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From Our Listeners

Alaska and Yukon Headlines

Authorities Investigate Explosion in Petersburg

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:33

Details are emerging about an explosion that injured a Petersburg person over the weekend and has brought federal explosives agents there to investigate.

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Petersburg police issued a press release outlining the incident and some of the resulting investigation. Since no criminal charges have been filed, police are declining to identify the person injured in the explosion Sunday other than to say it was a 59-year-old Petersburg resident.

In their press release, police say the department received a 911 call reporting a person laying outside of the hospital emergency room at one o’clock Sunday afternoon. The caller requested assistance getting the person into the hospital and reported the injury could have been caused by dynamite.

Emergency medical volunteers and firefighters along with local police officers helped hospital staff get the injured person into the emergency room. Police say the person confirmed the injuries were the result of an explosion. Police cordoned off the area shutting down the street and access to the emergency room. Officers found what appeared to be approximately 20 pounds of a gelatinized substance in a vehicle the injured person drove to the hospital. Officers notified hospital staff and moved a large dump truck directly behind the vehicle. Police say residents in the area were notified and some evacuated. Local police say they consulted with a local construction company, state Department of Transportation staff and personnel from Fort Richardson before public works employees moved the explosives away from the hospital.

Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms are in town and have brought an explosive detecting dog. An investigator with the state fire marshal’s office is also here. A Coast Guard C-130 aircraft flew in five of the responders on Monday, along with a response vehicle and equipment. Police say three sites, including the unnamed location of the explosion, were secured by local police along with U.S. Forest Service officers.

Local officers along with federal agents served search warrants Monday at a home on North Nordic Drive along with the vehicle left near Petersburg Medical Center. Officers and agents processed the scene of the explosion and the vehicle left near the hospital. Residue from the explosion site and the vehicle were tentatively identified as a commercially available explosive.

A police car was stationed outside a North Nordic Drive home belonging to Mark and Pat Weaver Monday and police tape cordoned off the yard of that home from the street. Mark Weaver turned 59 on Saturday. Other property near Cornelius Road south of town belonging to Weaver was also cordoned off by police this week.

The police investigation continues and authorities say more information will be available later.

Permitting Officials Explore Alternatives For Donlin Gold Mine

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:32

Donlin Gold is in a multiyear permitting process for the proposed gold mine located north of Crooked Creek about 120 miles upriver from Bethel. Scientists and engineers are now studying not just Donlin’s proposed plan, but several variations that would significantly change the mine.

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Anticipating more than 100 permits, regulators are writing a 2000-page Environmental Impact Statement about Donlin Gold’s plans to mine a million ounces of gold per year from an open pit mine. But they’re not just looking at the company’s ideas.

Taylor Brelsford is a senior scientist for URS, an international engineering and environmental company doing the heavy technical work for the Army Corps of Engineers.

“The law requires that we kind of step away form the Donlin proposal and think a little more broadly about potential alternative technologies or processes and at least fully analyze those,” said Brelsford.

The team is looking at about eight major alternatives, some of which have been considered by Donlin in the past. Donlin’s proposed a hugely expensive natural gas pipeline from Cook Inlet to Southwest Alaska, plus barging diesel up the Kuskokwim. Don Kuhle is the project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“A lot of we looked at were ways to reduce the amount of diesel to be barged on the Kuskokwim,” said Kuhle.

A diesel pipeline would eliminate about 40 million gallons of fuel a year going to the Junjuk port site. Brelsford says each alternative has unique challenges.

“A diesel pipeline is more difficult to build, it’s a bigger risk if there’s ever a spill, compared to LNG, so that shows the tradeoffs involved in one alternative versus another,” said Brelsford.

Another option involves having large trucks at the mine run on LNG instead of diesel. They will also study having the port site nearly 70 miles further downriver at Birch Tree Crossing.

The team of more than 50 specialists will also study changes to the mine site, such as changing the tailings dam to dry storage instead of the dammed area with water, and looking at allowing discharge of some treated waste water, rather than keeping it all on site. Another option involves running the gas pipeline through Dalzell Gorge near Rainy pass as was considered before by Donlin.

The draft EIS is not due for another year. People will then see the details of the eight alternatives. In the meantime, the Corps of Engineers does not plan to release much new information but says some details will be a newsletter this month.

Alaska LNG Project community meeting provides questions and hope

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:31

The Alaska LNG Project hosted a community meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday night. About 90 people listened to an explanation of the newest version of a plan to get natural gas from the North Slope to market.

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Project manager Steve Butt explained this project is different from previous failed attempts to build a gas pipeline.

“An LNG project is when resource owners work together to create an infrastructure to connect that resource to a market,” Butt said. “It’s regulated differently, it has different business risks, and it’s a different business model. A pipeline is an important part of our project, but what we’re really trying to do is deliver gas to global markets, not to just any one market.”

Butt said that Alaska has some advantages over other natural gas producers. Unlike for oil, the cold weather helps when transporting gas because it keeps the gas condensed. It only takes two weeks to ship LNG to Asia from here. And the project can use some of the oil-drilling infrastructure that’s already in place.

But the hour and a half long presentation still left some community members with questions, especially about the economics of the project and the viability of the long-term LNG market. Butt says he can’t talk specifics, however they are researching markets during this preliminary design phase.

“We don’t ever really talk about but what marketers do is they work with buyers to understand their interest and appetite for the gas and they come up with structures that work for their buyers over very long time frames and prices that work. And they build in mechanisms that create different flexibilities to recognize different risks.”

Wasilla resident Carol Shay said she questions how to predict the future markets – what if China decides to use renewables instead?

“Boy, it’s a risky thing. It’s amazing,” she said. “But we might benefit tremendously, so…”

Community member Ross Bieling agreed, “It’s very important. Not just for jobs. It’s important to improve the living standards for those who haven’t enjoyed them previously.”

Bieling referenced the five potential outtakes from the line that would provide natural gas to Alaskans. At the moment, only two are set – one for Fairbanks and one for Anchorage.

At this point, the LNG project is still in the preliminary design phase. Butt said it could take up to six years to obtain the hundreds of necessary permits, secure the market, and finalize the design. Then it would take another six years and anywhere from $45 to 65 billion to build.

Fall Chum Season Opens on the Yukon

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:30

The fall chum salmon season on the Yukon begins Wednesday.

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Fishermen along the river are saying the fall run comes not a moment too soon. During a weekly teleconference of fishermen and fisheries managers organized by the nonprofit Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, subsistence users spanning the length of the river were vocal in their anticipation of the fall chums.

Chum Salmon. (Photo: NOAA)

“The water is high but dropping,” one fisherman near Fort Yukon said. “We’re just waiting for the fall chum, that’s going to be really important for us this year.”

 

“Too much humpy,” in the waters near Holy Cross, one angler said. “I think they’re going try and go for the fall chums.”

 

“There’s very few people fishing mainly due to the closure and lack of gear,” another added from upriver. “There’s no fish camps, no fires or smoke houses, and everybody’s just waiting for chums.”

 

One fishermen from the Lower Yukon merely sighed when asked about fishing in his community. “They’re just waiting on the fall chums right now.”

 

Fish and Game managers said the wait will mean a lot of fishing, with a strong run of 850,000 fish expected, likely more. Even with fishermen relying on chums in the face of unprecedented restrictions on fishing for king salmon, Fish and Game biologist Jeff Estensen said the fall chum run should be enough to fill out fish racks up and down the river.

 

“We don’t anticipate, because of our run size this year, that there will be any restrictions to the subsistence fishery,” he said. “Everybody should be able to get their subsistence needs.”

 

The strong fall chum run will mean commercial openings in the Lower Yukon as well. But while subsistence salmon fishing on the lower river through Galena has been open for some time, fishermen on the Upper Yukon near Stevens Village and Fort Yukon still can’t fish at all, out of concern for Chinook still making their way to spawning grounds in Canada. When it comes to those imperiled kings, Fish and Game biologist Stephanie Schmidt said the numbers are looking better than the dire predictions from earlier this year, but they’re still far from good.

 

“The Chinook salmon run is nearly over in the lower Yukon, and the cumulative passage at the sonar project near Pilot Station is approximately 130,000 Chinook,” she announced. Though a full week earlier than historical runs, Schmidt said the final king salmon passage—estimated to be anywhere from 47,000 thousand to 63,000 fish—is now passing the final observation point in Alaska near the community of Eagle. While the overall run may be low, Schmidt said escapement targets could still be reached, and she credited successful management and restraint from users along the river as key to reaching those targets.

 

“This year we’ve taken more unprecedented management actions and have not been fishing on those lower river stocks, as we have in past years,” she told the teleconference. “So that’s a good sign that the management actions we’ve taken have been able to get fish on the spawning grounds.”

 

As for the fishermen on the upper river still waiting for salmon, Estensen said the openings will come soon—as early as this upcoming weekend—and he said the Department of Fish and Game is prepared to halt the commercial harvest downriver if subsistence users aren’t catching what they need.

 

“If we get to points like we did last year where we kind of have doldrums, or kind of a lull as we like to call it, we may find ourselves pulling back a little bit on the commercial fishery to let some fish by, so we have some going up river for subsistence,” he said.

 

“Then, once we’re back to where we feel like we need to be, then we resume commercial fishing.”

 

full list of fall chum openings on the Yukon River can be found among the Alaska Department of Fish and Game releases for 2014.

 

Arctic Climate Researchers Zoom in on Plankton

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:29

Researchers collect water samples in the Chukchi Sea. (Courtesy of Amanda Kowalski/ArcticSpring.org)

They’re not recognizable like polar bears or whales. But phytoplankton are a key part of life in the Arctic – and now, they’re at the center of a new research effort to predict how the region will respond to climate change.

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Almost every animal in the Arctic eats — or eats something that consumes — phytoplankton. They’re tiny specks of algae that usually blossom into big clouds out in the ocean in the springtime.

But that’s not what Kevin Arrigo saw a few years back. He was in the Chukchi Sea for a research cruise funded by NASA.

Arrigo: “The deeper we went into the ice, the more phytoplankton there were. They reached amazing concentrations, to the point where it was the largest bloom anybody had ever seen anywhere in the world’s oceans. And it was under three feet of ice.”

Phytoplankton need two things to grow — nutrients and light.

In the past, scientists have assumed that sun can’t get through thick Arctic sea ice. But as the earth warms up, the ice is thinning out. And it’s definitely easier for light to get through.

Arrigo: “The thing we didn’t know was what the nutrient distributions look like — particularly before the bloom starts, early in the spring. Because nobody’s ever been in the Chukchi Sea, sampling the entire ocean from top to bottom at that time of year.”

That’s what Arrigo set out to do this spring, with a team of about 40 other scientists. They examined the base of Arctic food web in the Chukchi Sea, with a grant from the National Science Foundation.

That paid for a trip aboard the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy. Arrigo says it was an ideal vessel, but there were some roadblocks it couldn’t plow through.

Arrigo: “We were really unlucky in that everything happened late this year. The melt ponds never formed while we were out there. The phytoplankton under the ice never developed because there was never enough ice. But we were really happy with the results because we know now that the whole region — the entire Chukchi Sea — is really prime habitat for these things to develop.”

Bob Pickart is the lead physical oceanographer for this project. He says he’s coming away with hundreds of water samples from up and down the Chukchi Sea — all loaded down with nutrients.

Pickart: “These nutrients –- they spur the growth of the phytoplankton. And then from there on, it just spirals right up the food chain. So it’s like the base of the ecosystem. This is what it’s all about.”

Pickart says there’s a lot of work ahead to analyze the samples. His findings will be shared with other scientists on the team.

Pickart: “They have to know, why are the nutrients in the water in the first place. How did they get there? Where does the water go? What’s the timing of the water? So they have to know all about the physics of the circulation on the Chukchi Shelf in order to then understand the biology.”

Arrigo is a biologist, and he has his own questions — about the timing of the phytoplankton bloom.

Arrigo: ”Productivity has been shifting earlier and earlier, because the ice is melting earlier and earlier. But now the bloom — the productivity — is not even waiting for the ice to melt.”

If it’s coming earlier than animals are used to:

Arrigo: “What’s going to happen? Are they going to produce their offspring at a point when the bloom’s already happened, it’s too late, there’s no food in the water?”

Arrigo says the best chance of predicting that is to understand how the phytoplankton are interacting with their environment right now.

That’s why the researchers are hoping to return to the Chukchi Sea next year to gather more water samples, and a better look at the bottom of the Arctic food web.

Scientists Find Climate Cooling Effect in Ancient Thermokarst Lakes

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:28

Scientists have long believed melting permafrost emits large amounts of carbon-rich greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere resulting in a warming climate. But a new study published online by the journal Nature today indicates ancient lakes that formed after permafrost in the Arctic first melted roughly ten thousand years ago may in fact have a net climate cooling effect over long time scales. The study also increases the total amount of carbon estimated in the frozen soils of the Far North by more than 50 percent.

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Katey Walter Anthony is an Associate Professor at  the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Northern Engineering  She studies methane emissions from Arctic thermokarst lakes.

“Until now, we have understood these thermokarst lakes, or lakes where permafrost thaws, to be a really important source of methane, a greenhouse gas that causes the climate to warm,” she says.

A few years ago, Anthony was in a boat on a river in Siberia, when she noticed something in the sediments along the riverbank.

“We could see where ancient lakes had been eroded by the river, so we could see the lakes in cross section,” she says.  ”It looked like we were looking at a layered cake.  Those layers were the layers of sediment in the lake and we saw really thick beds of moss.”

Some time after the last glacial maximum – roughly ten thousand years ago – permafrost began to thaw.  Depressions formed, filled with water and eventually millions of small lakes started to dot the Arctic landscape. They were all emitting methane and carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases that warm the climate. Anthony says that process probably lasted for about a thousand years.

“But those waterbodies sit around as lakes for several thousand years,” she explains, “and at some point, they burn up all of the permafrost carbon and so their methane emissions decline and as they slow down in their emissions, they speed up in their ability to soak up carbon out of the atmosphere.”

Over time, Anthony believes thick, carbon rich beds of peat moss grew as microbial decomposition declined.  She and colleagues studied more than 50 ancient lakes in parts of Siberia and Alaska.  In some places, she says they found beds of peat moss up to four meters, or 12 fee, thick.

“We would walk up to these permafrost exposures and we could pull on those mosses and it was like pulling long tendrils of spaghetti,” she laughs. “They were very well preserved and poorly decomposed, and the reason is that when the mosses grow and then senesce in these lakes, they have anaerobic bottoms.  there’s no oxygen down there and so site mosses don’t decompose and eventually, lakes drain and the sediments really quickly refreeze.  it’s like flash freezing of those mosses.”

Anthony believes lakes across the landscape have accumulated 1.6 times the amount of carbon they emitted before the lakes refroze. She says that increases the total estimated amount of carbon scientists believe is currently stored in the circumpolar permafrost region by 50 percent.  The results also show these ancient lakes actually have a net cooling effect on climate over thousands of years.

“It’s cooling the climate,” she says.  ”It’s soaking up more climate than its emitting.  It’s is offsetting human emissions.  It’s not a  avery large offset to human emissions and I think there bigger concern is that all of this very large reservoir of lake moss peat, this lake carbon, is stored in permafrost since the sediments refreeze when they drain.”

Anthony doesn’t believe this net cooling effect till offset current predications for a warmer climate in the future. “So, in the future, the projected warming of permafrost across the Arctic, will thaw all of that carbon again and make it vulnerable to decomposition by microbes and return that carbon to the atmosphere as CO2 and methane.”

The study is published in the most recent issue of Nature.  Funding comes from the National Science Foundation, the Alfred Wegener Institute, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the US Geological Survey.

UAA women's basketball schedule released

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:21
UAA women's basketball schedule released UAA's women's basketball team's schedule is available, and nine Seawolves earned academic awards Wednesday. July 16, 2014

Alaska News Nightly: July 16, 2014

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:14

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

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Tuck Fined $14,000 For Campaign Finance Violations

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

The minority leader of the State House has agreed to pay a major fine for mismanaging campaign funds. Rep. Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, acknowledged that he mixed up his campaign contributions with his personal savings and failed to make accurate and timely disclosures.

Kerry Names Ex-Coast Guard Boss Special Rep to Arctic

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday named former Coast Guard commandant Robert Papp as special representative to the Arctic. Kerry created the new position to elevate Arctic issues in America’s foreign policy and national security strategy as the U.S. prepares to assume the chair of the Arctic Council.

Murkowski Joins Democrats on Vote for Birth Control Coverage

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

A U.S. Senate bill requiring companies to cover birth control in employee healthcare plans failed a procedural vote Wednesday. Both Alaska senators voted for the bill, aimed at undoing the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was one of only three Republicans to vote for the measure, dubbed the “Not My Boss’s Business Act.” It fell four votes short of the 60 needed to proceed.

Judge Blocks Law Limiting Medicaid Payments For Abortion

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

A superior court judge in Anchorage has blocked a law restricting Medicaid payments for abortion from going into effect.

Authorities Investigate Explosion in Petersburg

Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg

Details are emerging about an explosion that injured a Petersburg person over the weekend and has brought federal explosives agents there to investigate.

Permitting Officials Explore Alternatives For Donlin Gold Mine

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Donlin Gold is in a multiyear permitting process for the proposed gold mine located north of Crooked Creek about 120 miles upriver from Bethel. Scientists and engineers are now studying not just Donlin’s proposed plan, but several variations that would significantly change the mine.

Alaska LNG Project Community Meeting Provides Questions and Hope

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska LNG Project hosted a community meeting in Anchorage on Tuesday night. About 90 people listened to an explanation of the newest version of a plan to get natural gas from the North Slope to market.

Fall Chum Season Opens on the Yukon

Matthew Smith, KNOM – Nome

The fall chum salmon season on the Yukon begins Wednesday.

Arctic Climate Researchers Zoom in on Plankton

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

They’re not recognizable like polar bears or whales. But phytoplankton are a key part of life in the Arctic – and now, they’re at the center of a new research effort to predict how the region will respond to climate change.

Scientists Find Climate Cooling Effect in Ancient Thermokarst Lakes

Emily Schwing, KUAC – Fairbanks

Scientists have long believed melting permafrost emits large amounts of carbon-rich greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere resulting in a warming climate.  But a new study published online by the journal Nature today indicates ancient lakes that formed after permafrost in the Arctic first melted roughly ten thousand years ago may in fact have a net climate cooling effect over long time scales.  The study also increases the total amount of carbon estimated in the frozen soils of the Far North by more than 50 percent.

Murkowski headed to Mexican border for firsthand look at immigration crisis

Wed, 2014-07-16 17:00
Murkowski headed to Mexican border for firsthand look at immigration crisis Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski will travel to Texas on Thursday for a firsthand look at the crisis of migrant children unfolding on the Mexican border, her office said. July 16, 2014

After year in NBA 'grad school,' Hydaburg's Bell-Holter ready for next challenge

Wed, 2014-07-16 16:57
After year in NBA 'grad school,' Hydaburg's Bell-Holter ready for next challenge Ketchikan High graduate Damen Bell-Holter, an NBA Development League player last season, hopes his performance in this week's NBA Summer League in Las Vegas will open doors as he nears his second season as a pro basketball player.July 16, 2014

Longtime Anchorage cellist and teacher Beth Leffingwell dies

Wed, 2014-07-16 16:46
Longtime Anchorage cellist and teacher Beth Leffingwell dies Leffingwell died Wednesday afternoon at home, less than three months after her final performance with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra. She was 90. July 16, 2014

Administering salmon coup de grace -- clubbing them, or bleeding them out?

Wed, 2014-07-16 16:39
Administering salmon coup de grace -- clubbing them, or bleeding them out? Some Alaska sportfishers and dipnetters believe clubbing is the most ethical way to control the chaos of a flopping salmon and quickly get them out of the dipnet. But others contend that harms the quality of the fish flesh. July 16, 2014

A recap of action in the Alaska Baseball League for games through Tuesday, July 15

Wed, 2014-07-16 16:29
A recap of action in the Alaska Baseball League for games through Tuesday, July 15 The Mat-Su Miners sent the Anchorage Glacier Pilots to their eighth consecutive loss in the Alaska Baseball League, and the Anchorage Bucs and Peninsula Oilers split a double-header in Kenai.July 16, 2014

Anchorage police identify woman found dead Tuesday

Wed, 2014-07-16 16:11
Anchorage police identify woman found dead Tuesday Anchorage police have identified the woman found dead near downtown on Tuesday morning as 26-year-old Jessica Lake.July 16, 2014

AACCC Adoption of the Week: Meet Fiona

Wed, 2014-07-16 15:58
AACCC Adoption of the Week: Meet Fiona Please meet Fiona, an 11 year old, female Rottweiler mix. This distinguished gal may be 11 years old, but she is young at heart!  July 16, 2014

URS announces new hires, promotion

Wed, 2014-07-16 15:22
URS announces new hires, promotion URS promotes one and hires five.July 16, 2014

Jeff Lowenfels: Why your hollyhocks disappeared -- and answers to other questions

Wed, 2014-07-16 15:01
Jeff Lowenfels: Why your hollyhocks disappeared -- and answers to other questions Hollyhocks that bloomed last year but not this year? Dianthus with the same problem? Lewisia that didn't survive winter? Short delphiniums? Jeff has answers.July 16, 2014

Two Anchorage men found guilty on child porn charges in past week

Wed, 2014-07-16 12:17
Two Anchorage men found guilty on child porn charges in past week Two Anchorage men have been convicted of possession and distribution of child pornography in the past week. The most recent conviction, handed down Wednesday, involved a defendant who gave music lessons to local children.July 16, 2014

Opinion: Enough! Kenai dipnetters need to learn the rules, respect the resource

Wed, 2014-07-16 11:40
Opinion: Enough! Kenai dipnetters need to learn the rules, respect the resource Alaska's most ignorant fisheries are now underway at the mouths of the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. It's time dipnetters learned what they're catching and what the rules are.July 16, 2014

AK Beat: Several injured in early morning Bethel fight

Wed, 2014-07-16 10:10
AK Beat: Several injured in early morning Bethel fight "Edged weapons and impact weapons" were employed by participants in a fight early Tuesday morning, according to the Bethel Police Department.July 16, 2014

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