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Southeast Alaska News
ANCHORAGE — Scientists monitoring Alaska’s volcanoes have been forced to shut down stations that provide real-time tracking of eruptions and forgo repairs of seismic equipment amid ongoing federal budget cuts — moves that could mean delays in getting vital information to airline pilots and emergency planners.
Say so long to summer drivers riding the ferry for free.
Wave goodbye to the winter roundtrip discount.
And printed schedules? Those are on their way out too.
They won’t happen for a while. But the changes are some of the ways the Alaska Marine Highway will address a $3.5-million spending cut mandated by the Legislature.
Ferry Business Enterprise Director Dick Leary described the cuts at Tuesday’s Marine Transportation Advisory Board meeting.
He said managers won’t cut sailings where tickets have already been sold. That means no reductions to the summer schedule that runs through September.
“We also feel very strongly that the winter schedule as it now exists is a bare-bottom service level and so if possible, we don’t want to cut any of the winter schedule,” Leary said. “And that takes us from October first to April 30th. So, of course, you put one and two together and you’ve only got May and June left.”
Managers also agreed that none of the system’s 35 port communities should lose service for an extended amount of time.
But there will be some cuts.
The Taku will not operate on its Prince Rupert-to-Juneau run in June of 2014. That reduces sailings to Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Kake and Sitka. Another ship, the Malaspina, will continue to offer that service.
The Juneau-based fast ferry Fairweather will sail less often during the first two weeks of next May. That affects Sitka and Lynn Canal routes.
Advisory board member Gerry Hope of Sitka said that hurts his hometown.
“It seems like we’re a frequent visitor to your cut-budget system. I want to support you; I want to back you up. But it feels at this point that I can’t get fully on board, no pun intended,” Hope said.
Business Director Leary said other cuts were chosen to avoid further service reductions. The roundtrip discounts will go away this fall. The drivers-ride-free program will end at the same time.
Board Chairman Robert Venables said the marine highway should prepare for further reductions.
“It was obvious that the Legislature’s squeezing all areas of the state budget and that’s going to be a trend that’s going to continue for the foreseeable future. This year’s cuts were probably more of a nick than an amputation,” Venables said.
Officials said they would consider raising ticket prices and retiring ferries if further cuts come in future years.
A Coast Guard helicopter from Air Station Sitka searched the waters of Wrangell Narrows near Petersburg over the weekend after reports that a distress flare had been spotted in the area. Coast Guard spokesperson Sarah Francis says the call came in Saturday Night:
“Well the coast guard received a report of a single red parachute flare in the vicinity of Wrangell Narrows Saturday night and they launched an Air Station Sitka MH60 Jayhawk helicopter and issued an urgent marine information broadcast requesting the assistance of mariners in the area. That helicopter proceeded to the Wrangell Narrows area and conducted a search. Weather in the area was clouds and fog and there was some poor visibility preventing a good over flight search pattern. So, they remained in Petersburg and conducted a first light search with visibility improved. We ran the urgent marine broadcast overnight and didn’t receive any further reports.”
Francis says conditions were optimal for the search Sunday morning and the helicopter crew saw no signs of anyone in distress. Also, she says there were no reports of overdue vessels in the area so the helicopter eventually returned to Sitka.
Francis emphasizes that the Coast Guard takes flares and other signs of immediate distress very seriously:
“We’d like to remind folks in the area that when they are out boating as we are approaching that spring and summer boating season to be sure that they’re prepared. Make sure your flares are not expired, that you have communication devices with you. More than one is preferable. A VHF Marine Band radio is the primary communication device for the maritime community but having cell phones if you’re close to shore or a satellite phone or e-pirb (electronic position indicating radio beacon) are also good backups.”
Francis says it’s OK to fire off flares for training or testing purposes but the Coast Guard should be informed about it ahead of time. Otherwise, it could result in an emergency response and the unnecessary use of resources, like a helicopter, that might be needed elsewhere.
Petersburg’s Viking Swim Club Wrapped up its season late last month after three members competed at the Junior Olympics in Anchorage. They included 17-year-old Shania Dahlberg, 11-year-old Madison Whitethorn, and 10-year-old Meghyn Parker.
Parker finished third in three of her events and third overall for her age group. Dahlberg broke two club records. Matt Lichtenstein spoke with the swimmers and their coach, Andy Carlisle:
For mobile-friendly, downloadable audio, click here.
On Friday, club members will be selling beer bits for a fundraiser under the covered play area by the school parking lot.
Their season starts up again in September.
Listen to iFriendly audio.
Amanda Taylor, with Brave Heart Volunteers, discusses plans for a free Foraker training for board and commission members (May 16-17, various venues around town). Any board or commission member is welcome to participate. To RSVP, or for more information, please call 747-4600. Visit Brave Heart Volunteers online.
Even for Southeast Alaska, this is a lot of rain. Teams of at least a dozen men at a time slog through downpour, grunting and groaning as they carry the nearly 1000-pound load the few hundred feet that may as well have been miles.
Singers stand nearby, providing a thousands-year old soundtrack to the soggy affair. About 200 people look on; though some are under tents or others umbrellas, water is still everywhere, including on sensitive recording equipment.
It takes the crews about an hour to get the pole from carving shed to the stand. But, finally, ropes are attached, and a beautiful raven totem is slowly raised into position at the top of Saxman’s totem row.
Once the pole is secure, Captain Joe Thomas gives an invocation in both Tlingit and English.
Governor Parnell, who was in Saxman to be adopted into the local Eagle Killer Whale Clan, also speaks at the totem raising Saturday. He draws attention to the values shared by all cultures.
Carver Donnie Varnell makes an appearance and thanks a number of local people, including his grandmother.
Saxman’s mayor Joe Williams then thanks those responsible for the pole’s funding, including the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and the National Highway Administration.
And then the real fun begins: Williams invites the crowd to a warm – and dry – potlatch at the Saxman Community Center. There, a number of people, including Governor Parnell, are adopted into the Eagle Killer Whale Clan.
The Cape Fox Dancers entertain the crowd in traditional dress as families and friends chat over a hearty lunch.
Then, Mayor Williams adopts Parnell into the clan. He gives the governor the name Tan Taal. Williams tells the crowd that the name means “Tell the bear to leave us alone, we’re hunting for food just like you.”
Williams also adopts a number of others into the clan, including his daughter-in-law.
The governor says his adoption was arranged by Mayor Williams, who invited him to Saxman.
About 10,000 years ago, give or take a couple thousand years, a volcano blew its top in the middle of Behm Canal. The crater is still there, covered by 150 feet or so of ocean. But when the volcano exploded many thousands of years ago, it was not underwater. That’s what makes it so interesting.
Well, that and the fact that nobody currently living knew it was even there until just a few weeks ago.
U.S. Forest Service Geologist Jim Baichtal, who is based on Prince of Wales Island, and Anchorage USGS geologist Sue Karl were looking at some hydrographic surveys, something geologists tend to do.
When we were done, I noticed the area from Thorne Arm to Rudyerd had been surveyed,” Baichtal said. “I zoomed in and there was this large… some kind of volcano, and two other dome-like structures.”
Karl added that, “This new NOAA survey allowed us to see things that people had never seen before.”
Baichtal and Karl were in Ketchikan recently. They came by KRBD, along with UAS Juneau geology professor Cathy Connor, to talk about the underwater volcano.
Baichtal said that after spotting the cone-shaped mass, he used a special computer program to look more closely at the surveys, and they could see the vent still was intact. They also could tell that it erupted in the air, even though it’s now under quite a bit of water. But, how could they tell that, just by looking at it?
“Because of the shape of the feature itself, it talks about cinders, or some kind of ash that’s airfall,” he said. “It’s an airfall deposit that forms this … cone.”
Karl said a modern example of a similar eruption is Surtsey, a volcanic island in Iceland, which erupted from the sea floor in the 1960s, building itself up and eventually breaching the surface to form the island.
Karl points out that when the newly discovered volcano erupted, sea levels also were lower than they are now, but even with that, “We still have too much depth. We have to call on glacial loading and rebound.”
OK. What does that mean?
“When you get a thousand feet of ice sitting on the ground, it is very heavy,” she explains. “It actually depresses the earth’s crust. After the glacier melts back, the earth will rebound.”
Like a trampoline, or waterbed, but at a much slower pace.
“So at one time, in Misty Fiords, there was close to 4,000 foot of ice on that site, so the weight of that ice at least pushed down (created) as high as 400 feet of displacement,” Baichtal added.
So, in summary, the volcano erupted within the last 13,000 years, after the ice retreated, as the land was slowly bouncing back, and when sea levels were lower. They figured out most of this stuff just from examining the surveys.
But Baichtal wanted to see it in person, or as close to in person as possible. Luckily, he knows some people who can make that happen: Gary Freitag, with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Marine Advisory Program, and Barbara Morgan with Oceans Alaska. They have an ROV, or remote operated vehicle. It’s a small device that can dive to the bottom of the ocean, get clear video or photographs, and collect samples.
On an unseasonably snowy May morning, they went out with Baichtal on an Allen Marine boat to look for what he calls the “wee beastie on the bottom of the sea.” Using location data from the survey charts, the skipper was able to “park” the catamaran right on top of the crater, and they quickly sent the ROV into the water.
“From that, we could see the angle of the slopes,” he said. “We did one deep dive, about 340 feet down. You could kind of tell the way the thing was put together. The lower material was … lava that was quenched in the marine environment, and the upper stuff was the airfall.”
They also grabbed two rock samples, which will be chemically analyzed to determine a more exact age for the eruption.
Baichtal notes that southern Southeast Alaska isn’t well known for its volcanoes, but there are quite a few in this region.
“We know that we have a lot of volcanoes out in the Aleutians, but if you talk about volcanoes in Southeast, everybody imagines Edgecumbe … when in fact, south of Craig and south of Ketchikan here, we actually have a much larger number of vents and a bigger volcanic complex. It’s just less known,” he said.
That’s because some are underwater, and those that aren’t are covered by trees. Karl said as people explore more of the area’s wilderness, they’re discovering more vents.
Volcanoes show up along faults in the earth’s crust, so when the fault moves enough to expose magma, that can lead to a volcanic eruption. Since faults don’t go away, volcanic eruptions in Southeast Alaska are possible in the future.
“With the evidence that we have and the geologic age of the things that are there, there is no reason why it couldn’t,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.”
But, Karl said people shouldn’t get anxious about it.
“We have much better technology for detecting the initiation of one of these sorts of things now,” she said. “I don’t think people need to get too worried.”
The newly discovered volcano is very close to New Eddystone Rock, which is what’s left over from another volcano, which may have erupted around the same time frame. They are both near the entrance to Misty Fiords National Monument.
Alaska Governor Sean Parnell has ordered state flags to be lowered to half-staff Wednesday, in observance of Peace Officers Memorial Day and Law Enforcement Memorial Week.
President Barack Obama issued a proclamation establishing May 15th as Peace Officers Memorial Day. U.S. flags also should be lowered Wednesday in accordance with the president’s proclamation.
Parnell issued a separate proclamation establishing this week — May 10-17 — as Law Enforcement Memorial Week in the State of Alaska.
State and U.S. flags should be returned to full-staff on Thursday.
Saturday, May18th, is the Ketchikan Rain Boot Run – an attempt to break a Guinness world record for the most people running/walking in rubber boots. Plaza owner Rob Hill talks about that, and other events planned for the day. RainBoot
Library Director Linda Lyshol gives an update on events happening for the rest of May, including the beginning of the summer reading program with opportunities for all ages. Library051413
Unemployed Alaskans applying for new tiers of federal emergency unemploymenet benefits will receive reduced benefits due to the sweeping federal spending cuts known as sequestration, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development warned Monday.
Starting May 19, eligible unemployed individuals applying for benefits will see their benefit reduced by 23.9 percent due to the across-the-board cuts, which took effect automatically in March after President Barack Obama and Congress failed to agree on an alternative plan.
WASHINGTON — A new U.S. strategy for the Arctic region has gotten a lukewarm response from a think tank that says the plan amounts to a “lengthy wish list” with few specifics.
The tepid feedback from the Washington-based Arctic Institute comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry heads Monday to Sweden for a meeting of foreign ministers focused on Arctic issues.
Syria, Iran and Afghanistan also are on Kerry’s agenda for discussion with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, according to the State Department.
ANCHORAGE — Another volcano in Alaska is heating up, with seismic instruments signaling a possible eruption, scientists said Monday.
Tremors were detected at Pavlof Volcano, 625 miles southwest of Anchorage, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory. Satellite imagery showed the mountain was “very, very hot,” said John Power, the U.S. Geological Survey scientist in charge at the observatory.
The aviation alert level for Pavlof was raised from “yellow” to “orange.” A major ash emission could threaten international flights.
The pastor of Chapel by the Lake said Friday that the Presbyterian congregation’s recent decision to quit the mainline Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in favor of joining a new, more conservative offshoot was made because the new denomination is a “better fit” for its members’ beliefs.
Douglas Dye listed three main reasons why Chapel by the Lake fits better within ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, as the new group is known, than it did within the PC(USA) — including ECO’s emphasis on Christian mission, its smaller organization and its more conservative doctrine.
The first Icelandair flight into Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is scheduled to arrive at 4:20 p.m. Wednesday, officially beginning summer service between Alaska’s largest city and the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik.
Icelandair will provide nonstop service between Ted Stevens and Reykjavik’s Keflavik International Airport twice per week, with flights to Anchorage on Wednesdays and Sundays and flights to Reykavjik on Mondays and Thursdays.
KENAI — The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is revising its fire management plan for the first time in five years, and the new proposal could let the refuge and communities cooperate on prescribed burns.
Officials at the refuge will take public comments on the environmental assessment until the end of the month.
FAIRBANKS — Olympic medalist Matt Emmons took the opportunity during his commencement address to provide University of Alaska Fairbanks graduates a lesson in the meaning of success and failure.
Emmons, a 2003 UAF graduate in business administration, addressed more than 600 students during graduation ceremonies Sunday at the Carlson Center, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
ANCHORAGE — An orphaned polar bear cub that arrived at the Alaska Zoo two months ago will soon depart for a new adventure: meeting another young cub at the Buffalo Zoo.
Kali (KUL’-ee) made his final Alaska zoo appearance Monday. He will be flown by UPS from Anchorage to the company hub in Louisville, Ky., and then New York, with arrival in Buffalo expected Wednesday. A play date with Luna, a nearly six-month old cub born to an adult female at the zoo, could follow in about two weeks.
The first small cruise ships of the year arrived in Petersburg last week. The local visitor industry is expecting about a 15 percent increase over last year in the number of port calls to town. Viking Travel President Dave Berg helps arrange services for those ships and their passengers, as well as independent travelers who visit town on their own.
According to Berg, the outlook continues to improve for the local visitor industry which lost a lot of business with the 2010 closure of Cruise West. That company once dominated local port calls. Berg spoke with Matt Lichtenstein about the 2013 season:
For mobile-friendly audio, click here.