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Alaska Monitoring network gathers data from remote regions

Published: Nov. 25, 2020 at 4:15 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - A new University of Alaska Fairbanks project will make it possible for scientists to better track phenomena in Alaska ranging from earthquakes and wildfires to permafrost and sea ice.

Michael West director of the Alaska Earthquake Center told us about the nature of the project, beginning by saying “But to be honest there’s a very real kind of exciting, very exciting exploration side to this. We’ll see what we find.”

Led by the Alaska Earthquake Center, the Alaska Climate Research Center and investigators from the Geophysical Institute, 45 multi-instrument stations were installed in remote locations across northern and western Alaska. “We took over ownership and operation of these stations from the National Science Foundation. They had been intended as a very temporary research project in Alaska, and we saw a lot of long term benefit that could come from it,” said West.

These stations were originally scheduled for removal in 2020-2021, but with a $6.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation, they will now become part of Alaska’s permanent monitoring network.

“The most impressive part of them I think is just the ability to have a remote power system -- to have live communications, via a satellite uplink into places where traditionally we haven’t been able to get instrumentation,” said West.

The real-time observations from these stations can help track earthquakes and landslides, detect permafrost changes, monitor sea ice, measure the aurora borealis, and forecast the behavior of wildfires and weather across the north slope.

West showed us examples of weather stations, infrasound sensors that are capable of tracking volcanic eruptions, “And soil temperature probes, down into the ground to measure the progressive thaw of permafrost and the warming of the ground.”

This monitoring network will be collecting information on regions of the state never before measured in such detail, “Because the sensors are in some of the more difficult places to reach in Alaska, in northwestern Alaska and throughout. There’s a bit of exploration in this. There’s a bit of not quite knowing what we’ll find. Up until a couple of years ago we never had meaningful seismic records from north of the Brooks Range. Now that we do, we’re starting to understand and see the patterns of where there are earthquakes, [and] where there aren’t -- and I expect the same thing to happen with the weather instrumentation and the other kinds of sensors out there,” said West.

Monitor network data collected by the Alaska Earthquake Center is made freely available to individuals and institutions.

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