I haven’t been posting much lately. Not that I haven’t been writing a lot, but it’s all been papers, reviews, more papers, quarterly reports, monthly reports, bi-monthly reports and so forth. I’ve still got a couple of papers to finish, not to mention homework for an on-line course I’m taking, and of course, that wonderful April ritual of taxes. Then there are a paper and a presentation for the SAAs in Memphis.
The most fun things to write are letters of recommendation for students who have worked on the Nuvuk Project. It is really great to see kids graduating and moving on to college, although we do miss them when they move on. I’ve been working on ways to continue the archaeology program after the Nuvuk grants are done.
The sun is up for about 15 hours a day now, and will be up full-time in just over a month. This is a pretty time of year, and I’ve gotten some nice pictures. Here’s one of the conjunction of Venus, the moon and Jupiter.
A couple of days ago, I looked out the window, and noticed frost flowers hanging on the clothesline, swaying in the breeze! I’ve never seen anything like it.
I’ve been chipping away at a bunch of things. The main ones are the big Late Western Thule chapter and an associated project which involve evaluating every Birnirk & later C14 date I can get hold from Alaska, to see which ones hold up (a number that are cited a lot are really early solid carbon dates!) and what exactly was dated. In some cases, what was dated was in a different house from the “diagnostic” which is purportedly being dated, and there is no a priori reason to think the houses are contemporaneous. It may have been the best that could be done at the time, but some revision is needed here. Once those are done, I can finish the two other papers I am working on.
We got the symposium for the Alaska Anthropological Association meeting more or less put together, pending any additional papers submitted as general papers that the organizers may send us, and next week we’ll just have to decide on an order so the conference organizers can get their materials to the printer in good time.
I’ve also been invited to be a speaker at a small conference on Sustainability and Heritage in Kirkwall, Orkney which is sort of the main kick-off for a Research Coordination Network (RCN) on Global Long-Term Ecodynamics in which I am fortunate enough to be involved. I’ve never been to Orkney, but I love the Shetlands, so I’m looking forward to it. There are some great people involved, and we’re trying to do some really interesting things involving the use of archaeological data to illuminate questions about long-term sustainability. I actually owe them an abstract by tomorrow (which it actually is in Orkney), so I better get to it.
I’ve noticed I’ve been getting more hits on search terms relating to those whales, probably since the movie “Big Miracle” just was released. So, since I’m kinda busy with the Super Bowl, I thought I’d put up a few links to the real story.
1) Bill Hess’s blog, where he is doing a series on the whole event. Bill took what were probably the first professional pictures of the whales, including some may probably recognize. This features a lot of Bill’s really fine photographs.
2) An article in the Fairbanks New-Miner which has interviews with many of the folks in Barrow who were involved in the original event, including biologist Geoff Carroll.
3) An article in the Anchorage Daily News by Richard Mauer, who covered the original story and hauled out his notes to write this one.
We had a serious amount of snow last winter, although I’m not sure if it was an all-time record or not. By a couple of weeks ago I was beginning to get a bit worried. We’ve started work at Nuvuk in June some years ago, but it was pretty miserable. We’re starting in early July this year, but at the rate the snow was melting it was looking as if we might still have snow patches on the ground when we started.
However, we’ve had some warm sunny weather the last couple of weeks, and the snow is melting. Patches of tundra are starting to show through; people are heading inland after geese. We drove out to the end of the road to take a look at Point Barrow. I was happy to see lots of gravel showing. Once the gravel starts to appear, it absorbs lots of heat, and the snow melts faster. Given another month, we should be in good shape.
It was misty when we drove out, but I think it was a mist from snow ablating (going from solid to vapor directly). It happens here a lot on warm days, resulting in mist rising from the ground as well as from puddles & ponds.
It’s the first day of Piuraagiaqta today. It’s Barrow’s Spring Festival. I was sort of stuck in the office working, but it was a gorgeous sunny day, with ice crystals hanging in the air. I looked up during the afternoon, to see one of the best ice halo displays I have ever seen. I didn’t have a camera with a wide-angle lens, so I could only get part of it in one shot.
Then my camera battery died. I didn’t get a good picture of the outer 46º halo. The whole display looked a lot like the Parry 1820 display.
But just then, as I was turning to go back inside in disappointment, I heard a snow bunting singing! I couldn’t see him, but he was there, and so I know spring is too.
As Tripit puts it, I have an “upcoming trip to Fairbanks” for which I very nearly forgot to make travel arrangements. I remembered last week, and got the travel done, leaving only the paper, the poster, and the proposal I had to get done first.
The poster was finished on Friday, and sent off to Maribeth for final additions and printing. She had a touch of flu, but has recovered in time to work out the final edits, and will be getting it printed.
I started serious work on the proposal earlier in the week, and got the final numbers on Friday to plug in. It went off to the contracting officer this morning, and now we will see. Costs keep going up here in the Bush, and it makes it tough all round.
I have the paper (or the PowerPoint for it) almost done. I need to get a picture of Herman Ahsoak’s shed where he keeps his whaling gear (not in the house, behind it, just like folks have for centuries), and improve the map of the whaling captain’s work area at the Peat Locus at Nuvuk tomorrow, and then it’ll be ready.
I’m trying to get packed tonight, so I don’t have to rush after work tomorrow. It looks like a good meeting, although for the second year in a row the Alaska Consortium of Zooarchaeologists (ACZ) workshop and the Alaska Heritage Resource Survey (AHRS) workshop conflict. This is getting a bit old. It should be possible to schedule them both during the meeting without conflicting, but that would apparently require some forethought and consideration on the part of those organizing the AHRS meeting. The ACZ meeting was scheduled way in advance…
For the past week, the weather has been fairly unfortunate here in Barrow. We had a snow day on Wednesday. It was a total whiteout,with so much snow blowing around that I could barely see my car out the front door, let alone the
house next door. The UICS staff discussed it and decided to hold off until after daylight to go to work (so we could at least have a chance to see drifts). By that time, UIC and everybody else had closed for the day.
The weather improved Wednesday night, but no loaders had been heard at NARL by the next morning. I called into the regular teleconference with one of our clients, and then headed for the BARC. Good choice. The drift across the drive was huge. I headed back to my house for snowshoes.
Fortunately, the ARM project has a telehandler with a bucket. They also have a contractor who is trying to finish an upgrade to the BARC instrument platform and is a bit behind schedule. Once the telehandler was dug out and the area around the ARM duplex was clear, Walter brought the telehandler over to the BARC drive. One and a half hours later, he had a single lane through the drift and place for me to park, so I went in. Susie, who’s filling in as the UICS temporary admin assistant, came out in a cab.
The wind was already rising and the barometer dropping again. I went home at for a quick lunch, and there was already a drift at my door.
The snow was sculpted in very interesting ways, which had gotten more elaborate while the car was out of the way.
I went back to work, but by 3 PM it was getting really nasty with low visibility. I told everyone it was time to head home, since the road from NARL was going to get bad (and Susie and I would be spending some time at the BARC with the contractor if we didn’t get out ASAP). Shortly after that, they closed pretty much everything in town for the day.
We were closed for everything all day today (Friday), too. I managed to get a few things done and written from home. We’ve canceled lab for tomorrow, since the loader has only been working enough to get a path for the water and sewer trucks to get the residential huts, and the BARC is undoubtedly behind a huge drift again. We haven’t actually gotten water or sewer trucks, mind you, but they can at least come tomorrow.
My husband’s weather day was interrupted by the news that something had blown in in the BASC Bldg. 360 server room. He went over on foot (falling into snowdrifts that he couldn’t see without glasses) and eventually got a repair crew organized to come secure the room so snow didn’t keep blowing in and wreck the servers. They had to turn off an air conditioner, but that didn’t seem to be a real problem, given all the cold air that was coming in everywhere.
The wind is finally going around to the north, with temperatures dropping, and even a little bit of sunset sky showing! It’ll be a chore to get to work on Monday, no doubt, but that is the Arctic. The entire North Slope was under blizzard warning for a couple days. That was a huge storm, apparently bigger than any they’re recorded for a decade or more.
I was lucky enough to get an upgrade from Alaska Airlines, so at least I wasn’t bent up like a pretzel all the way to Barrow. They weren’t any too quick about getting the baggage out, and no-one was to be found to issue the Baggage Service Guarantee vouchers after the 20 minutes had passed, so we took my bag when it showed up (after about 1/2 hour) and went home.
Luckily, today was a holiday so I could sleep late. Once up, there was the usual post-travel laundry pile to start on. Once that was underway, I had to dig out my car. There had been a blizzard in Barrow on Friday, which had blown snow into our arctic entryway, among other places.
It had also blown all over my vehicle, which required significant digging out. Apparently the blowing or subsequent plowing had somehow packed snow around my left rear mudflap, since that shattered when I pulled out (only went forward) although I didn’t discover that until I got home.
The wind had apparently also caused some pretty significant ice push from the Chukchi Sea onto the beach. You can see it in the background of the photo above. The ice is black in places because it was frozen to the bottom. The ice is very thin for this time of year. In some places it is probably 20 or more feet tall.
Once I got to work I caught up on emails, drafted a “mission statement” for a working group on coastal erosion I am helping to organize (contact me if you are interested–it’s global, not just Arctic in focus), worked on an encyclopedia article a bit, and took care of things like time-sheet approvals which can be a time suck, but are fairly important (we all like getting paid!).
I’m at the Abisko Naturvetenskapliga Station (Scientific Research Station) in northern Sweden. There is a meeting here of scientists and station managers who are involved either directly (or indirectly in the case of non-EU participants) in a project called INTERACT which is about building research & monitoring infrastructure for arctic research. I’ve come along since my husband is here representing the Barrow Environmental Observatory, and we are both giving papers at a meeting in Munich after this.
It was quite the trip to get here, but the station is very nice, and it looks like it will be quite an interesting meeting.
The Town of Ballston, where my mother lives, has been fairly lucky as far as snow this winter. They’ve gotten some, but haven’t really been hammered. As a result, it was a white Christmas, but only just, and the snow was getting a bit worn-looking. The storm that has been creating havoc in the eastern US for several days was expected to miss entirely, but by Christmas it was tracking close to the coast, and so we did get some after Christmas snow. It was a pretty decent nor’easter along the coast, but we just got outer snow bands, for a total of about 5-6″ overnight. The trees were all snow-covered, and the bare patches and dirty spots disappeared, making everything clean & bright and new when I went out to get the paper (Paper delivery! Something we don’t have in Barrow. We can’t even get paper sent to the stores, apparently. And the newspapers wonder why readership is declining…). It’s hard not to feel optimistic when one goes out after a snow storm is over. The winds weren’t too bad here, although we did get enough gusts to take much of the snow off the evergreens over the course of the day.
The other thing was that the snow covered many of the plants, so the seed eating birds were looking for something else, and found the seed bell we’d gotten them for Christmas. We had a pair of cardinals, juncos, a blue jay, and tufted titmice and chickadees. Only the latter two stuck around until I got my camera out.
As far as I could see, there were no deformed bills in the bunch, unlike the situation in Alaska, where they are becoming alarmingly frequent.
Here’s part one on the long-delayed wrap-up of the 18th Arctic Conference. There were a number of quite interesting papers, as is usually the case. Since most of this stuff is not yet fully published, it seems worthwhile to put a little update up here. If anything here sounds interesting, contact the authors.
The first day was mostly earlier material, from Northwest Alaska and the Alaska Range around Denali National Park. Jeff Rasic gave a paper (coauthored with Bill Hedeman, Ian Buvit and Steve Keuhn) about the Raven’s Bluff site. This site, about 100 miles north of Kotzebue, not only has fluted points and microblades, but it has a unit (Unit 1) with well-preserved old faunal remains! The 2009 and 2010 work has looked at soils, and there is clearly intact stratigraphy there. There is an upper ASTt (Arctic Small Tool tradition) component with a date of 2150±40BP, separated from the late Pleistocene materials with a fairly thick sterile layer. There are 10 C14 dates so far, 9800±60 BP and 10720±50, on the lower component. Very cool!
John Blong gave a paper on the summer’s work surveying in the uplands of the central Alaska Range, specifically the upper Savage River drainage (Denali NP) and the upper Susitna drainage. They also found some really old animal bones together with flakes (C14 dates around 10000BP), and excavated at Ewe Creek, where they got cultural material dating to 4500 BP.
Katie Krasinski gave a paper she had done with Gary Haynes on taphonomic analysis of Proboscidean remains. They had been able to work with fresh African elephant bones and Alaskan mammoth remains to look at how impacts by hammerstones, percussion flaking (this sort of bone can be flaked, as can whalebone) and carnivore chewing modify the bone. This is important, as groupings of non-intact mammoth (and mastodon in some areas) are often found. If there are lots of stone tools around, it’s fairly easy to figure out that people butchered them, even if they didn’t kill them in the first place, but otherwise, it’s a lot harder. This research is aimed at getting data to help figure that out when sites like that are found. They did gather a fair bit of data. Biggest surprise: a higher percentage of the animal-gnawed bones had spiral fractures than did the human-modified one.
Brian Wygal talked about survey in Denali NPP. There has been a several year project to try to get a handle on the prehistory of the park, finishing in 2009. The talk was a preliminary wrap-up of the project. He noted that they found the most sites the years they surveyed the fewest acres. This really points out a problem in Alaska, where the place is so huge and so little has been done. From the survey results, it also appears that the variations in tool kits which people have been wondering about are more related to seasonal movements and conditions, with microblades (and composite tools in general) perhaps being preferable in colder and snowy conditions.
Heather Smith gave paper on the excavations at the Serpentine Hot Springs site on the Seward Peninsula somewhat north of Nome. Prior work had found fluted point bases, and 2009 work had located a hearth which yielded a C14 date of around 11,200-11,400BP. Last summer’s work found more hearth features, which contained a lot of burnt bones and other organics. Dating is underway.
Lunch was in the Dorothy Vernon Room, a rather interesting room in the modern Louis Kahn dormitory Haffner Hall which includes much of the original Dorothy Vernon Room from the old Deanery. The afternoon was taken up by a visit to the collections at the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania.
I woke up and turned on the radio this morning in time to hear the morning fellow recommend paying attention to the weather. Since most folks here do that anyway, it was obvious that something a bit unusual was coming.
…COASTAL FLOOD WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM 2 AM AKDT SATURDAY THROUGH LATE SATURDAY NIGHT…
A COASTAL FLOOD WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM 2 AM AKDT SATURDAY THROUGH LATE SATURDAY NIGHT. LOW PRESSURE 400 MILES NORTH OF BARROW EARLY THIS AFTERNOON WILL STRENGTHEN TONIGHT AS THE LOW MOVES SOUTH. BY SATURDAY MORNING THE LOW IS EXPECTED TO BE ABOUT 250 MILES NORTH OF BARROW. STRONG NORTHWEST WINDS WILL DEVELOP ALONG THE BACKSIDE OF THE LOW. WIND SPEEDS OF AROUND 25 KNOTS ARE EXPECTED IN BARROW LATE TONIGHT THROUGH SATURDAY NIGHT WITH WINDS TO 35 KNOTS OFFSHORE.
THE SEA ICE IS NOW NEAR SEASONAL MINIMUMS AND THERE IS OPEN WATER SEVERAL HUNDRED MILES TO THE NORTHWEST OF BARROW. THIS WILL CAUSE SEAS NEAR SHORE TO BUILD TO 9 TO 13 FEET ON SATURDAY. THE SEAS ARE EXPECTED TO BREAK ALONG OR NEAR SHORE. IN ADDITION TO THE HIGH SEAS A STORM SURGE OF UP TO 2 FEET IS POSSIBLE AROUND THE TIMES OF HIGH TIDE SATURDAY AND SATURDAY NIGHT. SIGNIFICANT BEACH EROSION IS EXPECTED WITH MINOR COASTAL FLOODING POSSIBLE AROUND THE TIMES OF HIGH TIDE. THE AREA AROUND STEVENSON STREET NEAR THE BOAT LAUNCH BY THE CITY PLAYGROUND IS PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE TO FLOODING. OTHER LOW SPOTS ON DOWN THE BEACH WILL ALSO HAVE THE POTENTIAL FOR MINOR FLOODING.
ADDITIONALLY…SIGNIFICANT EROSION TO THE BLUFFS ARE LIKELY AS WELL.
… A COASTAL FLOOD WATCH MEANS THAT CONDITIONS FAVORABLE FOR FLOODING ARE EXPECTED TO DEVELOP. COASTAL RESIDENTS SHOULD BE ALERT FOR LATER STATEMENTS OR WARNINGS…AND TAKE ACTION TO PROTECT PROPERTY. NOW IS THE TIME TO MAKE PREPARATIONS AND MOVE ALL PROPERTY WELL AWAY FROM THE BEACH.
Not what I needed to hear… Turns out it’s the first big fall storm. With the ice so far out, that means lots of room for the wind to put energy into the water, which means big waves and a storm surge. That means beach erosion for sure, and maybe coastal flooding. Our weather forecasts here are a bit less accurate than those most other places, because there are no observing stations where the weather is coming from. It’s sort of like trying to predict weather in Pennsylvania using data from nothing but a weather station in Chicago.
I don’t like fall storms and coastal erosion. Aside from the dangers associated with flooding (the house I live in floated in 1963, and if it does it again we might wind up in a sewage lagoon), erosion is the most immediate threat to coastal archaeological sites. I spend my summers trying to organize things so that we got well ahead of erosion at Nuvuk and now are trying to stay that way.
The thing is, Nuvuk, where “the houses are all gone under the sea” to borrow T.S. Elliot’s phrase, is just one of many important sites. Utqiagvik, Nunagiak, Ipiutak, Tikigak (Point Hope), and so on down the coast. Most of the sites on the Beaufort coast from Point Barrow east to the Mackenzie River Delta in Canada have already washed away and out of the archaeological record.
Today the Saturday Schoolyard talk was about warming permafrost. The speaker was Dr. Vladimir Romanovsky, head of the Permafrost Laboratory at the Geophysical Institute at UAF. He gave a really good talk, explaining what permafrost is (permanently frozen ground, basically), why it matters if it melts, and how permafrost researchers go about taking its temperature (with thermistor (temperature sensor) strings down boreholes, mostly). He then went on to show how permafrost temperatures had changed through time as the atmospheric temperature had changed.
After that, he moved to predictive modeling based on climatic models. Using even a fairly middle-of-the-road climate model, it doesn’t look too good for permafrost in Alaska by the end of the century. He also showed active layer (the soil layer at the top that freezes and thaws every year) modeling done on a similar basis some years ago, and pointed out that over the 10 years since the model was run it had been spot on in its predictions. The active layer is clearly going to be a lot deeper if the predictions hold.
This is not good news for Arctic archaeology. Compared to most of the rest of the world, where archaeologists are left to puzzle out what people were doing from a few stone tools, waste flakes and potsherds, we get really good organic preservation here, which makes it possible to look at questions that can’t be addressed elsewhere for lack of relevant data. The reason the preservation is so good is in large part permafrost, and permanently frozen sites. Last week, when Claire was here, we were getting a lot of well-preserved 1600-1700 year old marine invertebrates from the samples. They exist because the layer was frozen for most, if not all, of that time.
I’m been thinking a lot about site destruction, and how to determine which areas are at highest risk, in order to prioritize field efforts. Perhaps because coastal erosion is the big and immediate threat at Nuvuk (and all the other coastal sites I’ve worked at except for Ipuitak, where the immediate threat was the seawall being built to prevent coastal erosion), I’ve tended to focus on that, as well as eroding river banks for sites along rivers. The melting of exposed ice wedges, which then leads to collapse of the overlying ground is also something I’ve been concerned about. And these are major threats, which can tumble entire houses upside down on the beach for the waves to destroy.
I hadn’t thought much at all about the risks to Arctic archaeology from a significant deepening of the active layer, which will mean that artifacts and ecofacts (animal bones, insects, etc.) will freeze and thaw every year (which is hard on things to begin with, often causing rocks and bones to split) and while they are thawed, they will be decaying. Even now, really old sites don’t have much organic preservation. Even sites that are in no danger of eroding are threatened with the gradual invisible loss of a great deal of the information they now contain.
Obviously, if we are going to develop a “threat matrix” for Arctic archaeological sites, this has to be part of it. I talked to Vlad a bit after the talk, and he thought he had students who could be put to work on this problem, perhaps by combining what we know about site locations in Alaska (by no means a complete listing) and the existing models for permafrost change. He also said that one could do active layer modeling for a specific site with a year’s worth of soil and air temperatures, so that’s something we definitely need to get started on.
One of the things we collected a lot of from the strand lines was a variety of sea creatures. There are a lot of pieces of what we thought (in the field) was gut, which is a useful raw material. Now that we’ve gotten them into the lab, we think most of it is some sort of marine worms. There are also a variety of other small marine creatures (plants or invertebrates–they have lost their orignal colors) and mollusks.
Obviously, I know a lot more about mammal bones & teeth than these things. So we’ve sorted out a bunch, and Claire will take a couple of each type to Fairbanks, along with the shells. With any luck, we can get some IDs. If we’re really lucky, the species in question will turn out to have fairly narrow habitat requirements, and we’ll know something about what the ocean was like near Barrow when the big storm happened between 300 & 400 AD.
If you happen to recognize any of these, please let me know what you think they are. If you know anyone who might be interested in these creatures, send them my way. The “worms” are very well-preserved, and still flexible. It occurs to me that it might be possible to extract DNA from them (and maybe some of the other creatures as well), which would be a pretty rare opportunity.