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Celebrating 75 years of growth and scientific achievement at the Geophysical Institute

Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 7:03 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Geophysical Institute (GI) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is a a long time pillar of the scientific community in the arctic, and it is approaching its 75th anniversary.

Bob McCoy, Director of the Geophysical Institute discussed the institutions accomplishments and it’s future in Alaska, saying “The Geophysical Institute was created by congress in 1946, right at the end of World War II, mainly because of issues with high frequency communications in the arctic because of the Aurora. Since then we’ve grown a lot. Researchers here are very lucky. We live in this incredible natural laboratory. There’s so much phenomena that’s fascinating to study here in Alaska.”

Unique arctic phenomena studied by the GI include 54 active volcanos which undergo an eruption approximately every 3 months, and McCoy said the GI earthquake center counted 50,000 earthquakes in Alaska last year. “So to geophysical institute researchers, Alaska’s just a big laboratory - and there’s a lot of interest in the arctic. The arctic is warming at twice the rate as the rest of the planet, the sea ice is receding, shipping lanes are opening up, permafrost is thawing and subsiding, so it’s a fascinating time. We have so many advantages up here.”

The economic influx brought about by the work of the Geophysical Institute is also significant, according to McCoy. “I mean, just in terms of dollars alone, somewhere close to $50 million flows into Fairbanks and into Alaska. I used to put that in terms that people in Fairbanks can relate to - that’s sort of like another F-16 squadron. I’ve had discussions with the wing commander at Eielson and he agrees that we’re, economically, in some ways like an F-16 squadron here in Fairbanks.”

The Geophysical Institute has grown significantly since 1946. In the last few years they have added added an unmanned aircraft program, and have become the newest university-affiliated research center for the Department of Defense.

“We study a lot of Alaska’s problems as permafrost’s thawing, the weather, a lot of our faculty run committees [are] helping with air pollution, and we monitor the volcanos and earthquakes to provide alerts and warnings. So we’re really integrated well into Alaska,” McCoy said.

Geophysical Institute research has also spun off into new businesses, and soon their unmanned aircraft program will aid industry partners in shipping cargo and medical supplies to remote villages throughout the state.

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