or Economy"

Representative opposes Cook Inlet habitat designation

Millett introduced a resolution which opposes the designation of Cook Inlet as a critical habitat for beluga whales. (Daniel Hernandez/KTUU-DT) Millett introduced a resolution which opposes the designation of Cook Inlet as a critical habitat for beluga whales. (Daniel Hernandez/KTUU-DT)

by Ted Land
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

JUNEAU, Alaska -- Rep. Charisse Millett hopes the feds will pay attention to what she calls a threat to Alaska's economy.

The Anchorage Republican introduced a resolution on the House floor Wednesday which opposes the designation of Cook Inlet as a critical habitat for beluga whales.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is considering protecting 3,000 square miles of Cook Inlet, but Millett says this will only harm Southcentral Alaska's economy, as the state would have to meet new environmental regulations.

She also says shipping at the Port of Anchorage would be disrupted.

In October, the National Marine Fisheries Service released its annual Cook Inlet beluga population estimate.

They say the 2009 population of 321 whales is down 54 from the year before, and way down from more than 650 counted in 1994.

They say the population is not recovering as anticipated.

Millett looks at the numbers differently, and points out that in 2005, the population of Cook Inlet belugas was estimated at 278, and last year's estimate of 321 shows a 4 percent yearly increase.

She says the critical habitat is unjustified.

"I think that this is not a good idea. I think it's just a way to slow down development and I really think that ESA's and listings like this are used to a detriment to our state, especially, singled out all the time," Millett said.

House Joint Resolution 40 now goes to the House Resources Committee for consideration.

Contact Ted Land at

China New Gas Customer for Alaska

Chinese seen as potential Alaska gas customer

Post to Twitter Post to Yahoo Buzz Post to Digg Post to Facebook Post to MySpace

By Becky Bohrer
The Associated Press

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska officials are looking to China, in what some believe will be that country’s strong demand for natural gas, to help the state advance its long-held pipeline dreams.

Gov. Sean Parnell has invited an official with China’s National Energy Administration and others to visit Alaska, following up on a trade mission Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell helped lead to China in December.

Campbell returned from that trip believing the rapidly developing communist nation, already a leading export market for such Alaska products as seafood, zinc, and lead ore, could also become a major investor in or export market for Alaska natural gas or its byproducts.

The potential for Alaska is huge, said Harold Heinze, chief executive of the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority, who was with Campbell on the trip. He sees several possibilities for the Chinese, from building a plant to convert ethane to pellets that would be used in manufacturing to signing on with a major natural gas pipeline project. Ethane is a component for plastics that he says is found in the Prudhoe Bay region.

“One thing you look for in a partner is, do they have money and do they have more money than you. And these guys have money,” he said. “They’re major players in the world.”

In theory, if the interest and money are there, that could also spur progress on a pipeline that many Alaskans have long looked to for new jobs, reliable energy, and a source for more state revenue amid projections of slumping oil production.

But there are plenty of uncertainties, from permitting and pricing — how gas holds up against other energy sources — to what China’s true long-term demands for gas will be over alternatives like coal, and the level of competition Alaska would face from other producers to meet the gas demand.

And there are the various pipeline options and plans, each with diehard constituencies and questions about their viability.

Estimates released last month by the companies working with the state to advance a major line put the project costs at $20 billion to $41 billion, depending on the route.

One route, the cheaper option, estimated at $20 billion to $26 billion, would run from the harsh North Slope to Valdez, Alaska, where gas would be liquefied at a facility that another entity would build and then shipped elsewhere, possibly overseas. The plant cost isn’t included in the estimates.

The costlier option envisions a pipeline going from the North Slope to Canada, where gas could move on existing systems to North American markets.

But there have been numerous other proposals through the years to move North Slope gas, even a bullet line to move the gas to the most populated part of the state, southcentral Alaska.

“The Chinese may, because they’re interested in resources, be able to do things and invest in things that don’t look economic in market terms,” said James Jensen, a consultant in natural gas economics.

“In fact, if the Chinese said, ‘Gee, if we could get this thing going and we could tie up a certain amount of American gas for our own use,’ they might do something that I wouldn’t think would be economic,” he said.

“But they might do it.”

Officials with TransCanada Corp., based in Calgary, Alberta, and Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp., say the project is economically viable and hope to move toward an “open season,” when they can court gas producers and try to secure commitments for shipping deals, by May.

The companies, in a recent filing with federal regulators, estimated 35 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves on the North Slope.

Through a process in which TransCanada beat out applicants, including a Chinese company several years ago, the state agreed to reimburse up to $500 million of the eligible costs of the project.

A TransCanada spokeswoman declined to comment on whether there’d been interest from China on the project, saying, “All discussions with individual customers are confidential and we would not be able to discuss any individual details as a result of that.”

A rival project by Britain’s BP PLC and Houston-based ConocoPhillips is also moving ahead.

Campbell said he’s not advocating any specific project, but he’d like the Chinese officials to visit “earlier, rather than later.” They’ve indicated a “huge demand” for natural gas, he said, and Alaska wants a market. ♦

Earthquake in Alaska

USGS reports small earthquake in Southern Alaska

Associated Press - February 21, 2010 12:24 PM ET

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - A minor earthquake has struck north of Anchorage, but no injuries or damages have been reported.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake, with a 3.0 magnitude, hit at 7:28 a.m. Sunday, and it was centered 24 miles north of Anchorage and 1 mile outside the town of Big Lake.

The USGS also says people in Eagle River and Chugiak have reported feeling the quake.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Poll finds Anchorage likes wildlife in city

Anchorage: You like having moose and bears as neighbors -- you just don't want any more of them.

Park users in particular say wildlife makes the city "more interesting and special" and see the animals as a point of pride. Bears are less welcome than moose, but 60 percent of Anchorage opposes the idea of mapping out special bear-free zones were bears would be killed on arrival.

All that according to a new survey of Anchorage residents released this month by the state Department of Fish and Game. The aim is to gauge how the city feels about the potentially dangerous wildlife at its doorstep.

At 267 pages, it's a beast of a survey. A Virginia-based research firm hired by the state asked 1,258 people roughly 70 questions each about their encounters with -- and feelings about -- moose, brown bears and black bears.

The $40,000 effort was prompted by maulings and bear encounters in the summer of 2008 and the resulting management debate, said Mark Burch, regional assistant management coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Conservation.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Red Green River Regatta

KUAC, in collaboration with Alaska Sea Grant, will sponsor the Red Green River Regatta July 21 at 2 p.m. Participants float down the Chena River from the University Ave. boat launch to Pike's Landing in homemade boats that must use at least one roll of duct tape. Entry fee is $20. For more information and registration forms visit

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The U.S. Army Permafrost Tunnel

Between 1963 and 1965, the U.S Army Permafrost Tunnel was dug "entirely within frozen ground on the north slope of Hill 456 near Fox, Alaska."

Ice_Intrusion_155_ft_deep"Initial research" at the site "focused on developing new mining and tunneling methods for building underground facilities and foundations in permafrost. Special emphasis was given to tunnel behavior in permafrost, including deformation, natural air flow, feasible types of ventilation and thermal regime."

The tunnel is now maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory – whose work "includes an amazing array of topic areas, including engineering and technology in cold regions, seismic-acoustic physics, tools for military combat and survival in cold weather, and many others."

If you're hoping to explore the place in person, however, beware that the tunnel's structure "requires a freezer unit" in order to survive the Alaskan summer – lest the whole place spontaneously liquify...
Meanwhile, soon to be discovered: a whole city of post-military ice caves, carved throughout the Alaskan peninsula and populated entirely by sightless humanoids – who are victims of an Army gene experiment gone awry.
Starring Samuel L. Jackson as a hot-headed spelunker who discovers his own father living nude in the deepest tunnel. "Enough is enough!" Jackson yells. "I have had it with my motherfuckin' father living in this motherfuckin' cave!"

Expansion of Fox Permafrost Tunnel is planned

Researchers plan to expand the Fox Permafrost Tunnel during the next few years, drilling or blasting a new shaft 450 feet into a frozen hillside to parallel the existing tunnel.

"We want to begin digging (a new) permafrost tunnel next winter," said Matthew Sturm of the U. S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory on Fort Wainwright. He and others envision a new "Alaska Permafrost Research Center" that will better serve scientists and non-scientists.

With start-up federal funding of $500,000 this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will carve out a new tunnel as well as build labs, offices, and a learning center.

Other improvements include a walkway on top of the frozen bluff, allowing scientists to do permafrost experiments from the forest and tundra above the tunnel, and side rooms within the new tunnel for permafrost-warming experiments.

The improvements would replace infrastructure at the tunnel that has endured for more than four decades.

"Our current on-site facilities consist of a shack and a Porta-Potty," Sturm said.

The new tunnel would be excavated during the winter of 2010-2011 with a "road header" or by drilling and blasting, whichever method is found to best preserve large chunks of permafrost that could include animal and plant remains, said Kevin Bjella of the Corps of Engineers.

The original tunnel was dug 360 feet deep through a frozen hillside, which was originally exposed by miners who blasted it with water from a hydraulic giant in the northern Goldstream Creek valley about 15 miles north of Fairbanks. The engineers used an Alkirk mining machine with a pair of spinning six-foot cutting heads to create the tunnel during three winters from 1963 through 1966.

The official reason the Army dug the tunnel in the 1960s was to test ways of digging into permafrost and learn more about building underground usable spaces and foundations in permafrost. Near Thule Air Force Base in Greenland, the military dug ice tunnels hundreds of feet long with rooms for people to live and work.

"We have a permafrost tunnel because of Cold War fear," Sturm said at a lecture on the tunnel expansion.

Since it opened in the late 1960s, the tunnel has lured scientists who have written more than 70 papers on their studies conducted within.

Richard Hoover, a microbiologist with NASA, raved about the tunnel's potential to show how life can exist on extreme places likes Mars. Hoover scraped some ice from the bottom of a frozen lake and brought the ice back to a University of Alaska Fairbanks lab to look at what he suspected were samples of algae from the pond. Instead he discovered rod-shaped bacteria that swam around on his slide. They were unknown to science and had been in suspended animation since the time of the woolly mammoth.

"This unique microorganism was alive after remaining frozen for 32,000 years," he wrote in a paper.

With access to the permafrost tunnel more stories like Hoover's could arise.

The existing tunnel smells sour from the plants and animals decaying from their first exposure to the atmosphere in thousands of years. Researchers have found the preserved remains of ancient beetles, mites, flies, moths, butterflies, snails, as well as the bones and teeth of mammoths, bison and horses within the tunnel.

Also inside are roots of willows, birches and alders, though no black spruce, which made its way to Alaska less than 10,000 years ago. The current tunnel, penetrating 65 feet of permafrost between the top of the hill and bedrock, has material from 10,000 to 40,000-years-old, frozen by extreme cold that penetrated the ground during those frigid years.

Back then tundra and shrubs were probably the dominant vegetation in the area walked upon by horses, mammoths and bison.

If things go according to plan, the new tunnel could open in 2013, and it should be more accessible for researchers and others curious about permafrost, Sturm said.

"I think, in the end, more of the public will be able to use this," Sturm said. "It's a nice legacy project. The last tunnel is a gift that's been giving for 50 years."

Ned Rozell is a science writer at the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks. He can be reached by e-mail at

ConocoPhillips Alaska president killed in avalanche

By Ashley Fantz
February 14, 2010 10:57 a.m. EST

(CNN) -- The president of ConocoPhillips Alaska was killed in an avalanche and another person in his snowmobiling party is missing, according to Alaska State Troopers.

The body of Jim Bowles was recovered near Spencer Glacier by rescue workers shortly after police received a 911 call at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, said troopers spokesperson Megan Peters.

"When we found him we attempted CPR but we could not revive him," she said.

Bowles, 57, was apparently out with friends snowmobiling in the Grandview wilderness area. Rescuers are trying to find Alan Gage, who is thought to have been buried in the avalanche, Peters said.

Bowles was the head of Alaska operations for the oil company, authorities said.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell issued a statement saying he and his wife Sandy "were deeply saddened today by news of the loss of Jim Bowles."

"Jim brought so much to our state: his love of the great outdoors, his leadership of ConocoPhillips Alaska, and his dedication to making Alaska a better place for all of us to call home," the statement read.

In a separate incident, miles from Spencer, another avalanche killed a skier Saturday afternoon. A woman who saw the accident called 911 while her husband was able to locate the skier's body. A dog accompanying the skier survived the avalanche, authorities said.

Between mid-February and mid-March warm temperatures cause layers of snow to become unstable.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Princess Cruises Investment in Alaskan Excursions

Not related directly to Anchorage... but still shows investment by the cruising industry in Alaska.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Airline response to cruise ship cuts

Airlines boost flights to Alaska this summer

Experts say travelers may get better deals.

An unexpected surge in new commercial flights scheduled for Alaska this summer may trigger new competition among airlines and cheaper tickets to some major Lower 48 cities, travel industry experts say.

Friendlier skies
New round-trip nonstop flights coming this summer:

• Anchorage-Chicago, United Airlines, May 15-Aug. 30

• Anchorage-San Francisco, United, June 9-Aug. 30

• Anchorage-Denver, United, June 10-Aug. 30

• Anchorage-Portland, Continental, June 9-Sept. 6

• Anchorage-Philadelphia, US Airways, June 1-Sept. 7

• Fairbanks-Denver, Frontier Airlines, May 14-Sept 12

• Fairbanks-Salt Lake City, Delta Airlines, June 25; end date not available

Story tools

Comments (48)

Recommend (3)

Add to My Yahoo!

Yahoo! Buzz

Continental, United and US Airways all plan to add daily nonstop service this summer between Anchorage and Portland, Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia. No new flights have been announced between Anchorage and Seattle, a major connection hub for Alaskans.

It's too early to say how much new seat capacity will be added at the Anchorage international airport -- Alaska Airlines won't announce its summer schedule until late March -- but for now, the new traffic from other airlines is set to add more than 930 seats per day.

Fairbanks is also expecting a bump in air traffic this summer: It will receive additional nonstop flights, four to five days per week, going round-trip to Denver and Salt Lake City.

Airlines are expanding their service to Alaska at an interesting moment -- on the tail of a global recession that last year kept thousands of independent travelers from visiting Alaska, and on the cusp of cruise-industry cuts that mean thousands fewer cruise passengers will fly to and from Alaska this year.

Roughly 120,000 fewer cruise passengers are expected to arrive or depart from the Anchorage or Fairbanks airports due to the pullout of two large cruise ships that sailed the Gulf of Alaska route last year. That equates to three planes a day, according to the Alaska Travel Industry Association.

Even if tens of thousands more independent travelers visit this summer, they won't fill the seats emptied of cruise passengers, said Ron Peck, the ATIA president.

On the other hand, the new flights could be a boon for Alaskans during the summer.

"The one thing I'm certain of is that (Alaska) air fares will be lower this year," said Mark Eliason, president of USTravel, an Anchorage-based travel agency.

Scott McMurren, an Anchorage travel industry marketing consultant, said Alaskans might see "fare-related fireworks" as the May and June inaugural dates of the new flights approach.



The airlines announced their new flights in glowing press releases over the last couple of months.

Denver-based Frontier Airlines, a low-cost carrier that already offers nonstop service between Denver and Anchorage, touted its new nonstop flight to Fairbanks, saying its customers will now have "the ability to travel to two breathtaking destinations in the great state of Alaska."

US Airways said it "could not be more excited to bring Alaska to our Philadelphia hub," and boasted that its new flight will be the only nonstop airline service to Alaska from the northeastern United States.

The biggest increase in flights comes from United Airlines, which withdrew from Alaska last year but plans to come back with bigger planes. It is taking on several markets already served by Alaska Airlines -- Chicago, San Francisco and Denver.

United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said the airline is "seeing an interest among our customers to go to Anchorage in the summer season, more so than we've previously seen ... we've seen a significant uptick this summer."

United's decision to leave Alaska in 2009 "was just a reflection of the economic situation at the time," Urbanksi said.


Industry experts say some other factors may have driven the airlines' decisions.

McMurren said the airlines think they will be able to lure additional travelers to Alaska using their expanding frequent-flier base. United, US Airways, Continental and many others, including Japan-based All Nippon Airways and Germany-based Lufthansa Airlines, are all part of the same global frequent-flier network, called Star Alliance.

"The whole deal is these carriers think they can make a dent based on their frequent mileage network," he said.

Eliason has another angle.

"Because there has been less competition and the capacity, if anything, has shrunk, the yields were high here last year," he said.

"(The airlines) think, 'Gee, we can make money.' "

But, "the piece that these airlines didn't factor in was the (120,000) cruise passengers that are gone," Eliason said.

He predicted that Alaska Airlines will match whatever prices the other airlines offer.


Alaska Airlines declined to discuss its flight plans for Anchorage this summer or how big an impact it expects from the cruise-ship cutbacks. The company won't discuss such details until it announces its flight schedule in March, spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said.

She noted that the airline added a second flight between Anchorage and Chicago within the last year.

An Anchorage airport spokeswoman said Thursday the airport is "cautiously optimistic" about the number of people who will deplane this summer.

Last year's passenger counts dropped by a sizable amount. About 985,000 people deplaned in Anchorage last summer, down nearly 12 percent from the prior year, airport statistics show.

"It's fascinating, I guess, to have so many airlines turn their attention to Alaska," said David Kasser, vice president of tourism, development and sales for the Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"It's ironic that we are getting more air traffic when we are getting less (ship) capacity. It's quite possible that people are changing the way they are traveling, and doing more independent trips, but that hasn't been the case in many years," he said.

Instead, Kasser said, the past increases in Alaska visitation have come from cruise tours.

Without an increase in independent travelers this year, the state will see its fewest tourists since 2005, said Peck of the ATIA.

tourism expectations for 2010

Industry leaders say 2010 should be somewhat better than last summer Tourism outlook looking brighter

By Margaret Bauman

Visitor industry officials, still reeling from an unusually sparse tourist season in 2009, aren't smiling broadly yet, but there's an air of optimism sparked by a forecast from the U.S. Travel Association's marketing outlook forum.

The association says declines in travel are bottoming out, meaning that 2010 will be marginally better than last year, giving some in the tourism industry a sense of optimism that consumer confidence is back, said Deb Hickok, president and chief executive officer of the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau.

On the other hand, others are predicting the tourism market in Alaska will be down further, she said.

Still, some members of the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau already are indicating they are selling summer business at a better pace than this time last year, AVCB President Julie Saupe said in her mid-January annual report to the community.

The big unknown for Southcentral Alaska is how much of an increase in independent travel the industry can muster to fill the gap left from some 100,000 fewer cruise ship travelers,

Dave Kasser, director of tourism sales for ACVB, estimated the loss of one Holland America and one Princess Cruises ship to the Anchorage market at about $50 million

Kasser, fresh from tourism seminars in several states, including Ohio and Texas, said he's seeing a lot of interest in Alaska tourism, particularly for independent travelers, but that it will take a collective industry effort to sell the value of trips to the 49th state.

"We need to make it easy for people to purchase an Alaska trip and be confident that they will see what they want to see at a price they consider a value," he said.

One of the perks of the tourism shows he has traveled to in advance of the 2010 summer season has been the people he's met who have been to Alaska, Kasser said.

"People walk up and tell you every portion of their trip to Alaska, and while they are standing there talking, they are selling other people who are walking up," he said.

Kasser said he also sees new growth in overall international market of visitors to Alaska, which is currently about 10 percent of overall tourism.

"The big new market is South America," he said. "We are starting to see more people from South America and India."

Germany and Japan still make up the bulk of the foreign visitors to the state, he said.

German travelers stay an average of three to six weeks, and tend to stay at mid-range or less types of property. They are looking for value over anything else. They will buy groceries, rent RVs, he said. Germans get six weeks vacation a year, Kasser said. German visitors want experiences off the beaten track.

The Japanese, by comparison, generally travel in groups, with meals and everything laid out, he said.

What will help improve the tourism industry for Alaska this summer is for the industry to work collectively to make it easier for independent travelers to package trips at various levels of value, Kasser said.

Alaska's tourism industry also is busy working the meetings and conventions circuit, with the potential for millions of dollars in business for the airline and hotel sectors, as well as a variety of vendors.

In 2008, the latest date for which such figures are available, the estimated economic impact of conventions held in the Anchorage area was in excess of $97 million, ACVB said.

Dozens of conventions and meetings for a range of industries are already booked for the 2010 season. There also are major events like Anchorage Fur Rendezvous and the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which draw thousands of visitors annually.

The Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention is set for October in Fairbanks this year, with anticipated attendance of about 3,500 people, FCVB's Hickok said. The Interior city also will host a rural energy conference, the Alaska Peace Officers convention and the Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals, among others in 2010.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Alaskan Edge

1778 was a busy year for Captain James Cook. Early on in the year the English explorer became the first European to discover the paradise that is Hawaii, and his shipmates were the first to write about the thriving surf culture that already existed there. What’s lesser known, however, is that from there Cook and crew sailed north, where they spent the better part of a year mapping the coast of Alaska. Two very different places in most regards (although some native Alaskan tribes believe their ancestors migrated from Hawaii) but there’s one thing the two very unique states have in common: the spirit of aloha. Back in 1993 Alaska was featured on the cover of SURFER magazine. In Dave Parmenter’s acclaimed piece, The Land Duke Forgot we learned that while Duke may have passed this place up on his whirlwind tours, his spirit most assuredly has taken residence. Granted, the stereotypical surf image is a bit skewed up in the northern reaches, but the stoke is the same.

The biggest challenge to any outdoor endeavor up in Alaska is simply getting around. Outside of tourist traps like Anchorage and Juneau, which both have big commercial airports and harbors, moving around becomes much more of a challenge. Yet there’s something in the neighborhood of 47,000 tidal shoreline miles to be scoured, and with ample swell activity pumping through the north pacific year round, there’s certainly no shortage of opportunity for mining some perfection.

Of course, if you’re in Alaska, you must be willing to brave alternative methods of transport. Bush planes, skiffs, hearty fishing boats and romantic ferries are, for all intents and purposes, the most realistic mode of finding quality waves up in this region, because save for the Alaskan Highway, roads are nearly impossible to find. Any one of those alternative craft get you around the corner or up into the sound far enough to escape any hint of your fellow man.

The biggest freeway in Alaska is on water, it’s the Alaskan Marine Highway, which is used by the ferry system which runs all the way from the Alexander Archipelago in the south to the Aleutian Islands in the northwest and beyond, and services most of the state’s numerous ports and coastal towns. Starting in 2005, Yakutat, population 800, which is also known as surf city Alaska, will see the ferry twice a month, while across the Gulf Kodiak Island and the Aleutians will see once a month visits. For those who have time to wait it out, it’s a pretty handy service, especially if you can secure passage for your car, truck, van, or as Jack Endicott, owner of Icy Waves Surf Shop, suggests, “bring your bike and keep the air clean.”

But even armed with the Alaska Marine Highway schedule in your back pocket and a reliable four-wheel drive rig the best surf Alaska has to offer can escape you. The Aleutians are more known to Hawaiian and California surfers as a place where surf is generated rather than located: harsh, wind blown and lonely, there is potential to find quality waves, but the otherworldly elements make it difficult. The small port of Dutch is the regional hub for fishing boats, small planes and the ferry, but the Aleutians are not at all for the faint of heart. Boats disappear regularly. Bars are for drinking and fighting and only a few hearty fishermen have been known to lash their boards down on deck in case they happen upon a lucky day of surf. Without question, it is some of the roughest conditions in the world.

To the east lies Prince William Sound, where, in 1989, the Exxon Valdez spilled over 11 million gallons of oil, polluting over 1,500 miles of coastline and becoming the standard to which all other environmental disasters have since been judged. But the area is slowly recovering and these days the surf quality is just starting to be realized. Montage and Hinchinbrook Islands both have some of Alaska’s most ridden waves. Hinchinbrook is home to several cobblestone trestles-like setups. Tucked high in the Gulf of Alaska, it is the northernmost surfing locale in the Pacific Ocean, and on big winter days this becomes painfully obvious. Hinchinbrook is about a 10-minute puddle jump from the town of Cordova, though it’s possible to commandeer a fishing boat out of Anchorage if you have the right connections.

The islands that dot southeast Alaska are home to hundreds, if not thousands, of rivermouths and headlands to explore. According to local surfers, the potential is absolutely mind-blowing. This is also where Endicott and about 20 to 30 other local Yakutat surfers reside. As you’d expect, most surfers in the area make a living either fishing or tending the area’s modest tourist business, but nearly all locals own tiny aluminum skiffs that allow them to scout out surf in the immediate area.

“You simply won’t find the real quality waves if you don’t have some local knowledge and a trusty boat,” says Endicott. However, several functional spots in the immediate Yakutat area don’t require any form of aquatic transport. Cannon Beach, Ocean Cape and Point Carrew all have pockets of sandbars that make for fun surf if conditions are clean. Venturing deeper south into the Alexander Archipelago seems to be where the bounty of quality surf is literally unlimited, but this region is really only accessible with a good seaplane, or a boat that can handle severe open ocean storms for days on end. If you can manage to pull one of these together you and your friends will enjoy some truly solo sessions.

The big surprise most first-time Alaska surfers enjoy is finding out that the water temperature is not as ball-shrinking cold as they originally anticipated. Thanks to the Japanese current, summer water temps can climb all the way into the mid-60s, but average somewhere in the mid-50s to mid-40s for the better part of the year.

“The Santa Cruz guys couldn’t get over how much warmer than home the water was this year,” explained Endicott. “Of course they were here in August, not January.” Depending on weather conditions and snow melt, ocean temps can plunge down into the low 30s in the winter. As one would expect, the locals here are a different breed altogether. Bulging characters with names like Fishbone and Chop Stick gut out the winters in 6/4s with five-mil hoods, booties and gloves, while in the summer a 4/3 and booties are generally enough for even the pansies from the tropics.

Truth be told, Alaska is not for wimps. As Parmenter noted in The Land that Duke Forgot, “They call Alaska the ‘Last Frontier,’ but it’s more than that. It’s the last place where America, its true atavistic spirit, exists. It’s the America of John Ford, where accountability and self-reliance still mean something. It’s not the litigation-snarled America we have today, full of blame-shirkers and moral cowards. If you break down, you don’t call the Auto Club. If a bear looms up on the trail ahead, you don’t slap an injunction on him or sue the state because you weren’t mollycoddled with warning signs every 10 yards. And if you get into trouble surfing, you don’t flag down the rescue copter or whistle for Darrick Doerner to swim out and save your lily-white helpless ass.”

Clearly, however, there are two faces to Alaska, much like there are in Hawaii. If Captain James Cook were alive today, he’d be happy to find many parts of this wild coast just how he found them, untouched, pristine, and gleaming, with its harsh realities easy to see…but then again, there’s the other side, and if he were to be sailing along through the many sounds, there’s a good chance his boat would be rundown by a cruise ship full of blue hairs steaming North to Juneau for a sight seeing tour. — Jake Howard

To further research Alaska check out the SURFER Travel Report at or dial 949.661.5147.