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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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