Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Done with this one

Hi readers! This blog is moving/has been moved to: Additionally I have a photo site at complete with store! Sorry for the inconvenience, but so far I am happier in that location. I'll leave this one up for a while, but all the old posts have been transferred. Come visit. Thanks! Lee

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Happy late Thanksgiving! - and pics from home

We had a good holiday here, friends at the cabin enjoying food and playing games. I hope family and friends all had a good long weekend too. I hear it's been pretty warm back in New England. Temperatures in the 50's and 60's at the end of November is just not cool. Hopefully more snow comes soon. Here in Fairbanks it has been almost exclusively far below 0°F for over 3 weeks. Our road has looked like this since the beginning of October:

Morning light on our road

Thought I'd share a picture of our nice clean home on Thanksgiving morning too.

Home - and Otis

That's Otis trying to figure out what to do with himself. I have three weeks left of classes and finals and then Kate and I are New Hampshire bound for the holidays. It's a little scary since we haven't left Alaska since August 2010. I think this is the longest period of time I've ever spent in one state.

Front deck

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

When the weather outside is . . .

I woke up this morning and went to the outhouse; it was pretty freaking cold outside. Cold and dark. The Sun is only out for a little over six hours today (rise at 9:29 am and sets at 3:41 pm). More importantly, it is cold! Depending on where in town you are it's somewhere between -36 and -42 right now. It doesn't really matter if you're measuring in Celsius of Fahrenheit, since they are about the same at this temperature (exactly at -40).

Last night Jason (bookmark it!) and I witnessed a really cool display of light pillars, something that the friends and family that refuse to come here in winter will never see. We took a few pictures. I suffered slight frostbite on my right hand as I was trying to rest my camera against Jason's metal roof rack on his car. I liked what he said: "you can't complain about the cold until it's dangerous; it's dangerous now".

Light Pillars over FairbanksThis picture was taken from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks up on the hill near the entrance to the ski trails. The optical effect here is called a light pillar caused by reflection off of planar (horizontal) ice in the air. This usually only happens when it's cold and the air is calm. This night it almost made it to 40 below at the airport (the green lights in the center/right.

airpot pillars


We also get really good sundogs and light pillars on the Sun when it's cold:

fairbanks sundog hdr

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ode to the cold

It's cold! Cold is here! It is -14° F right now as I'm writing this; two degrees less than when I woke up this morning. Since the beginning of October we have slowly crept up to about 10 inches of snow, the temperature hasn't gone above freezing for almost a month, and we now have 40 below in the immediate forecast. In fact, there is not one day in the week forecast above 0° F. Hooray!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy November

Sorry it has been a while since my last post. Work and school have been busier than ever. I hope that in a couple weeks it will start to slack off a bit, since I'll be mostly done with one of my classes for the semester. Besides work, not much has been happening, so you're not missing anything by my lack of posts. Here is the biggest update in picture form:

November 1 Drive to Work

Over the month of October, Fairbanks has become cold and dark. I took this today when Kate was driving me to work at 8 am. We have had some snow for about three weeks, but desperately need some more for skiing. I got cross country skis last week.

We had some fantastic, albeit brief, aurora last night. A little before midnight I stepped outside and was treated to this view of the sky just on the porch of our cabin:

The whole sky

Aurora borealis

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Aurora time lapse

It's not great quality, but here's a short time-lapse I made last night when the aurora was out. It was a nice little show, not fantastic, but nice. It was kind of cool because it was partly cloudy and the clouds were moving too. This view is from our driveway.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Blue, white, and yellow

After 2.5 days of working on Classical Mechanics homework, then half a day of grading, Jason made me go out and take pictures of things. It was really a nice day, and its been almost three since I've really gone outside, so it was nice. The weather has been getting chilly here. We had our second serious frost this morning and I think we are seeing the last of the autumn leaves. It's good to take a break.

New climbing wall
Here's the new climbing wall on campus. It's outside. I guess it will be an ice climbing wall in the winter.

Hill to the museumThe Museum of the North from lower on the hill.

Last of the leavesThere's still a bit of gorgeous foliage on the trees.

Fairbanks Shakespeare TheatreThe Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre should be winding down now since the snow will be here soon. The building in the background is where I work.

Fingers crossed

Let's have a clear night tonight! From
GEOMAGNETIC STORM: A strong-to-severe geomagnetic storm is in progress following the impact of a coronal mass ejection (CME) at approximately 12:15 UT on Sept. 26th. The Goddard Space Weather Lab reports a "strong compression of Earth's magnetosphere. Simulations indicate that solar wind plasma [has penetrated] close to geosynchronous orbit starting at 13:00UT." Geosynchronous satellites could therefore be directly exposed to solar wind plasma and magnetic fields. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for Northern and Southern Lights after nightfall. Aurora alerts: text, voice.

Planetary K-index
Now: Kp= 8 severe
24-hr max: Kp= 8 severe

(The K-index is out of 9)

Sadly we may not get to see much in Fairbanks, but the lower 48 should get a show. Typically when the K index is real high we get more diffuse aurora and only short bursts of the good stuff. We'll see what happens!


Here's the latest statistical map from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. The more in the darker the green band you are, the better chance you have to see it. So northern U.S. watch out!

You can check the latest forecast here: Aurora Forecast

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ode to Aurora

Yesterday was exciting because NPR did an equinox post on their picture show and used some of my aurora photos. Here's a link to the post:
NPR: Auroras on Autumnal Equinox

The title is a little misleading since two of the three photos were from the August 29th storm and one was from earlier this month, not really on the equinox. It's a fun post anyway. Here's a bunch more photos I've taken in Fairbanks:

Also, this video from the International Space Station has been making its way around the internet, but if you haven't seen it yet you need to. If you have seen it, you should probably watch it again.

Time-lapse courtesy of NASA.
This gorgeous view of the aurora was taken from the International Space Station as it crossed over the southern Indian Ocean on September 17, 2011. The time-laps made from still images spans the time period from 12:22 to 12:45 PM ET.

While aurora are often seen near the poles, this aurora appeared at lower latitudes due to a geomagnetic storm – the insertion of energy into Earth's magnetic environment called the magnetosphere – caused by a coronal mass ejection from the sun that erupted on September 14. The storm was a moderate one, rated with what's called a KP index of 6 on a scale that goes from 0 to 9, caused by just a glancing blow from the CME. As particles from the incoming CME moved into the magnetosphere they traveled around to the back side -- or night side, since it is on the opposite side from the sun -- of Earth and then funneled down onto Earth's poles and even lower. As the particles bombarded oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere, the atoms released a photon of light that we see as the beautiful colors of the aurora.

Credit: NASA

Thanks for sharing!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Almost gone
The leaves around the house are almost totally gone!

It is here again, the autumnal equinox. The equinox officially occurs on September 23 at 9:04 am UTC. As it passes us by, normal length days begin to fade away as well. Nobody can stop it from happening. For us this means that winter will be here within weeks. It is a solemn occasion since summer is so brief here, but there is a hidden excitement for winter too. Fairbanks is pretty when it is covered in snow and the aurora shows up almost every clear night. Also, skiing and snowshoeing can happen. Many more areas become accessible by foot in the winter months . . . because Alaska is a giant swamp.
Smith Lake
I took a walk to Smith Lake yesterday with some friends. It was pretty nice, but I left with sopping wet shoes.

Our autumn really ends around the first or second week of autumn if you define the winter as beginning once snow is on the ground. We once again had temperatures above average for late summer which has been really nice. The forecast for the week is telling us to get ready though; one more day in the sixties, a few days of fifties then the highs are in the forties. I'll bet we won't see 60°F again until April or May. Snow showers are already in the forecast in the coming days. It won't stick at all, but things are going to start freezing.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Oops, we went to Denali again

It's getting harder to stay away because the park is so incredibly awesome. Of course, September is here which means its full on fall foliage season for most of the interior of Alaska. Some places we've been to are already past peak. Luckily the park encompasses a lot of different climate zones, so you don't have to go far to find the fall colors.

It's autumn again
Alaska is pretty
These shots are from the start of the Park Road near the park entrance. The valleys are filled with yellow and orange.

We drove into the park to the Savage River, stopping a few times along the way once the landscape became red.


A walk (and a nap) along the Savage river proved to be a relaxing way to spend the early afternoon. The river is gorgeous, the walking is easy, and the landscape is breathtaking. I could easily just take my time and just walk forever here.
Savage Landscape
Savage River Basin
The Savage River basin and surrounding peaks.

I also took a walk up the Rock Trail and the Alpine trail, also in the Savage River area. A little higher up the foliage was at peak again. Pretty, pretty, pretty.
The Park Road at Savage River
Bull moose likes the fall foliage
The only wildlife I saw were two moose. I was way too far away to get any good shots of this big guy, but he makes a pretty good dot in the yellow and red textures.

Of course, I took a lot of pictures and don't have the time to post all of them now, but I will post updates over the next few days. Classwork and teaching are starting to take over again and soon winter will be here. At least it's aurora season!

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Stovetop, a photo by Lee Petersen on Flickr.

This is the stove inside the home of Fannie Quigley in Kantishna, Alaska, a town encompassed by Denali National Park. A good glimpse into her life can be read in her Blueberry Pie recipe:

"First, in early August pick five gallons of blueberries as they ripen on the hillside in back of your mining claim. 
Before the creeks run dry in the summer, pan some gold out of your claim.

Then, in early fall shoot a good fat bear. Skin the bear, and butcher it. Haul it, one quarter at a time, in your backpack to your cabin.

When the first snows come to the hills, hitch up the dogs and mush fifteen miles down the valley for firewood. Haul ten or fifteen cords to keep the woodstove going in the cabin for the winter.

Using a large iron kettle and the wood you've hauled, render the bear fat into lard.

Hitch up the dogs again and mush 125 miles to Nenana. Trade some of your gold dust for 100 pounds of flour and 50 pounds of sugar. Load it onto your sled and mush home. Be sure to avoid the overflow on the Toklat River so the flour doesn't get wet.

Use the bear fat lard and the flour to bake a dozen flaky pie crusts in the oven of your wood cookstove. Keep the stove stoked with good dry wood to maintain a high temperature.

Mix the blueberries with some sugar, and add enough flour to bind up the juices. Put the filling into the crusts and bake. Don't let the fire in the stove get too hot, or the pies will burn.

Cool the pies, then store them frozen in the permafrost mining tunnel behind the cabin.

When company comes, go out and get a pie out of the tunnel. It will taste as good as fresh and astonish your guests."

I went back to post this after reading an article in the newsminer about an Alaskan woman who punched a bear in the face when it tried to take her dog. Alaskan women are tough.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wandering through the Alaska Range

Fall Foliage

Jason and I took off for the mountains south of Delta, part of the eastern Alaska Range on Friday. My guidebook, Outside in the Interior: An Adventure Guide for Central Alaska
describes the hiking in the area as "limited only by your imagination". I'm quickly discovering that this is really the only way to describe most backcountry travel in this state. I think we both expected more of a "trail" here, but after searching for and failing to find an elusive cairn described by the book we just took off in an upward direction.

A great day and night

Fairbanks has been having absolutely perfect weather the last few days: 65 and sunny. On Sunday a few clouds scattered the sky, it was totally gorgeous and the air felt awesome.

Kate and I went for a walk in Creamer's Field. The cranes are still flying around practicing their oh-so-awkward landings. Also, there is a dead moose carcass there, although now it is mostly bones.
Cranes Landing
Three sandhill cranes land awkwardly at Creamer's Field. For such pretty birds they lack a little grace on the landings.

Moose Remains
Moose carcass; not decayed enough to not stink yet.

When night finally came (it actually is getting dark again) the sky became perfectly clear and you'll never guess what happened next -


We saw the aurora again! It was a stupidly ridiculous display too. Imagine, I had to sit outside on a beautifully clear night watching and taking pictures of this for an hour:

The Aurora Has Returned


Twisty Blob

Heavenly Aurora

Of course there's more:

Bright Lights Green Ribbon in the Sky Shields are up Eerie Loop Aurora

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Yesterday I walked a lot. I walked to campus from home (about 5 miles) since Kate got called to babysit at 1:30 in the morning and had to take the car. It was a gorgeous morning and the air felt great.

Calm morning on Ballaine Lake
Ballaine Lake on another beautiful day in Fairbanks.

I've been walking and running pretty frequently lately since I decided I'm going to "run" (walk) the equinox marathon on September 17th. It's kind of like a normal marathon, only with a 2000 foot climb up Ester Dome. There is ten hours to finish from the start of the race until the finish line is closed, so I hope I can do it in under 10 hours.

Anyway, later in the afternoon I saw a facebook post from the Alaska Bird Observatory that said, "On the refuge today: 2520 Sandhill Cranes, 1405 Canada Geese, 12 White-fronted Geese, 350 ducks!! A great day for a walk!". So naturally Jason and I took off to walk around and take some pictures. Joe came with us and another TA from last year, Robin was there too. We took a walk around the Boreal Trail and I took more pictures of leaves and mushrooms than I did of birds. It was a pretty nice day.

Crane with youngsters
Sandhill Crane family at Creamer's field.

Mushroom Stack
Mushroom stack on a tree at Creamer's Field. There are lots of mushrooms all over Alaska this time of year.

Surface Tension
Very still water with some film on the surface with fallen birch leaves disrupting the surface. So far the changing seasons in Fairbanks has been very pretty, with nice weather.

A little bit of yellow in a tan world
Fallen, yellow birch leaf rests on mushrooms off the Boreal Trail.