Wednesday, May 4, 2016

May 4th, 2016: Day 9
Today we went to the Wynn Nature Center, Islands and Oceans, and the Pratt Museum.
We reviewed some topics and learned about others! Topics we reviewed included the four types of spruce, especially the Lutz Spruce, the Spruce Bark Beetle, lichens, Pushkee (cow parsnip), and the Willow's role in a common Alaskan moose diet.

Topics that were new included the purpose of Animal Corridors, varying flora and fauna, and Alaskan history. Animal corridors are paths that multiple species utilize for food and water sources, regardless of their position in the food chain. Willow roses are structures in which nymphs lay eggs in the willow. The wasps in the area are aware of this process and consequently lay their eggs within the nymph. The nymph then serves as a food source for the developing wasp eggs. The birds we learned about were the white-eyed Junco, Stellar Jay, and Wilson's Snipe. We were introduced to these birds' calls and appearances. We learned that Black Spruce trees prefer acidic soil and that Alder trees are flexible. This flexibility makes them stronger against soil disturbances and thus an important tree in mountainside environments that are prone to avalanches. Spruces frequently grow out of other fallen spruces, called "nursery logs," and provide food sources to many animals in the forest community. Snowshoe hares eat the spruce needles, squirrels eat the cones, and many other woodland creatures eat the bark. Although the moose do not typically eat the spruce, they do eat the willow during the winter months. This causes their scat to essentially be pelleted sawdust during January and February. This period of willow eating also serves as a beneficial pruning to the willows.

As a review, Alaska officially gained statehood in 1959. Due to this later time, it's Homestead Act ended in 1989, or the same year as the Exxon oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The Homestead Act (reminder of everyone's US History class) encouraged individuals to come to an area of land and maintain 140 acres of land. The land was free if maintained for five years with a settlement on it. This encouraged many people in post-WWII to venture up to Alaska. Who wouldn't want to with these gorgeous views?! (and cold winters, harsh growing seasons, and unpredictable seasons)

At the second location, we learned that Spruce Aphids are another source of mortality in spruce. Unlike the beetles, the aphids destroy the spruce through the needles (captured below, top). Near the estuary, we encountered many new species of organisms. Yaro, a common grass-like plant, serves as a natural blood coagulant. Within the estuary, the bacteria, if properly functioning, produced an oily substance that floated atop the water. There were high concentrations of iron in the water which caused the water to have a ruddy-brown tone (captured below, bottom).

At the third location, the Pratt Museum, the class learned about Alaskan history and animal life. The Native groups to the Kachemak Bay region are the Alutiq and Dena'ina, which are also two of the four languages spoken in the area, with English and Russian being the others. Tools that were used by the indigenous people to hunt, especially in hunting seals for their nutrient rich blubber, included the quiver, the seal spear, and the throwing board.

Also at the Pratt Museum we were introduced to the severity of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that harmed the ecosystems and economies of Americans everywhere. Duh duh duhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. The oil spill was caused by the Exxon Valdez ship wrecking onto the coast of the Prince William Sound bay, 25 miles south of Bligh Reef, causing 11 million gallons of oil to pour out of the ship. Clean up crews responded slowly and no one wanted to take responsibility to restore the waters, causing only 4% of the spill to have been cleaned after multiple weeks. Decades later, approximately 20 acres of land are still directly impacted by the spill and 58% of the 91 original sites still have oil present. Captain Hazelwood, who was in charge of the ship when the wreck occurred, was found guilty of drunk driving soon after the spill, although he appealed the case. Exxon never truly took responsibility for the mishap. While the event was extremely unfortunate, it prepared the world for other oil spills and how to best approach them.

Thanks a bunch for coming along on our exciting and splendiferous journey.
This is Katie and Mallori, signing out. TTFN <3

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