A look at the history of the Geophysical Institute for it’s 75th anniversary

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 5:48 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -The Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF) will be celebrating its 75th anniversary on Saturday the 21st. The GI was established by the United States Congress in 1946, initially to study the aurora borealis. Chuck Deehr, Professor Emeritus of geophysics and geology, first came to the Geophysical Institute as a graduate student in 1958, and shared stories about the institutes long history.

“Back in 1934, we didn’t have the Geophysical Institute, so it was run out of the physics department. I think it was Veryl Fuller, from the physics department, who received cameras from Norway with the idea to measure the height of the aurora and see if it was the same height here, in Alaska, as it was in Norway, or Europe.” said Deehr.

Veryl Fuller was the University of Alaska’s first scientist to study the aurora, after auroral activity disrupted military communications during World War II.

“That was back in the 30s, and they found the aurora was the same height here as it was in Europe, as measured by the Norwegians. That changed a lot throughout the years as we acquired different sensors. The biggest change that came when I was here was in the middle 60s I think, with a television camera that could photograph the aurora in real time.” said Deehr.

In the 1960s the research done at the institute was expanded to include fields such as volcanology, glaciology, and seismology, and took full advantage of its location in Alaska.

Carl Benson, Professor Emeritus of geophysics and geology described some of the work he’s done at the GI.

“We have a lab here for snow research, that looks at problems that exist in Greenland and Antarctica, but you can study them better here.” said Benson. Chuck Deehr continued . . . “I came in as a student, and Carl came in as a full blown scientist.”

Benson added, “We did our first work on Mount Wrangell in 1961, a little bit in 62, but to really do something that depended on being here in the winter. I decided there were some interesting problems. One that was funded on the ice fog, the question of the cause, the physics, the structure of it.”

The Geophysical Institute has had a long history of scientific progress, and a public celebration event for it’s 75th anniversary will take place from 2 to 6 p.m. on the 21st, at UAF on the lawn in front of the Elvey Building. The event will feature activities and information at booths staffed by the Alaska Satellite Facility, which is also celebrating its 30th anniversary.

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