Thursday, October 30, 2008

Researcher seeks energy answer in biofuels

A vial of bio-oil in Soria's laboratory

Juan Andres Soria, assistant professor of wood chemistry, is immersed in research to better understand how biofuels can help meet the energy needs of Alaskans. Soria, based at the Palmer Research and Extension Center, spends his time in his lab surrounded by multitudes of glass jars filled with black, stinky liquid. “It looks like oil,” Soria said. And that is the gist of Soria’s work: Can wood be converted to a useful fuel in a cost-effective, safe, and clean manner?

“Nothing is going to trump oil,” Soria said. “But we are consuming our petroleum hydrocarbon resources and the time will come when the supply is low.”

His approach is multifaceted, yet practical. “Because we live in a liquid fuel economy (extraction, transportation, processing, storage, and utilization) the production of liquid fuel is the first logical step,” he said. “We need a new way of looking at biomass. We need to start with the fundamentals.” Alaska has large amounts of woody biomass that could be used in value-added product applications.

Ideally, those forest stands that are merchantable with straight trees of good diameter (eight inches or more at breast height) exhibiting good strength, easily accessible, and able to be processed by machine can be used to rebuild the near- decimated forest products industry in the state. One possibility that has been overlooked in the past is timber stands that have been killed by fire or beetles, or stands that are not ideal candidates for making the boards and fiber products that end up in homes, although using this biomass requires extra steps to remove damaged bark prior to processing.

Soria has been analyzing different woods in locations that were burned between 2000 and 2006. This covers 5.4 million acres in Alaska. “Salvaging the wood will require a new way of looking at things,” Soria said. He has analyzed spruce, birch, and alder, with a variability in moisture content ranging from 6 to 45 percent.

wood samples

In addition to forest stands, there are also brushy, woody species that grow quickly and that can be agricultural crops, managed under intensive conditions for the production of biomass. One drawback in Alaska is that there is no major forest products industry, nor an established technology to use the produced biomass, other than using it as a heating fuel.

Soria cautioned that not all biomass is created equal. “We know we have large amounts of biomass but not all of it is the same,” he said. “We are still learning the fundamentals of Alaska biomass from a chemical standpoint.” Using the same “recipe for cooking” the biomass, Soria has noted more than 300 individual chemicals produced in the liquid biomass. “We have to learn not to treat biomass as the end-all be-all word. Each species has different concentrations of chemicals.”

For the most part, bio-oil research is traditionally focused on pyrolysis, which gives the operator no control over most processing and products. Pyrolytic bio-oil has been proven to power generators and space heaters.

Another approach is liquefaction of biomass using supercritical fluids. Unlike pyrolysis, supercritical fluids can be tweaked to control yields of chemicals and they have much higher liquefaction levels (95 percent). Also, they have greater chemical production and recovery, but the downside is that it is still in the research and development phase and engineering needs for scale up have not been addressed.

Processing can be costly, and is often cited as a criticism for research in biofuels. “What we fail to realize is that we do not pay a single dime for the processing responsible for creating petroleum. Nature has taken care of this over millions of years. In biomass, we have to pay to process biomass into hydrocarbons.” Soria said. He described biofuel production as a race to recreate a process that took nature millions of years to one that takes place in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, because we rely on petroleum hydrocarbons for the production of not only fuels, but plastics, resins, fertilizers, and solvents among thousands of additional products, alternatives are extremely limited. Other renewable energy sources are not capable of producing complex hydrocarbons (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, nuclear, and hydrogen produce electricity or hydrogen—not hydrocarbons) so even as we move toward a more diverse mixture of energy, we will have to invest in biomass as the single most effective way of producing those hydrocarbon alternatives to petroleum, Soria said.

Other research that Soria is conducting is in creating a gaseous mixture that can compete with natural gas, and even in internal combustion engines. To produce this requires temperatures as high as 900˚C. “It takes high temperature, air and biomass to generate a gaseous mixture—producer gas,” Soria said. He is currently researching gasification using a downdraft gasifier, analyzing the products from hemlock, yellow cedar, red cedar, and Sitka spruce.

Soria believes small decentralized reactors for both gasification and liquid fuel production will be the best approach in Alaska, once the right technology is found based on the biomass characteristics and niche markets are developed. The challenge of infrastructure is a constant for Alaska, especially the challenges of transportation and storage of biomass. In the meantime, he would like to make the processes fit the current infrastructure and develop a liquid that is closer to the raw petroleum base product. “I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. I’m trying to find the best of both worlds.” By following this approach, biomass can enter the same infrastructure in place for petroleum, capitalizing on the existing technology, and enabling a renewable source to be introduced in mainstream fossil fuel use technology.

See also:
"Alaska woody biomass,” SNRAS Science & News, July 23, 2008.
• "Biomass for biofuels: not all trees are created equal," by J. Andres Soria, Agroborealis 39(2), winter/spring 2008 (PDF), p. 7.
Biomass Energy, Alaska Energy Authority webpage on energy from biomass, including links and references on biodiesel, municipal waste, and wood and wood waste.
• UAF Forest Products Program, Valerie Barber, director

Soria's research papers on the subject:

Mitchell, B.K., L.L. Ingram, Jr., J. A. Soria, P.H. Steele, D.A. Strobel. (2008) Chemical and physical characteristics of bio-oils from pine and oak feedstocks. Forest Products Society Proceedings. Woody Biomass Utilization: Challenges and Opportunites. pp. 33-38.

Soria, J.A. McDonald, A.G, Shook, S.R. (2008) Wood solubilization and depolymerization using supercritical methanol. Part 1: Process optimization and analysis of methanol insoluble components (bio-char). Holzforschung, Vol. 62 (4), pp. 402–408.

Soria, J.A., McDonald, A.G., He, B.B. (2008) Wood solubilization and depolymerization by supercritical methanol. Part 2: Analysis of methanol soluble compounds. Holzforschung, Vol. 62 (4), pp. 409–416.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Google Earth maps teleconference planned

Google Earth maps of projected climate change in Alaska are now available from the Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning. A teleconference is planned for Wednesday, Nov. 5 from 10 to 11 a.m., presented by the University of Alaska Geography Program, with Alaska climate change projections available for download in Google Earth format. These maps show projected changes in temperature, precipitation, growing season length, freeze-up dates and thaw dates, and include documentation of uncertainties. Join this demonstration of newly available maps and a discussion of how SNAP's work can be most useful.
How to participate in the Alaska Climate Teleconference:
1) Call 1-800-893-8850.
2) When prompted, enter the PIN code: 7531823.
Please mute your phone during the presentation. The audio is very sensitive and external conversations and typing can be heard by other participants.

To view the presentation during a teleconference:
1) Point your web browser to:
2) Click on the blue Join a Meeting button on the left side bar.
3) For Presenter ID enter:
If you do not see anything on your screen, click on the refresh button on the top bar.

ACCAP statewide climate teleconferences are designed to promote dialogue between scientists and people in government, land and resource management, industry, and individual residents who need information related to climate change in Alaska to make well informed decisions. The goal is to create a forum for discussion and information exchange of the current state of knowledge about specific aspects of climate change in Alaska that is accessible to people statewide and identifies existing information gaps and how best to fill them. The conference starts with 15-20 minutes of presentation followed by discussion and questions from participants.

Pre-registration is not required but is strongly encouraged. For further information and to register please contact: Sarah Trainor, ACCAP Coordinator and Research Scientist, (907) 474-7878,

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

SNAP featured before governor's cabinet

Sharing informed research with policymakers requires much more than bumper stickers, UA President Mark Hamilton said Oct. 28 while addressing Gov. Sarah Palin’s cabinet at UAF. “As we see urgency in climate change this cabinet in this state today shares the responsibility of being at the head of the curve,” Hamilton said.

SNAP was one of the research highlights presented to the group. Associate Professor of Forestry and SNAP Director Scott Rupp told the cabinet about Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning. Under the UA Geography Program, SNAP is a way of getting all the players together to provide scenarios of what future landscapes will look like, Rupp explained. “This will improve your ability to make decisions and understand the uncertainties.”

SNAP can have a big impact on many state and national issues, Rupp said. “We are harnessing high-latitude research from the university system and making projections. How cold will it be? How wet? How warm? What will be the growing season lengths?

“This is where the rubber meets the road. We’ve got something that works well.”

By using data sets and maps, SNAP works to project future conditions for selected variables, and comes up with rules and models that develop projections based on historical conditions and trends. Among the topics SNAP focuses on are the frequency of intense storms, the risk of wildfire or flooding, and habitat and wildlife changes associated with such events. Scientists are examining the effects of climate change on biophysical processes, then studying the effects of physical changes on society. SNAP is a useful way for university researchers to convey the societal significance of their research to Alaska’s decision makers and other stakeholders, making current climate change research more recognizable regionally and more relevant globally.

SNAP receives no state funding, Hamilton said. “It is supported with BP and ConocoPhillips dollars.” He urged the cabinet members to recommend state funding. “We are the canary in the coal mine,” he said. “We need long-range public policy decisions based on research. We cannot pass this on to the next generation.”

Calling SNAP the centerpiece for cooperation, Hamilton told the panel not to look to other states to see how this type of program is operating because Alaska is the leader in this research.

Buck Sharpton, vice chancellor for research at UAF, called Tuesday’s forum the first stop on a long and fruitful journey. Panels addressed energy, engineering, climate impacts, health research, and life sciences. In a Fairbanks Daily News-Miner guest opinion, "State, university can cooperate in research," Sharpton stated, “This is the first step in developing a state research coalition that is greater than the sum of the parts. Ultimately, however, Alaska needs a state research and development plan that identifies state research and development priorities, lays out effective and efficient approaches to addressing these priorities, establishes measurable ways to benchmark success, and finds ways of sustaining and growing research at a time when it is sorely needed.”

Further reading:
Alaska Center for Climate Assessment & Policy
Gov. Palin's Sub-cabinet on Climate Change
"Alaska researchers, policymakers seek cooperation on climate issues" Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Monday, October 27, 2008

Geothermal energy development: geyser threat?

Castle Geyser with geyserbow, Upper Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming--photo courtesy Kenneth Barrick

Upon the announcement last week ("Government expands geothermal energy leasing") that the Interior Department plans to make available 190 million acres of federal land for geothermal energy development, it is worth visiting the research of Kenneth A. Barrick, UAF associate professor of geography. Barrick has extensively studied the extinction of geysers following energy development. Below is a brief summary of Dr. Barrick's geyser work.

Geyser basins are rare composite resources that provide an important array of recreational, scientific, cultural, national heritage, and economic benefits. For centuries, hydrothermal recreation has supported tourism—from “geyser gazing” to the “taking of the waters” in spa thermal pools. However, geysers are relatively fragile geologic features that are subject to irreversible damage and quenching from nearby human development activities. Geyser basins have been damaged or driven to extinction by geothermal well withdrawal (home heating and/or electricity production), alteration of adjacent riverbeds or river discharge relationships, filling of hydroelectric reservoirs, and exploration for precious metals. Over the past few decades, various energy development projects have permanently quenched about 260 geysers, which reduced the worldwide geyser endowment by about 23 percent (or 40 percent of all geysers located outside of national parks and reserves). About 100 geysers were quenched in New Zealand (75 percent of the local endowment), and about forty six in Iceland (75 percent of the local endowment). In the U.S., two geyser fields in Nevada were quickly driven to extinction by geothermal wells at Beowawe (all 30 geysers), and Steamboat Springs (all 26 geysers).

The world’s few remaining geyser basins are exceptionally rare. However, the increasing demand for alternatives to fossil fuel will likely increase the prospects for geothermal energy development. Therefore, the sustainability of the world’s remaining geyser basins requires that environmental managers and engineers understand the threat that geothermal wells pose when developed on the same hydrothermal field with geysers and important hot springs. Geysers almost always occur in association with other surface hydrothermal features, including hot springs, fumaroles, mud pots, and steaming ground. When geysers and associated hydrothermal features cluster around a common watershed and geothermal heat source, they constitute a composite resource—often referred to as a “geyser basin” (in New Zealand, “hydrothermal area”). Technically, a geyser is a hot spring that intermittently becomes unstable and erupts (usually upwards) a turbulent jet of water and steam.

The Earth’s natural endowment before the geyser extinctions caused by energy development projects was about 1,194 geysers. A total of about 260 geysers have permanently ceased to play as a result of nearby development activities. Today, most of the remaining geysers are found in only five major clusters, including: (1) Yellowstone National Park (about 500 geysers); (2) Dolina Geizerov, “Valley of Geysers” in Russia (about 190 geysers); (3) El Tatio in northern Chile (about eighty geysers); (4) the Taupo Volcanic Zone in New Zealand (about 30 remaining geysers); and (5) Iceland (about 16 remaining geysers, not all active).

The most serious concern for the future sustainability of the world’s remaining geyser basins is the prospect of nearby geothermal energy development. Several factors are conspiring to increase the prospects for geothermal energy. First, the search for alternative energy resources will accelerate with the increasing cost of fossil fuels. Second, technological advancements have reduced the size of geothermal power plants to 5 megawatts (MW), and lowered the cost of developing geothermal fields through staged development. The next generation of technology, called “Enhanced Geothermal Systems,” is expected to make large-scale “heat mining” possible through deep-drilling and reservoir stimulation techniques (1 to 50 MW). Enhanced geothermal systems will push development from the relatively restricted domain of high-temperature geothermal fields (in the U.S., mostly limited to the western states) to all landscapes. Third, emerging centers of expertise in geothermal engineering (like those in Iceland) are maturing into export industries.

Geothermal energy production requires wells that extract large amounts of hot water, steam and/or heat from the hydrothermal reservoir. Geothermal well withdrawal is capable of quenching natural overflow features like geysers. When geothermal wells lower reservoir pressure, the discharge can be reduced to the point where geysers cease to play. The often fatal resource competition is best understood as the “geyser paradox.” The thermal energy required to trigger the eruption of a geyser (150ºC or higher) indicates a shallow magmatic heat source, which is a reliable indicator of a potential geothermal energy resource. Moreover, geysers are nonrenewable resources—they almost never recover when quenched by geothermal well withdrawal. It is suspected that underground cooling clogs the geyser’s plumbing with mineral precipitates. The scarcity of the world’s remaining geysers has greatly increased their preservation value. The sustainability of the remaining geyser basins will require an integrated environmental management approach based on a comprehensive knowledge of the values and benefits that society derives from them; a sober accounting of the known risks of competition for heat and/or water from the hydrothermal reservoir that supplies them, and effective protection legislation.

Further reading:

Geyser Observation Study Association

•Aguilar A (1996) "Extremophile research in the European Union: from fundamental aspects to industrial expectations." Federation of European Microbiological Societies Microbiology Reviews 18:89-92

•Barrick KA (2007) "Geyser decline and extinction in New Zealand—energy development impacts and implications for environmental management." Environmental Management 39:783-805

•Barth TFW (1950) Volcanic geology, hot springs and geysers of Iceland. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Pub No 587, Washington, D.C., 175 pp

•Brock TD (1997) "The value of basic research: discovery of Thermus aquaticus and other extreme thermophiles." Genetics 146:1207-1210

•Jóhannesson M (2005) Iceland America Energy, Los Angeles, California."Kicking the oil habit with geothermal energy" (PDF)

•Lamed R, Zeikus JG (1980) "Ethanol production by thermophilic bacteria: relationship between fermentation product yields of and catabolic enzyme activities in Clostridium thermocellum and Thermoanaerobium brockii." Journal of Bacteriology 144:569-578

•Nash R (1982) Wilderness and the American mind. Yale University Press, New Haven, 425 pp

•Peters J, Bothner B, Kelly S (2007) "Unfolding the mystery of protein thermostability." Yellowstone Science 15:5-14

•Rothschild LJ, Mancinelli RL (2001) "Life in extreme environments." Nature 409:1092-1101

•Tester JW, Anderson BJ, Batchelor AS, Blackwell DD, DiPippo R, Drake EM, Garnish J, Livesay B, Moore MC, Nichols K, Petty S, Toksöz MN, Veatch, Jr. RW (2006) The future of geothermal energy—Impact of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) on the United States in the 21st century. Massachusetts Institute of Technology and US Department of Energy, 332 pp

•USFS (US Forest Service) (1980) "Final environmental impact statement of the Island Park Geothermal Area." United States Forest Service, Intermountain Region, Ogden, Utah, 280 pp

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bison reintroduction on its way to reality

Coordination has been the key to an Alaska Department of Fish & Game goal of reintroducing wood bison to the state. Fifteen years ago when the project was initiated, Wildlife Planner Randy Rogers and Project Biologist Bob Stephenson were determined to employ the best practices of natural resources management. They began their pursuit of knowledge by sitting down with Native elders who shared stories about bison in Interior Alaska—what the Athabascan name was for the animal, how the hair was used as thread, and hides served as floor coverings. Apparently the bison had been a big feature of the Athabascan economy into the 1800s. “The story got more interesting,” Stephenson said.

A Pleistocene subspecies of bison lived in Alaska for 400,000 years, evolving into the wood bison about 10,000 years ago. The creatures are still a good fit here, Stephenson said. “They co-exist with moose and other wildlife. The predation on wood bison is low.”

While it was originally thought that the largest land mammal in North America had died out in Alaska thousands of years ago, carbon dating tests on bison bones proved that the last herd was still roaming until 170 years ago.

This meshed with the tales from Athabascan elders and made Fish & Game more determined than ever to proceed. Consulting with Canadians who conducted a successful reintroduction, the men learned the steps to take to make the dream real. Why they want to do it is simple:

•re-establish a native species and enhance the ecological wildlife diversity
•help with bison conservation
•enhance wildlife viewing
•re-establish a large herbivore to benefit the northern grazing systems (beneficial nutrient cycling)

Nearly every topic of possible concern has been carefully taken into consideration. Numerous sessions were held with such varied organizations as Doyon, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Safari Club International, Wildlife Conservation Society, the American Bison Society, World Wildlife Fund, the Turner Endangered Species Fund. The Wood Bison Restoration Advisory Group included village representatives, Fish & Game advisors, sportsmen’s organizations, environmental groups, and people with animal welfare interests.

UAF Associate Professor of Outdoor Recreation Peter Fix prepared a cost/benefit analysis, showing the project well worth the investment. An environmental review was concluded in April 2007. Today, 84 bison brought from Canada are quarantined at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center at Portage Glacier. The animals come from one of the few remaining herds that is “pure,” with no cattle strains mixed in. Hay is provided by the Matanuska Experiment Farm at nominal cost. Stephenson called the hay “a lifesaver.”

The first release is planned for the spring of 2010 in the Minto Flats. The other two areas targeted for future releases are the Yukon Flats and the Lower Innoko River. Stephenson and Rogers expect the herds to grow and flourish once released. They referred to the selected habitats as “paradise” for the animals.

Questions remain for the future. Currently, the wood bison is listed as an endangered species, so hunting practices will need to be resolved. It would be at least a dozen years before the harvest could be regulated, if at all. “We have made a fundamental pledge to develop principles to guide the harvest,” Rogers said. “We will manage for abundance, meet the subsistence needs, and I think there will be enough for everybody."

Further reading:
"Wood Bison Restoration in Alaska: An Opportunity to Bring Back a Native Species"
Wood Bison Restoration in Alaska, Alaska Department of Fish & Game
"Wood bison: Giant blast from the past," Anchorage Daily News article
"Alaska closer to reintroducing once-extinct wood bison to Interior" Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article
Alaska Department of Fish & Game Bison Restoration contact information
Endangered Species website

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

SNRAS offers new degrees

Several new exciting degree options have been added to the SNRAS lineup in the past two years. These are:
PhD in Natural Resources and Sustainability
As Alaska and the Circumpolar North face increasingly complex challenges in the use and management of natural resources, the education and training of high-level professionals skilled in the practices and policies that enhance natural resource management become increasingly important. The program aims to prepare future leaders as academic researchers, agency professionals, and analysts, and centers around three thematic areas: i) resource economics, ii) resource policy and sustainability science, and iii) forest and agricultural sciences. Graduates will likely find work in the frontiers of science, helping to manage natural resources and the environment. Careers include university faculty, researchers, and private consultants for governmental or nonprofit agencies.

Objectives are to educate and train scholars at the PhD level with in-depth integrated knowledge in research and management of natural resources, develop leaders to direct the use and management of natural resources in Alaska and other northern latitude settings, create a nationally-recognized program that contributes to scientifically-informed public decisions, contribute to sustainable development of Alaska’s rural and urban environments, and increase research programs addressing the Arctic and its indigenous people.

Contact: Dr. Joshua Greenberg, associate professor of resource economics
Phone: 907.474.7189

• Professional Master’s in Natural Resources Management and Geography
The Master’s in Natural Resources Management and Geography is designed for students planning a management career involving largely non-research responsibilities such as general planning and administration, communication and public information, and impact assessment.
Because of the diversity and broad scope of the natural resources management and geography fields, the objectives of this degree will be tailored to each individual student. The graduate committee will be the main body that assesses the student’s background, individual deficiencies, and specific coursework needs. There will be a minimal number of common courses that all will take, plus a requirement for an individual academic project addressing some existing NRM/G problem or issue. While not requiring scientific experimentation or sampling or the gathering of primary data, the work is expected to involve critical reflection, empirical inquiry, and intellectual honesty. A written product (opus) and an oral presentation demonstrating sound scholarship will be required. Final acceptance of the opus will be by the student’s committee and the associate dean of SNRAS.

Contact: Dave Veazey, director of enrollment management
Phone: 907.474.5276

Peace Corps Master’s International Program
In this cooperative master’s degree program, students integrate graduate studies with international development experience. Master's International has made the unique opportunity of complementing a master's degree with overseas service. Master's International addresses the first goal of the Peace Corps: to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women. Prospective students apply simultaneously to both the Peace Corps and UAF. After completing initial course work and receiving the Peace Corps placement, the participant will travel to his or her site and begin training. Once overseas, an assignment is given according to the needs and requests of the host country. Participating faculty recognize that while overseas, primary responsibilities are the project and community. Rather than determining a research topic in advance, the volunteer assignment will shape the academic requirement. This may be a thesis, professional paper, or other culminating project, under the direction of faculty and with the approval of Peace Corps overseas staff. After completing Peace Corps service, the volunteer returns to finish graduate course work with the advantage of actually having implemented ideas and applied theory in the real world.

Contact: Tony Gasbarro, professor emeritus and UAF campus coordinator of Peace Corps Master’s International Program
Phone: 907.474.7246

Visit the UAF Newsroom for a story about Erin Kelly, Master’s International student

Geography undergraduate degrees

The UA Geography Program is a statewide academic program that provides training and information in the field of geography and related disciplines. The UA Geography Program has expanded the Bachelor of Science Program to offer students more options while pursuing a BS in geography: Landscape Analysis and Climate Change Studies, Geographic Information Science and Technology, and Environmental Studies. These new options were designed to prepare students to understand, live, and work in a dynamic and changing world.

The Environmental Studies option has a strong emphasis on environmental issues, wilderness concepts, and management. It provides the foundation necessary for understanding the natural and social environment, the analysis of environmental issues from an interdisciplinary geographic perspective, a diverse technical and scientific approach to environmental issues, and the ability to find balanced solutions to environmental problems.

The GIS option emphasizes skills and practice in geographic information science, systems, technology, and analytical aspects of geography. Courses in statistics, computer programming, GIS and GPS, and Remote Sensing are integrated with the geography core curriculum and courses in natural sciences.

The Landscape Analysis and Climate Change Studies option integrates and synthesizes courses in geography, climate change, physical and biological sciences, and geographic information sciences and technology. The theme of climate and environmental change and the underlying ‘pattern and process paradigm’ are the unifying threads of this program.

Contact: Katie Kennedy, UA Geography education and outreach coordinator
Phone: 907.474.7494

The UA Geography Program has revised the Bachelor of Arts Program. The geography BA degree provides broad cultural training and background in the liberal arts with an emphasis in the Circumpolar North and Pacific Rim Studies. The BA also provides a geographic perspective based on these regions and prepares students for careers in management, policy, teaching, field-based research, regional planning, and private sector careers. The BA also provides an excellent foundation for advanced studies in a wide range of academic disciplines.

Contact: Katie Kennedy, UA Geography education and outreach coordinator
Phone: 907.474.7494

Monday, October 20, 2008

Student maps invasive weeds on campus

Jessica Guritz, pictured at right, studied weeds on the UAF campus

After spending the summer of 2008 mapping weeds on the UAF campus, senior forestry student Jessica Guritz has helped lay the groundwork for invasive plant management and future monitoring. “It will be important to take action quickly and efficiently, before invasive plants succeed in completely taking over the campus,” Guritz stated.

Guritz worked as a seasonal integrated pest management technician for the Cooperative Extension Service with the purpose of creating a map of key invasive plants on the UAF campus. The project was funded through a USDA Forest Service grant. The maps and data resulting from this project are the first step toward creating a campus invasive plant management plan. The community of Fairbanks, as well as agencies such as the US Forest Service, Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Cooperative Extension Service, are witnessing a growing need for the strategic management of invasive plants. Several invasive plants have been expanding their range at an almost exponential rate and action is needed to save native plant communities, gardens, and roadsides. Before strategic actions can be taken, people must know the locations and numbers of invasive plants within a management area.

The goals of this project were to:
•Create a map, or series of maps, to show the locations and densities of key invasive plants on the UAF campus in a way that is easy to interpret and understand.
•Collect other data such as disturbance type, vegetation classification, and phenology to provide a more comprehensive picture of invasion ecology in interior Alaska.
•Produce a final report summarizing the results of the project and recommendations for controlling invasive and exotic plants on campus.
A team of scientists was consulted to come up with a list of plant species to be mapped based on the plants’ ability to survive the winter, their invasiveness ranking, and whether they would be expected to occur in Fairbanks. The scientists included Jeff Conn of the Agricultural Research Service, Michele Hebert of the Cooperative Extension Service, and Tricia Wrutz of the USDA Forest Service.

Fourteen plant species were selected to be mapped on the campus: annual hawksbeard (Crepis tectorum), bird vetch (Vicia cracca), black bindweed (Polygonum convolvulus), Brittlestem hempnettle (Galeopsis tetrahit), butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris), Canada thistle (Cirisium arvense), common tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), European bird cherry (Prunus padus), oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), perennial sowthistle (Sonchus arvensis), Siberian pea (Caragana arborescens), tansy ragwort (Senecio jacobea), white sweetclover (Melilotus alba), yellow alfalfa (Medicago sativa falcata).

Almost all of the disturbed soils on campus were surveyed for invasive plants. Several areas were avoided due to construction or other barriers. Survey methods involved walking back and forth across a given survey area until the entire area had been visually inspected. Data was taken using a variation of the AKEPIC Field Data Sheet.

Eleven out of the 14 plant species surveyed for were found. The three species not found were Canada thistle, common tansy, and tansy ragwort. 461 polygons were mapped.

Guritz recommends these priorities for volunteer efforts:
• Removing the bird vetch along the UAF trail system
• Working toward eradication of perennial sow thistle, black bindweed, brittlestem hemp nettle, and yellow toadflax
Priorities for landscaping, maintenance, and construction crews include:
• Using weed-free soil, fill, and other materials
• Cleaning equipment to prevent the transfer of invasive plant seeds
• Where soils are disturbed, re-vegetate with native plants
• Control the invasive plants around the Physical Plant
Further reading:
Surveying and Mapping of 14 Invasive and Exotic Plants on the UAF Campus (pdf), by Jessica Guritz
Non-native plant literature and websites
Alaska Committee for Noxious and Invasive Plants Management website
• Alaska Association of Conservation Districts invasive plants website

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Case of the Missing Budworms

Spruce budworm is a caterpillar for most of its life, then briefly a moth which feeds on the buds and young expanding shoots of several boreal conifer species, especially white spruce. Spruce budworm is distributed across Canada and irregularly appeared in marginal numbers in eastern interior Alaska. Until recently, that is.

Budworm numbers erupted (in biology such a population outbreak is an “irruption”) in central Alaska in 1989-1990, 1993, 1995, and for sure in 2006-2007. Across Canada, spruce budworm (OK, let’s call it SBW like the pros) is responsible for 40 percent of the volume of commercial timber killed by all insects and diseases, or at least all that are monitored. So the appearance of SBW is a big deal, and for white spruce, a bad deal.

Why now in Alaska? Surprisingly, it’s not actually one of those mysteries of science. SBW kills so much timber that it’s been studied closely and well. The basic answer is the warmer the weather at critical stages during its development, the faster it develops. This means that during warm years a higher percentage of the class of hatched eggs graduates to the tree-eating and reproductive stages of life before they run out of time and are terminated by the change of seasons. And, of course, with more bugs you get more chewed-up, dead spruce.

Warm Augusts give the SBW first larva stage a head start on their second larva stage. Big deal, you say! Well, yeah, actually. Because when SBW are in the fully developed second larva stage their numbers are not, repeat not, significantly reduced by winter cold no matter how severe.

So, by contrast, cold Augusts won’t let the SBW reach full second larva stage development before the first frost thins the herd. So, after a warm August a warm May/June the next year speeds extra high numbers of the previous year’s SBW class on to reproductive adults. Now you’ve got an “irruption” on your hands.

So, here’s they mystery. August 2007 was fourth warmest in the 104-year Fairbanks record. And if you shook a spruce tree in May or June 2008 in much of central Alaska various SBW larva stages fell out. OK, on track for irruption. But by early July 2008 SBW were hard to find. And you will look long and hard to find a 2008 pupa case that a reproductive adult moth cracked open and flew from.

So what do you think happened?

Also, August 2008 weather in central Alaska - lack of warmth in the daily high temperatures but not particularly cold overall - is really poor budworm weather. So your spruces should get a break in 2009. But a new El Niño in the Pacific may give a boost to Alaska summer 2009 temperatures, so that you shouldn’t count the SBW out for 2010.
post by Glenn Juday
Professor of Forest Ecology
Further reading:
Wikipedia entry on Spruce Budworm
Alaska's Changing Boreal Forest, by Francis Stuart Chapin, et al. 2006. Oxford University Press.
• Alaska Division of Forestry Alaska Forest Health Protection Program
"Spruce Beetles, Budworms, and Climate Warming," by Glenn P. Juday, global glimpses v. 6 n. 1, April 1998. Center for Global Change & Arctic System Research.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

SNRAS grad picked for subsistence post

Craig Fleener, who earned a bachelor of science degree in natural resources management from UAF in 1999, has been named the new director for the state Division of Subsistence. Fleener, 41, was raised in Fort Yukon and has served on the Alaska Board of Game for the past eight months. He is former director of the the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments and has worked as an environmental manager, project coordinator, wildlife biologist, and natural resources director. He has served in the military for more than 21 years and is an intelligence officer in the Alaska Air National Guard. Fleener replaces Elizabeth Andrews who retired in July. As director of the Division of Subsistence, Fleener will oversee a staff of 37 who conduct research about customary and traditional uses of fish and wildlife in Alaska. The research is used by state and federal managers when they set hunting and fishing policy. For his senior thesis at UAF, Fleener researched the reintroduction of wood bison. He continued with graduate studies in resources and the environment (wildlife emphasis) at the University of Calgary in Alberta. His goals in the new job are to create networks and continue the good working relationships with other agencies and divisions such as the National Park Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service. He also intends to maintain and elevate the division's research profile.
Read the Oct. 15, 2008 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article, "Fort Yukon man to lead Division of Subsistence."

For more on Fleener's work with wood bison in Alaska, see also "Biologist hopes to restore the wood bison," by Melissa DeVaughn, Anchorage Daily News,March 6, 2005,

and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article by Stefan Milkowski, "Stevens Village farm part of effort to reintroduce buffalo herds to Alaska,", archived at the website of the Intertribal Bison Cooperative website.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

New scholarship benefits UA Geography

Matthew Balazs,right, a senior in the UA Geography Program, is the first Maxwell Scholar at UAF.
An endowed scholarship has been established for the University of Alaska Geography Program, School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences. The Dr. Earl Maxwell Scholarship was established to support and recognize as “Maxwell Scholars” outstanding University of Alaska Fairbanks undergraduate students majoring in geography. This gift was initially established by Dr. Maxwell, Ann Tremarello’s father, and redefined by Tremarello to highlight his passion for learning, exploration and discovery. Interest generated from the scholarship’s principal will support one to two “Maxwell Scholars” each year. Earlier this semester, Matthew Balazs, a UAF senior geography student, was recognized as the first Maxwell Scholar.

Dr. Earl Maxwell was born in 1904 and graduated from Washington University with an M.D. in 1928. He served his country during World War II as a flight surgeon and ended his military career as a brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force. Dr. Maxwell was responsible for Medical Services in the Pacific Theatre. He served in Alaska from 1953-1956. After he retired from the military, Dr. Maxwell served as director of research at Alcon Laboratories, one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of eye medicine. The lecture hall on the company’s Fort Worth, Texas, campus is named in his honor. Dr. Maxwell passed away in 1988.

The Tremarellos have supported UAF and UAF Athletics for many years and this new scholarship adds to their longstanding commitment to education and excellence. Ann Tremarello graduated from UAF in 1957 and served the university in several leadership positions for 45 years. Ann was recognized in 1984 by the UAF Alumni Association when she was the recipient of the William Cashen award for alumni support. She was honored again in 1999 for outstanding university support by an alumnus. Her husband, Joe Tremarello, is a 1958 and 1968 graduate of UAF and is well known for his leadership and coaching skills on and off the court. Joe is also a UAF Alumni Association alumni achievement award winner, selected in 1991 for his tireless community service. Joe is one of four inaugural inductees into the UAF Nanook Hall of Fame (Sept. 27, 2008).

Mike Sfraga, director of the UA Geography Program, said he is honored the Tremarellos chose this program. “To have an award in Dr. Maxwell’s name is indeed an honor any institution would celebrate,” Sfraga said. “This very generous gift once again demonstrates the Tremarellos’ continued support of UAF, the Fairbanks community and the students we serve.”

Ann Tremarello noted that her father would be “very proud knowing that his legacy and passion for geography and education are well served through the University of Alaska Geography Program.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Mobile lab approved for reindeer research in Nome

A mobile meat processing lab scheduled to arrive at the UAF Northwest Campus in Nome in July 2009 will add an important element to the high latitude range management certificate program. The USDA-funded equipment will support the meat production courses offered at the Northwest Campus. Dr. Greg Finstad, SNRAS assistant professor and manager of the Reindeer Research Program, said the lab will bring together researchers from the University of Alaska and universities across the circumpolar north to engage with students and local residents in the design and conduct of animal production research. “This project exemplifies how local community colleges can engage in partnerships, which encourage economic sustainability through university educational certificates and research that directly applies to local concerns,” he said. Dr. Lee Haugen, director of the Northwest Campus, worked with Finstad to write the grant proposal and was instrumental in developing the curriculum.

With the portable lab, students and researchers will be able to conduct meat science experiments, and the information will be incorporated into training protocols, coursework, published scientific journals, and public information forums. Local applications in animal husbandry and slaughtering techniques are expected to become more responsive to regional needs.

Of the 20,000 reindeer in Alaska, 17,000 are on the Seward Peninsula at Nome. Finstad is excited by the opportunity to prepare Alaska Native students for careers in natural resources management. Ten students are enrolled in the program.

The self-contained lab, which will be able to move from one remote community to another, will make possible on-site USDA inspections of reindeer meat for the first time. Such labs are in use in various locations across the Lower 48, and this one will be winterized to prepare it for the extreme climate. “This lab is a critical link to integrate a local educational platform with animal research,” Finstad said.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Forestry Fest draws a crowd

At right, brave men participate in the log birling event at Ballaine Lake (photo by Todd Paris, UAF Marketing & Communications). Below, UAF student David Spencer hefts an ax toward the target during the 11th annual Forestry Fest on Oct. 4 (SNRAS photo).

Saturday's 11th annual Farthest North Forestry Fest attracted lumberjacks young and old, along with a variety of onlookers.

Winners were: Larsen Hess, bull of the woods; Alice Orlich, belle of the woods; Old Foresters, overall team; Pete Buist and Jason Buist, men's double buck; Alice Orlich and Amy Rath, women's double buck; Kristen Shake and Nelson Crone, Jack & Jill Double Buck; Pete Buist, men's bow saw; Ann Knowlton, women's bow saw; Jesse Hoff, men's ax throw; Ellen Hatch, women's ax throw; Andy Hess and Larsen Hess, men's log rolling; Clarissa Ribbens and Hilary Nichols, women's log rolling; Andy Hess and Yuki Nagasaki, Jack & Jill log rolling; Andy Hess, Larsen Hess, Kyoko Okano, John Smelter, pulp toss; Matt McAnder, men's birling; Alice Orlich, women's birling; Pete Simpson and Pete Buist, fire building.

The event, held each fall to celebrate old-time forestry techniques, is sponsored by SNRAS forestry school and the the Resource Management Society.

Read the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner coverage of the event, "Competition celebrates lumberjacking, old school style".