LANG'S FOSSILS VISITED ALASKA 2005

 

July, 2005
YUKON – ALASKA – ARTIC CIRCLE TRIP
PANNING FOR ARCTIC GOLD, THE MYSTERIOUS ICE WORMS, GLOBAL WARMING AND THE TAGISH LAKE METEORITE

We flew from New York to Vancouver, then traveled three days be sea to Juneau, Alaska, then traveled by bus and train to Skagway, Anchorage, Denali National Park, Mount McKinley, Whitehorse, Fairbanks and other destinations.

The use of small planes is required to get to many of the remote locations. We chartered a private plane and flew across the Arctic Circle, where the sun was still up and shining brightly at midnight. During a series of stops in remote villages, we gave a series of programs on meteorites, where we displayed meteorite samples, gave lectures and encouraged the locals to keep their eyes open for possible finds.

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the site of the Tagish Lake meteorite fall (C2 ungrouped, fell January 18, 2000, British Columbia). The town is named Tagish Lake, and the meteorite actually fell into Kluene Lake. The surrounding area is covered by heavy vegetation, and finding additional specimens is likely impossible. We interviewed a number of eyewitnesses and it was quite an experience talking to the people there who had witnessed "a tremendous fireball which lit up the sky." One eyewitness told me he was sure a neighboring town had been "pulverized by the fireball."

We visited Deneli Park, a giant state park, which is an arid region, getting very little rain annually. The largest wild animals there are caribou and grizzly. About 1200 caribou live within the park, but on the other side of the mountain outside of the park, there are over a million. It was interesting to note that grizzly bears within the state park are about half the size of neighbors who live outside of the park. This is a result of their very restricted diet, they don't get any salmon which is key to making them grow to full size, so they live on berries and rodents.

 

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A much smaller creature we came into contact with was also the most interesting and unique encounter we had. Ice worms are segmented annelids in the same class as common earthworms. They average 2.5 cm length and 0.5 cm in diameter. They feed primarily on red algae which grows on glacier snow packs and possible pollen and grains blown on the snow pack by the wind. Their dark red color is a result of a pigmentation that protects them from the sun's ultra-violet rays. In this frigid environment, heat is the ice worm's deadliest enemy. During the day they burrow into the snow or hide in puddles of melted glacial water to escape the sun's rays, which are deadly to them. In fact, they can only live in a narrow temperature range between about 20 and 40 degrees F. If a human were to pick up one of the worms, it would die instantly. In the winter they dig deep into ice in order to maintain a 32 degree temperature.

The ice worms were first discovered in the 1800s and are found a number of different glacial habitats including blue ice, pools of melt water, slushy snow and even under rocks. I was very flattered when Park Rangers doing research on the ice worms told me I was "just the kind of guy" they were looking for, and I was invited to go up on the glacier with them and carefully collect live specimens for study.

I took time off to go on a fishing expedition (by seaplane) and also put in some time panning for gold. We found some, but not enough to pay for the trip! We also came across small fossil fragments but nothing spectacular, although ice age mammal fossils have been found in the area.

Iris' favorite experiences were whale watching, and shooting rapids in a rubber raft. It was Iris' first time in white water and she went straight in at the deep in with #4 rapids.

On the way home we reflected on something that the Park Rangers had told us. In the last 200 years, the glacier where we saw the ice worms has receded a full fifty miles! And our government says saying global warming isn't a real problem? Think again.

 

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