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Animals the size of Labrador retrievers are changing the face of Alaska, creating new ponds visible from space. “These guys leave a mark,” University of Alaska Fairbanks ecologist Ken Tape said of North America’s largest rodents, beavers.

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On a morning with biting air in the single digits Fahrenheit, this river smells like sulfur and is splashy and loud. Bald eagles and ravens swoop in the updraft of a nearby rock bluff in what looks like play. In early November, a time when shadows lengthen and deep cold hardens the landscape, chum salmon have returned to spawn in the lower Delta River.

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Given that a small Weddell seal can weigh 850 pounds, Roxanne Beltran didn’t mind carrying a fabric model of one filled with 25 pounds of cotton stuffing. The University of Alaska Fairbanks doctoral student toted the hand-sewn prop — named Patches — to many elementary schools in Alaska. She fielded hundreds of questions about her research on the Antarctic seals. Now she has written a book to answer those questions.

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A few Alaska researchers recently accepted a surprise assignment of giving Jerry Brown a tour of the Seward Peninsula. The California governor was stopping in Nome on his way to a meeting in Russia. The 79-year-old environmentalist and leader of a state that resembles a progressive nation wanted to learn why the far north matters. He had never been to the Arctic or Alaska before.

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There was something different about Betye Arrastia-Nowak. Her parents were sure of it. Just a week and a half prior, the rising high school junior boarded her first plane. She flew from upstate New York to Alaska, nervous about meeting a new group of people and then traveling with them on a wilderness expedition into Alaska’s fjords.

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In the early 1990s, Janet Collins was hiking in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge when she saw “Camp 163” labeled on her map. Intrigued, she later looked up Camp 163 in Donald Orth’s Dictionary of Alaska Place Names. Her curiosity led her to Ernest Leffingwell, the subject of a biography she has written and Washington State University Press just published.

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