— More “unusual mortality events”; seabirds and marine life are starving; “the exact cause eludes scientists”

From Audubon
by Kristine Liao
October 11, 2019

The first reports came in May. They were sparse, but enough to put seabird-monitoring coordinator Hillary Burgess on edge. “Here we go again,” she thought. By late June, almost every time she checked her inbox, yet more news of washed-up seabirds on the Alaskan coast greeted her.

Volunteers had collected nearly 9,200 seabird carcasses by early September—and those are just the bodies found washed ashore. Kathy Kuletz, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife biologist, estimates the total number of deaths may reach in the hundreds of thousands.

Historically, mass seabird die-offs have been occasional events in Alaska, but for the past five years, they have occurred annually. This year, as the carcasses continued to pile up, a few new trends became clear: The die-offs were more geographically widespread and lasted for a longer period compared to previous years, and they largely targeted Short-tailed Shearwaters, although dead puffins, murres, and auklets—the main victims in recent years— have also been found.

There’s a lot of concern out there,” says Burgess, who works for the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST), a community-science project that tracks populations and deaths. “People aren’t used to encountering hundreds of dead birds on a beach that they walk on regularly.” 

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— HAARP is running again — “the world’s most powerful ionosphere heater”

From Scientific American

This week powerful radio waves will disturb the ionosphere to probe satellite disruptions and create strange glows

By Mark Harris
February 22, 2017

In the middle of a snow-draped forest in Alaska, a long four-hour drive east from Anchorage, sits a cleared 30-acre field where 180 silver poles sprout from the ground and reach 22 meters into the air. During four nights this week the poles—actually interconnected radio antennae—will spring to life after three years of dormancy, and heat the highest wisps of our atmosphere directly above.

The antennas belong to the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), a former U.S. military facility near the hamlet of Gakona. The array will beam 2.1 megawatts of radio energy into the ionosphere—the region that starts at 100 kilometers above the ground, where solar photons and charged particles crash into Earth’s atmosphere. There the radio signals will excite electrons and turn them into waves of relatively hot ionized gas, or plasma, in a narrow slice of sky. The hope is to better understand activity that hampers satellites as well as some elusive features of radio wave physics.

The antenna forest was originally funded by the U.S. Navy and Air Force to improve their navigation and communication signals bouncing around the planet. Since its first transmissions in 1999, however, it has been accused of doing much more. Iran blamed HAARP operations for floods, the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez charged it with triggering 2010’s devastating Haiti earthquake and legions of other conspiracy theorists have accused it of everything from mind control to stealing souls.

In fact the only thing the military was interested in controlling was the hot plasma, says Bill Bristow of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who is HAARP’s chief scientist. The plasma can distort or delay satellite transmissions and GPS signals. The armed services wanted to know whether those perturbations could be manipulated from the ground to eliminate such problems, and perhaps enable new communications and radar technologies. So they built HAARP, the world’s most powerful ionosphere heater.

More than a decade of experiments, however, failed to produce any major breakthroughs. Eventually the military threw in the towel. In 2014 David Walker, then deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for Science, Technology and Engineering, told a Senate committee, “If there is not somebody who wants to take over the management and the funding of the site…we plan to do a dismantle of the system.”

The pending demise caught the attention of scientists at U.A. Fairbanks’s Geophysical Institute. “We felt that there was a large investment of public money that should not just be destroyed,” Bristow says. “There’s a lot of scientific work yet to be done, so we wanted to give it a go.” The Air Force officially handed over HAARP’s keys to the institute in 2015.

Now after years of repairs, upgrades and fund-raising, HAARP is about to embark on its first scientific campaign under civilian control. Much of the work is a continuation of studies that began under the military. Plasma scientists, for example, will hunt for an elusive phenomenon called two-plasma decay instability. This involves an electromagnetic signal decaying into two electron plasma waves. Understanding this instability is key to some experimental nuclear fusion reactions but it has never been observed for high-frequency radio waves.

The facility is also going to be generating artificial aurorae. At full power, HAARP’s transmitter can produce a glowing plasma high in the sky that, although not as bright as the natural aurora borealis, is visible to the naked eye. Producing artificial aurorae has taught scientists unexpected lessons about how gases are ionized in the ionosphere, a process that helps protect Earth from harmful ultraviolet solar radiation. “Understanding how energy from the sun flows into the upper atmosphere is important for understanding the effect on Earth from extreme solar events,” Bristow says.

And the military could not quite let go of HAARP altogether. The Naval Research Laboratory thinks it can use the ionosphere to improve spy satellite operations. The lab will be running an experiment where it bounces radio signals off the ionosphere and then back down to the sea, hundreds of kilometers over the horizon. Satellites overhead will then try to use the radio reflections from the ocean surface to detect ships or ice. Because the satellites will rely on the facility’s signals, and not their own, this method could enable them to stay cloaked from prying eyes and conserve their own energy.

The success of these initial experiments will be critical in demonstrating the long-term viability of HAARP to the agencies funding the efforts along with the navy: the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy. “This beauty of HAARP is that it’s a way to turn the ionosphere into a plasma lab where we can control the knobs and timing,” says Mark Moldwin, a professor of space sciences at the University of Michigan who is not involved with the current research. “It has essentially come back from the dead and the community is hopeful that its continued operation will enable education and research opportunities.”

U.A. Fairbanks says it will support the facility for about two more years. Then it could pull the plug if more sponsors are not forthcoming. But for the week ahead the biggest risk is nature itself, Bristow says: “If it’s cloudy, we won’t see the auroras, and a solar storm could wipe out our ability to do any heating at all.” There is nothing the facility can do about clouds and storms. Despite the rumors, Bristow says, HAARP has never been able to control the weather.


— More whales found dead along the Alaskan Coast — 3 in one week

From Alaska Public Media

Whale deaths near Anchorage, Glacier Bay prompt investigation
By Graelyn Brashear
July 1, 2016

Researchers are trying to determine what caused the deaths of three large whales found along Alaska’s coastline within a single week in late June, and whether the fatal strandings might be related to a big spike in whale deaths in the region last year.

A fin whale died in Knik Arm near Anchorage on June 22. Four days later, a humpback was found dead off Point Carolus in Glacier Bay National Park. Two days after that, another humpback was found in Turnagain Arm near Hope.

Investigators with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and partner groups have taken tissue samples from all three whales. The Glacier Bay humpback, which had been observed by scientists since the late 1960s and was nicknamed “Festus,” may provide the most clues, because researchers were able to conduct a full necropsy.

British Columbia veterinary pathologist Steven Raverty led the postmortem, and said there was no evidence of skull or other bone fractures, but there were indications the whale wasn’t healthy.

Whales usually have copepod parasites known as whale lice, Raverty said, “and this animal had probably the most abundant numbers that we’ve seen in animals that have stranded throughout the area. And it would tend to suggest that the animal may have been debilitated or there was some degree of immunosuppression.”

In addition, he said, the whale had diminished fat reserves, which may mean it wasn’t consuming enough food.

NOAA officials don’t know if these recent deaths are related to the dozens of whale deaths in the Gulf of Alaska last year. Those 2015 strandings were labeled an “unusual mortality event,” and the cause is still under investigation. It could be a difficult mystery to solve, because so many of the carcasses were too decomposed or too remote to study.

Raverty said the recent whale deaths could help researchers to better understand last year’s die-off.

“We look at these individuals that are now stranding in 2016 as a really unique opportunity to try and establish baseline health and understanding, whether there may be evidence of ship strike, infectious disease, exposure to harmful algal blooms, and these will all be put in the context of what had occurred historically, but also during the unusual mortality event,” he said.

Tissue samples from all three whales have been sent to labs for analysis, but it’s not clear when researchers will know more about how and why they died.

Whale deaths near Anchorage, Glacier Bay prompt investigation

Massive debris removal project underway along Alaska coast

This typical mainstream news article downplays Fukushima impacts.

What testing for radioactivity is being conducted?

Are the planned disposal sites licensed for radioactive debris and at what level of radioactivity?

Which agencies are overseeing that process?

What public hearings are being held on the cleanup and the disposal?

From Associated Press
July 12, 2015

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A massive cleanup effort is getting underway in Alaska, with tons of marine debris — some likely sent to sea by the 2011 tsunami in Japan — set to be airlifted from rocky beaches and taken by barge for recycling and disposal in the Pacific Northwest.

Hundreds of heavy-duty bags of debris, collected in 2013 and 2014 and stockpiled at a storage site in Kodiak, also will be shipped out. The barge is scheduled to arrive in Kodiak by Thursday, before setting off on a roughly one-month venture.

The scope of the project, a year in the making, is virtually unheard of in Alaska. It was spurred, in part, by the mass of material that’s washed ashore — things like buoys, fishing lines, plastics and fuel drums — and the high cost of shuttling small boatloads of debris from remote sites to port, said Chris Pallister, president of the cleanup organization Gulf of Alaska Keeper, which is coordinating the effort.

The Anchorage landfill also began requiring that fishing nets and lines — common debris items — to be chopped up, a task called impossible by state tsunami marine debris coordinator Janna Stewart.

Pallister estimates the cost of the barge project at up to $1.3 million, with the state contributing $900,000 from its share of the $5 million that Japan provided for parts of the U.S. affected by tsunami debris. Crews in British Columbia will be able to add debris to the barge as it passes through, chipping in if they do. Pallister’s group has committed $100,000. Delays due to weather could drive up costs, which Pallister said is a concern.

The cost to operate the barge is $17,000 a day, Stewart said.

Many of the project sites are remote and rugged. Crews working at sites like Kayak and Montague islands in Prince William Sound, for example, get there by boat and sleep onboard. The need to keep moving down the shoreline as cleanup progresses, combined with terrain littered with boulders and logs, makes it tough to set up a camp, Pallister said. There’s also the issue of bears.

While relatively few people visit these sites, it’s important to clean them, Stewart said. Foam disintegrates, which can seep into salmon streams or be ingested by birds, she said. There’s concern, too, with the impact of broken-down plastic on marine life.

What’s not picked up can get swept back out, she said.

“It’s like it never really goes away unless we get in there and actively remove it,” Stewart said.

Alaska has more coastline than any other state. And Alaska cleanup operations often are expensive and dangerous, said Nikolai Maximenko, a senior researcher at the Hawaii-based International Pacific Research Center.

“Even without the tsunami, Alaska is well-known for being polluted with all these buoys and other stuff from fisheries activity and from other human activities,” he said.

It can be hard to definitively distinguish tsunami debris from the run-of-the-mill rubbish that has long fouled shorelines unless there are identifiable markings. But Pallister and others say the type and volume of debris that has washed up in Alaska is different since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which killed thousands in Japan.

Before the tsunami, a lot of old fishing gear would be on the beach. But afterward, the debris included an inundation of Styrofoam and urethane, Pallister said. Objects such as property stakes and crates used by fishermen in coastal Japan also have begun showing up, he said.

Crews plan to do cleanup work in the Gulf of Alaska this summer, which will add to the material that has already been cached in heavy-duty bags above the high-tide line. All this would be loaded onto the barge.

The logistics are complicated.

Dump trucks are expected to ferry the large white bags of debris from the Kodiak storage yard to the barge after it arrives. Tom Pogson with the Island Trails Network, which worked on the Kodiak-area debris removal, said that will be the easy part.

In other locations, the bags will be airlifted by helicopter to the barge, which Pallister expects will be “pretty maxxed out” when the barge, roughly the size of a football field, is fully loaded.

Debris will be sorted for recycling in Seattle, with the remaining debris taken by train for disposal in Oregon, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

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