Late Sunrises, Lots of Science

Have you even been so far north where you wake up in what you think is the middle of the night and realize that it’s actually 830am?

A few weeks ago I went to a conference in Fairbanks, AK.  Fairbanks is the northernmost metropolitan area in the U.S. – just 120 south of the arctic circle – and it’s the furthest north I’ve ever been.  As the seasons change, Fairbanks gets pretty dark pretty quickly.  The shortest day in Fairbanks only lasts 3 hours and 42 minutes!  It wasn’t that dark when I was there, but the 9am sunrise made rising and shining a bit more difficult.

Researchers from all over the state of Alaska gathered in Fairbanks to present at the National Park Service Centennial Science and Stewardship Symposium.  Talks ranged from managing caribou in Yukon-Charley, lake ice phenology in Southeast Alaska, incorporating Alaska Native perspectives into NPS management, and determining the true height of Denali.  I was there to present results of an acoustic study on harbor seals in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

Back in 2000, a cabled hydrophone was installed in the Bartlett Cove area of Glacier Bay.  The hydrophone recorded 30-second clips every hour and all of these clips were analyzed for the presence or absence of harbor seal breeding vocalizations.  We used this presence/absence data to determine the peak months of the year and the peak times of day for harbor seal acoustic behavior.  This allows us to pinpoint the timing and duration of the breeding season for harbor seals in Glacier Bay.

Location of the cabled hydrophone (star) and nearby harbor seal haulouts (red circles).

We also used these clips to investigate the impacts of vessel noise on harbor seal acoustic behavior and got some pretty interesting results!  Hopefully those will be published soon, adding insight into the growing body of literature on the effects of vessel noise on marine mammals.

After the conference wrapped up, I had some spare time before my flight, and opted to take a drive towards Denali National Park in hopes of catching a glimpse of the peak.  Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to see much of anything, but I still got a few beautiful views of wintery Alaska.

An icy river running through Denali National Park (Photo: L. Matthews)

An icy river running through Denali National Park (Photo: L. Matthews)

After spending a few October days that far north, it’s safe to say I couldn’t cut it during the winter in Fairbanks.  The darkness is just too much for me!  However, the conference was a great chance to catch up with some of my Alaska friends and meet new NPS scientists.  I’m blessed to be a part of that research community and can’t wait to continue collaborating with them for years to come!

-Leanna Matthews, PhD Candidate

 

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