State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

The Alaska Peninsula from the Skies

Katie and I prepare for takeoff from Nelson Lagoon on a Cessna Stationair

The first component of our program is to deploy seismometers onshore around the Alaska Peninsula. These instruments are very sensitive, so they can record small, local earthquakes, distant large earthquakes and (importantly for our project) the sound source of the R/V Langseth.  However, there are no roads connecting towns on the Alaska peninsula, so one must go by air or by sea to get around. We decided to charter a plane with a pilot based in Nelson Lagoon, a town of 80 people situated on a long, narrow sandy spit jutting out into the Bering Sea.

Mountains and rivers of the Alaska Peninsula seen from the plane

Katie Keranen (U. Ok), Guy Tytgat (PASSCAL) and I took a series of commercial flights on progressively smaller planes to arrive in Nelson Lagoon. The last of these flights was a 45-minute jaunt aboard a Piper Saratoga (held 5 people and some bags) from Cold Bay to Nelson Lagoon.  Before take off, the pilot passed around a packet of gum (“Snack service”, quipped Guy).  When asked what the inflight movie would be, the pilot responded (without missing a beat), “Scenic Alaska – it’s a rerun”.

Walruses on the beach of the Bering Sea

And unbelievably scenic it is! During our flight to Nelson Lagoon, and subsequent flights around the Alaska peninsula deploying seismic stations, we have seen majestic, snow capped volcanoes shrouded in clouds, expansive views of the sparsely vegetated Alaska Peninsula, which is riddled with rivers and lakes, and lots of wildlife: caribou, bears, seals, walruses and eagles (just to name a few).  It is a landscape that seems remarkably untouched by humanity. In between widely spaced small towns, only the very occasional fishing gear float or rusty old oil drum testifies to the impact of humans.

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