Sunday, March 29, 2009

Don't doubt Mt. Redoubt

A couple weeks ago I was having writers block. I couldn't think of anything that seemed interesting enough for me to write and share with everyone. Now I'm back logged. So much is happening in Alaska right now and around Dave, it's hard for me to pick what has priority.

Mt. Redoubt has taken center stage. She has been grumbling for a few weeks now. The winds have been kind and blowing the ash away in a thin layer and away from Anchorage. That's until last night.

Yesterday afternoon she erupted again and last night she laid a thin layer of ash over Anchorage for the first time. As a result the airport has been closed. Most restaurants and other businesses closed early and everyone is watching the news and the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) website for updates. I'm sure I'll have more updates for you soon. I've posted a link to the AVO on the side bar to the right.

Photo courtesy of AVO and Rick Monyahan.

Friday, March 27, 2009

1964 Good Friday Earthquake remembered

It was the earthquake that woke up America, its 9.2 Herculean shaking reverberating through the earth, causing the whole planet to ring like a bell for weeks afterward. Even now, the earth is still moving in response to the "Good Friday Earthquake" that rocked Alaska on March 27, 1964.

At magnitude 9.2, this was the second-largest quake ever recorded in the world, topped only by a 9.5 in Chile a few years earlier. Its specter, even 40 years later, haunts not only many of those who lost loved ones or who lived through the four minutes of shaking or the quake’s legacy of tsunami waves surging into cities and destroying communities, but also those responsible for earthquake monitoring and safety.

Research conducted after the quake revealed that on March 27th, 1964, at 5:36 p.m., the crustal plates beneath southern Alaska could resist the strain no longer. The Pacific Plate pushed an average of 30 feet beneath the North American Plate, unleashing the pressure the two masses had built up by pushing against each other for centuries. The shock was roughly equivalent to 100 million tons of TNT exploding — or the force of about 63,000 atomic bombs the size of the one dropped on Hiroshima. The quake ripped a sub-sea fault 500 miles long (800 km) and 125 miles wide (200 km).

Its effects seem almost biblical in their scale and are a cautionary story not only for Alaska but also for the other 39 U.S. states most at risk of destructive earthquakes. The sea floor immediately rose 36 feet in some places, generating the birth of gigantic tsunami waves that struck the Pacific coast, killing people as far south as Crescent City, California. In all, 131 deaths occurred, most caused by huge tsunami waves that surged into and devastated coastal communities such as Valdez, Seward, Chenega, and Kodiak. Locally, these waves ran up as far as 220 feet high. It was only because the earthquake occurred late in the day of a holiday and in a less populous region that loss of lives and property were not considerably higher.

By all accounts, the March 27, 1964, Good Friday earthquake and the tsunamis that followed in its wake were simply terrifying, an ordeal to be endured. The quake not only left behind scars still visible on the land, but it also left wounds for those who lost family members and friends in the quake or the tsunamis, some of the victims children.

As the earthquake’s first seconds jolted Alaska, the sea floor immediately rose some 36 feet in some places, triggering a huge tsunami that hit the Pacific coast, killing people as far south as Crescent City, Calif. Locally in Alaska, these waves ran up as far as 220 feet high. One eyewitness reported the water rising 15 feet in 5 seconds in Kodiak, Alaska.

In all, 131 deaths occurred, most caused by huge tsunami waves that surged into and devastated coastal communities such as Valdez, Seward, Chenega, and Kodiak. In Valdez, 32 people died in as a result of a tsunami caused by an underwater landslide; tsunamis generated by the earthquake also killed 23 people in the village of Chenega, 12 people in both Whittier and Seward, and 8 in Kodiak.

A combination of shaking, tsunamis, landslides, and liquefaction destroyed buildings, houses, roads, and other infrastructure. Coastal land-level changes of as much as 36 feet of uplift occurred in one area and 6 feet of subsidence in another over a region two-thirds as large as the state of California. This great earthquake was felt over a half million square miles and resulted in at least $350-500 million in property damage in Alaska in 1964 dollars, a figure around $2 billion today.

The effects of the earthquake were also felt worldwide — boats off the Gulf Coast of Louisiana sank from the sloshing of water resulting from the quake’s force, and the earthquake was recorded on tide gages in Cuba and Puerto Rico. Even wells in Africa sloshed from the reverberating seismic waves.

Earthquake damage was heavy in many towns, including Anchorage, Chitina, Glennallen, Homer, Hope, Kasilof, Kenai, Kodiak, Moose Pass, Portage, Seldovia, Seward, Sterling, Valdez, Wasilla, and Whitter. Anchorage, about 75 miles northwest of the epicenter, also sustained severe damage. About 30 blocks of dwellings and commercial buildings were damaged or destroyed in the downtown area of Anchorage. Some schools were almost devastated. An area of about 130 acres was devastated by displacements that broke the ground into many deranged blocks that were collapsed and tilted at all angles. This slide destroyed about 75 private houses. Water mains and gas, sewer, telephone, and electrical systems were disrupted through the area.

In Valdez, 32 people died in as a result of a tsunami caused by an underwater landslide; tsunamis generated by the earthquake also killed 23 people in the village of Chenega, 12 people in both Whittier and Seward, and 8 in Kodiak.

In the first day there were 11 aftershocks with magnitude greater than 6.0; in the next three weeks there were 9 more. Residents endured thousands of aftershocks in the months following the quake, and felt smaller aftershocks for more than a year.

Photo's from Seward Welcome Center

Research info from USGS

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I'm not celebrating

On March 24, 1989 the Exxon Valdez, captained by Joseph Hazelwood and bound for Long Beach, California, hit Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef and spilled an estimated minimum 10.8 million US gallons of crude oil. This disaster has been recorded as one of the largest spills in U.S. history and one of the largest ecological disasters.

For area wildlife, the timing could not have been worse. The spill occurred shortly before the phytoplankton blooms, the explosion of microscopic life that fuels marine life, and migration season. Thousands of migrating birds were headed toward the area en route to new seasonal destinations. In the spill's wake, hundreds of thousands of seabirds perished, along with thousands of marine mammals.

Despite the devastation, many experts were optimistic about the long-term prognosis for the area's fauna and flora. For example, Bruce Wing, a government biologist, assured the Anchorage Daily News a couple of weeks after the Valdez incident that the wildlife will "all come back. In a few years."

That was 1989. Today, 20 years later, the degree of recovery is a matter of considerable debate and litigation. Some scientists have concluded that the toxins from the oil spill have largely broken down and dispersed. Exxon has pointed to more than 350 scientific studies they funded that found no evidence of long-term effects.

But there are a host of other studies that find that toxins remain and are hindering ecosystem recovery. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council (established as part of the court settlement between the Exxon corporation and the governments of the United States and Alaska to oversee the sound's restoration) reports that a large number of species, including sea otters and Harlequin ducks, have yet to fully recover. And then there's the herring fishery.

Four years after the Exxon Valdez spill, the $12-million Pacific herring fishery collapsed, sending much of the local economy into a tailspin. While the cause is debated, there is evidence that the collapse was triggered years earlier by the spill itself. The fishery remains closed today.

Check out Valdez Science for more info.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fifth explosion rocks Mount Redoubt volcano


Published: March 22nd, 2009 11:33 PM
Last Modified: March 23rd, 2009 06:21 AM

An erupting Mount Redoubt exploded again this morning at 4:31 a.m. -- its fifth and strongest discharge yet -- sending an ash cloud to new heights, the Alaska Volcano Observatory reported.

Ash has now been detected at an elevation of 60,000 feet above sea level, the National Weather Service reported.

Winds are still carrying the ash plume north toward the Susitna Valley, and minor ash fall has already been reported in Skwentna, the weather service said.

Ash is not expected in Anchorage or Wasilla at this time, the weather service said.

Redoubt began erupting last night, with the first explosion coming at 10:38 p.m. Sunday followed by another at 11:02 p.m., and a third at 12:14 a.m, the AVO reported.

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport remains open, although some airlines have canceled or diverted flights. Alaska Airlines reported canceling 19 flights in and out of the Anchorage international airport because of the ash.

Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage told only essential personnel to report to work. The Air Force says 60 planes, including fighter jets, cargo aircraft and a 747 commercial plane, are being sheltered.

School is in session for Anchorage and Mat-Su schools.

The 10,200-foot Redoubt Volcano, roughly 100 miles southwest of Anchorage, last erupted during a four-month period from 1989-90.

Observatory staffers notified Federal Aviation Administration officials immediately following the eruption.

An FAA official at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport early Monday said there were no immediate plans to close the airport. Alaska Airlines canceled some flights today after the eruptions as a safety precaution. The airline's Web site suggested travelers check for updated flight information.

The AVO describes the eruptions as "four large explosions."

The AVO staff also warned authorities at the Drift River Oil Terminal -- on the western shore of Cook Inlet downriver from the volcano -- that mud flows and flooding from melting glaciers might be headed their way. At a short 3 a.m. press conference today John Powers of AVO said given the hot material landing on snow, mud and snow slides could be expected and staff would check the Drift River area at first light today.

Protective dikes have been constructed at the terminal since Redoubt last erupted in 1989.

Powers also said looking at the history of Redoubt eruptions the event could be expected to go on for some time, even months. Eruptions in 1989 and 90 lasted about five months as did some prior events, he said.

For two hours, prior to the eruption, AVO scientists reported heightened seismicity at Redoubt and warned there could be a quick escalation to eruptive activity.

The volcano had been on Orange "watch" status for most of Sunday after activity began increasing Saturday, but was changed to Red after the first eruption.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Coronation complete: Mackey wins Iditarod 37

by Andrew Hinkelman
Wednesday, March 18, 2009

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- In the span of two years and three Iditarods, Lance Mackey has gone from miracle worker to the undisputed reigning king of The Last Great Race.

Mackey won his third consecutive Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Wednesday, putting an exclamation point on mushing's latest dynasty.

Only two other mushers have won three in a row -- Susan Butcher from 1986-88 and Doug Swingley 1999-2001. No one has won four straight.

"I'm so proud to get through this," Mackey said. "This one was really, really smooth. I've never had a team work like this as a whole, come together in every situation. In every situation they seemed to excel."

Mackey finished at 11:38 a.m. with an official time of 9 days, 21 hours, 38 minutes, 46 seconds. He still had 15 dogs in harness, dropping only one along the 1,000-mile trail.

"I feel great, but I feel beat up a little bit," he said. "It was a pretty demanding trail since about Anvik."

Gov. Sarah Palin called to congratulate Mackey shortly after he pulled in under Nome's burled arch.

"We are considering this team the greatest in Iditarod history," Palin said. "You continue to give all of us hope. The adversity you have overcome, the challenges you have met -- believe me, it resonates across our nation and across our world."

For Mackey -- a cancer survivor who came to prominence with an unprecedented double-double in the Yukon Quest and Iditarod in 2007 called the Mackey Miracle -- Wednesday's victory capped a dominating performance.

The race was essentially over at the halfway point, with Mackey's team of dogs from the Comeback Kennel building a huge lead over the rest of the field.

Over the first 346 miles from Willow to Takotna, where he took his 24-hour layover, Mackey rested his team a total of 15 hours, 48 minutes in seven checkpoints over almost two and a half days.

At that point he was still jousting with other contenders like Jeff King, Sebastian Schnuelle, Aaron Burmeister and Hugh Neff.

But after leaving Takotna, Mackey pushed all the way through the next 283 miles with only two significant stops -- 6 hours, 23 minutes in Iditarod and his mandatory 8-hour stop along the Yukon River in Anvik where he enjoyed a gourmet meal for being the first to arrive.

"I had no intention of going that far," Mackey said.

But his dogs had other plans.

"They were pulling on my hook barking and screaming like it was the start line," Mackey said, relating an encounter with Burmeister during a stop along the trail.

So they continued on, and Mackey's team gave him an insurmountable lead.

In fact, once he reached the halfway point of Iditarod, Mackey was the first musher into every checkpoint except Grayling all the way to the finish.

By the time he reached Eagle Island Mackey was essentially one checkpoint ahead of the competition the rest of the way. Because of his cushion -- and some brutally harsh weather along the Bering Sea coast -- Mackey took longer, more frequent rests.

"I'm so proud of this team, they're the real heroes and the real stars here," he said. "I was just a fortunate passenger who sometimes knows what the hell to do right."

Even with the huge lead in the second half of the race, Mackey didn't let up on the trail, often turning in the fastest runs from checkpoint to checkpoint. The competition couldn't even keep up, let alone make up ground.

Unlike his first two Iditarod victories -- where he came from behind over the last third of the race, and did that after winning the Yukon Quest a couple of weeks earlier -- this 2009 championship is a testament to the skill and strategizing of the man and the athleticism and pedigree of his dogs.

The 2007 win was dubbed a "miracle" for a lot of reasons. No one had every won the Quest and Iditarod in the same year, and Mackey did it with largely the same group of dogs. But aside from the mushing accomplishment there was Mackey's back story -- a cancer survivor from a respected mushing family who had struggled with personal demons in the past only to rise to the top in his sport.

The gregarious, easy-going personality of Mackey endeared him to fans, and when he returned in 2008 to do it all again, the idea that the previous year was a miracle faded. The idea that Lance Mackey is an elite dog driver began to take hold.

Now there can be no doubt.

With a team mixed with veterans from previous winning runs and some new blood to indicate this dynasty may just be getting started, Mackey crushed a field full of championship contenders.

"I have a nice young leader," Mackey said. "She's going to be a superstar next year."

Perhaps his domination this year is owed in part to Mackey's decision to not compete in the Quest. Instead he stayed out of that race to help Harry Alexie, a rookie from Bethel and Army National Guardsman, prepare for the Iditarod.

Alexie, using a team of dogs borrowed from the Comeback Kennel, is contending for rookie of the year honors.

Story from KTUU Channel 2
Contact Andrew Hinkelman at

Photo from Lance Mackey's Come Back Kennel

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dinner guest

My grand daughter Trinity came over for dinner last night. Sure, she brought her mom and dad, but we didn't need to take any pictures of them. So I took a lot of her.

She decided that she didn't want big people dinner, so she had her own.

Then it as time for a after dinner nap with Grand Pop!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

2009 Fur Rondy

I've lived her for 25 years now and I've enjoyed Fur Rondy every time. This year I learned a little bit from the photographers point of view. My friend Britt Coon let me tag along when she shot pic's this year. She's been going out for the last few years shooting just about any sled dog race she came across.

She had a challenge today. We were having some steady snow fall and I was tagging along. The race was pretty exciting. The fresh snow made the track sticky, so times were just a bit slower. Where we were at along the Campbell Creek Airstrip, we had a good view of a small portion of the 25 mile, 3 day race. It's really cool watching a pass.

Bill Kornmuller had the lead time from Friday, so the start was reversed and he started last. By the end of the day he was able to still hold onto the lead. Take a look at those dogs and tell me they don't love to race.

I had many things to catch up on at home, so I didn't make it today and they haven't announced on TV who the overall winner is.

If you would like to see more, go to the Fur Rondy website. It's a 9 day long celebration that has been going on since the early 1950's. While your at it, check out Britt's site. You can see that she loves what she does.

Thanks Britt! I had a great time.

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