Science for Alaska Lecture Series

Science for Alaska is one of the largest public outreach efforts undertaken each year by the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The series brings current scientific research to communities throughout the state and serves as a method of collaboration between each major campus of the University of Alaska system, state and federal agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Each year, administrators, faculty, staff and the public weigh-in on possibilities for speakers and topics to be included in the popular lecture series. The result is a well-rounded event that pools expertise from scientists studying in various locales in Alaska, on topics as diverse as alternative energy to walruses.

Science for Alaska is an enormous project that requires months of planning and preparation. The Fairbanks lecture program is coordinated by the Public Relations Office at the Geophysical Institute.

Science for Alaska has grown tremendously since its inception in the early 1990s. Today, lectures are offered in Fairbanks and online, as well as on DVDs that are accessible through the Alaska library system.

Video recordings of the Science for Alaska Lecture Series from Fairbanks can be accessed through this site. To view lectures, click on a particular year (found in the menu to the right).

Science for Alaska is funded by the Triplehorn family, Lifewater Engineering and Class 5 Boatworks, Alaska EPSCoR and the UAF Geophysical Institute.

For information about the 2018 lectures visit the 2018 lectures site.

For more information about the Science for Alaska Lecture Series, please contact the Geophysical Institute Public Relations Office at 907-474-7185, or email

2018 Lectures

The 2018 Science for Alaska Lecture Series will happen on Tuesdays, January 30 through March 6, at 7p.m.

The 2018 lectures will be held at the Raven Landing Center, 1222 Cowles Street, across from the Noel Wein Public Library.

January 30 - Tundra be dammed: Beaver colonization of the Arctic

Ken Tape, Research Associate Professor, UAF Institute of Northern Engineering 

Increasing air temperatures are changing the arctic tundra. Permafrost is thawing, snow duration is decreasing, shrubs are proliferating, and beavers are colonizing the tundra of northwest Alaska. Beaver ponds are warming stream water and thawing permafrost, while impacts to fish and stream biology are unknown. Beavers create dynamic wetlands and are agents of disturbance that appear to be enhancing the ecological responses to warming in the Arctic. In this talk, I will discuss patterns of tundra beaver colonization and consider how this ecosystem engineer might reshape stream and riparian ecosystems.




February 6 - Continuity and change: A century of Alaska weather and climate

Rick Thoman, Climate Science and Services Manager, National Weather Service Alaska Region

Systematic weather and climate observations started much later in Alaska than in the Lower 48. However, thanks to four generations of dedicated professional and volunteer observers we have a robust weather and climate record that extends beyond living memory. The story from this century of records is a fascinating tale of both change and continuity. On the North Slope, autumns are warming so fast that computers monitoring temperatures thought the measurements were unreal and excluded the data from their reports. While growing seasons are lengthening in many areas, in some places there is no trend. Today dramatic weather events make national headlines, but high-impact weather has always been a regular part of Alaskans’ lives. In this talk, we'll take a stroll through the past and come away with a sense of what's different and what's similar today, and how this might help us plan for Alaska's future.


February 13 - The Chicxulub impact and the dawn of a new era

Michael T. Whalen, Professor of Geology, UAF-GI

Sixty-six million years ago, an asteroid a little larger in diameter than downtown Fairbanks smashed into the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. This caused one of the greatest upheavals recorded in Earth history, the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. The impact led to the loss of 75 percent of all species on Earth, including the most charismatic of megafauna, the dinosaurs. In May 2016, the International Ocean Discovery Program/ International Continental Drilling Program recovered a new core from the impact crater, Chicxulub (Cheek-zoo-lube), created by the asteroid. In this talk, we will explore the ways that the impact event affected the Earth’s crust to produce a 125-mile-wide crater with a circular ring of mountains around its center. We’ll also investigate the types of deposits left by the impact and subsequent tsunami that reverberated around the Gulf of Mexico and the evidence for recovery of life in the crater. The Chicxulub impact marks the dawn of a new geologic Era as the giants of the Mesozoic fell, making way for the rise of mammals in the Cenozoic.


February 20 - How shrinking glaciers are affecting Alaska's coastal ecosystems

Eran Hood, Professor of Environmental Science, UAS

Alaska’s glaciers are losing mass at some of the highest rates on Earth. These changes in glacier volume influence glacier meltwater release, which has a variety of downstream impacts including modifying the temperature of coastal streams as well as nutrient and light availability in estuary ecosystems. Glacier recession is also expected to influence marine ecosystem productivity in areas where tidewater glaciers are being lost from highly productive glacial fjords. Given current rates of glacier change in Alaska, it is critical to improve our understanding of the linkages between icefields and downstream freshwater and marine ecosystems. This talk will explore how changes in glacier volume will affect the physical and ecological properties of rivers and estuaries along the Gulf of Alaska that support a wide variety of culturally and commercially relevant species including Pacific salmon.


February 27 - Exploring the final frontier from the last frontier

Richard Collins, Chief Scientist for the Poker Flat Research Range, Professor of Atmopsheric Science, UAF-GI


Perched at Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska, the Last Frontier, scientists have been studying space, the Final Frontier, for nearly 50 years. These studies have allowed researchers to explore how processes launched from both the Sun and Earth impact our space environment. This talk will look at how scientists have and continue to use rockets at Poker Flat Research Range to conduct their work and better understand these connections between space and our environment. The talk will highlight recent scientific discoveries and the payloads that made them possible.



March 6 - Alaska puts the Remote in Remote Sensing

Nettie La Belle-Hamer, Deputy Director, UAF-GI, Director, Alaska Satellite Facility 

Last spring many people watched with interest as the iconic, big, blue antenna on top of the University Alaska Fairbanks Elvey building was dismantled and a new, bigger, bluer dish was assembled in its place. Another large dish in the woods on North Campus was joined by a nearly identical one in 2013. At the same time, the Alaska Satellite Facility added two new antennas along the Richardson Highway. As we prepare to build two additional larger, more capable, antennas for NASA and install many antennas for small satellites, curiosity in the community is building. Why is NASA so interested in Alaska? Why so many antennas and why here? Part of the answer can be borrowed from your friendly neighborhood real estate broker: location, location, location. But location is not enough. To hear the rest of the story, join me for a look at remote sensing in Alaska, the Arctic and beyond.



Brought to you by the Triplehorn family, Alaska EPSCoR, Lifewater Engineering Company and Class 5 Boatworks and University of Alaska Fairbanks.  

2017 Lectures

The 2017 Science for Alaska Lecture Series will run on Tuesdays, January 31 through March 7, at 7p.m. 

The 2017 lectures will be held in a new location, the Raven Landing Center, 1222 Cowles Street, across from the Noel Wein Public Library. 


January 31 - The almost forgotten earthquake of the Alaska Gold Rush

Carl Tape, Associate Professor, UAF-GI

On August 27, 1904, seismic stations from around the globe recorded a magnitude 7.3 earthquake originating from central Alaska. The earthquake occurred near the peak of the Gold Rush along the Yukon and Tanana rivers, yet there were---until now---no known written accounts of shaking from the earthquake. I will present five newly discovered accounts of shaking from this earthquake, spanning from St. Michael in western Alaska to Fairbanks and from the Kenai peninsula to Coldfoot. I will discuss the implications of the 1904 earthquake for major faults and seismic hazards in central Alaska.

February 7- How do we adapt to Alaska's changing environment?

Anupma Prakash, Director, Alaska EPSCoR, UAF-GI

In this talk, I will present findings and lessons learned from Alaska EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research), which is concluding a five-year project to study the ways Alaskan communities can adapt to changes to the environment. EPSCoR researchers combine biological, physical and social science approaches to address research questions built on input from Alaska residents across the state. This includes studies into the impacts of oil development and permafrost thaw on a North Slope village; the methods that Juneau land managers and tourism businesses use to respond to glacial recession; and future scenarios of salmon abundance and use on the Kenai Peninsula. These regional research efforts contribute to larger EPSCoR efforts to quantify the difference between environmental change as measured by instruments and as experienced by humans.




February 14 - Volcanic gases: Messages from a volcano’s interior

Taryn Lopez, Research Assistant Professor, UAF-GI

Gases released from a volcano provide unique insights into a volcano’s interior and are critical for volcano monitoring. The amount of gas released from a volcano is related to the quantity of magma in the crust. The composition of the gases allows scientists to distinguish magmatic from hydrothermal gases and to estimate the depth of degassing magma. These clues into a volcano’s interior are key factors used to help forecast the timing and explosivity of impending eruptions. Alaska is home to 52 historically active volcanoes, over half of which are persistently degassing. This talk will explore the ways in which volcanic gases are used to monitor volcanoes and forecast eruptions, illustrate the challenges in collecting and interpreting these measurements, and provide examples of how these results have been used to understand the plumbing systems of Alaska’s volcanoes.




February 21 - How changes in permafrost will affect our lives

Vladimir Romanovsky, Professor, UAF-GI

The impact of climate warming on permafrost and the potential of climate feedbacks resulting from permafrost thawing have recently received a great deal of attention. Ground temperatures are a primary indicator of permafrost stability. Most of the permafrost observatories in the Northern Hemisphere show substantial warming of permafrost since circa 1980-1990. Permafrost is already thawing within the southern part of the permafrost domain. Projections of future changes in permafrost suggest that by the end of the 21st century, permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere may be actively thawing within a wide area. Various phenomena related to permafrost degradation are already commonly observed, including increased rates of coastal and river bank erosion, increased occurrences of retrogressive thaw slumps and active layer detachment slides, and drying of tundra lakes. The combination of thawing permafrost and erosion is damaging community infrastructure such as buildings, roads, airports, pipelines, water and sanitation facilities, and communication systems. In some severe instances, permafrost thaw and related coastal erosion are forcing the relocation of entire communities. Climate feedbacks from degrading permafrost are expected due to the release of organic carbon and transfer of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere. Disturbances of high latitude permafrost regions, such as wildfires and thermokarst, are assumed to be accelerating both in frequency and intensity with adverse but poorly quantified effects on permafrost. Also of concern are the potential impacts from damaged oil and gas pipelines as a direct impact from the degrading and thawing permafrost in the Arctic regions. To mitigate these possible impacts, an accurate and timely forecast of changes in permafrost should be established. Despite our accumulating knowledge of changing permafrost, future permafrost dynamics and its impacts remain poorly quantified on the local scales. To make progress, disciplines must team together to understand and to predict the patterns, processes, and consequences of permafrost thaw to the earth natural systems and to foresee their societal impacts.




February 28 - Exploring the limits of the solar system: NASA’s missions to Jupiter and Pluto

Peter Delamere, Professor, UAF-GI

Jupiter and Pluto are planets of extremes. Jupiter is the biggest gas giant planet and Pluto is the smallest icy dwarf planet. Even their namesakes span the limits of mythology from god of the sky (Jupiter/Jove) to ruler of the underworld (Pluto/Hades). NASA’s two most recent missions to the outer solar system are New Horizons (Jupiter/Pluto) and Juno (Jupiter). New Horizons flew by Jupiter nearly 10 years ago and flew past Pluto in the summer of 2015, returning fantastic images of this diminutive icy world. Juno went into a polar orbit around Jupiter just this past summer and is currently executing a series of 53-day orbits. Juno is measuring thermal emissions from Jupiter, giving scientists insight into its internal structure and providing the highest resolution images ever of the aurora. We will discuss some of the fascinating discoveries and the very latest results from these missions, ranging from Pluto’s ice mountains that are as big as the Alaska Range to Jupiter’s dynamic and multi-faceted aurorae.




March 7 - Glaciers: The biggest losers

Andy Aschwanden, Research Assistant Professor, UAF-GI

It took hundreds of thousands of years to build up the glaciers covering the Earth's poles, slowly turning snow accumulation into ice. With temperatures on the rise everywhere, glaciers in Alaska and around the world are responding to this warming by melting away. Here we will tell the tale of glaciers from their formation when the world was a colder place to their eventual demise if temperatures keep rising. We will learn why glaciers that end in the ocean are particularly vulnerable to higher ocean temperatures and why we care so much about the future of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet even though it is so far from Alaska.










2016 Lectures

The 2016 Science for Alaska Lecture Series will run on Tuesdays, January 19 through February 23, with a bonus lecture on March 17.


Bonus Lecture: Thursday, March 17

Wedgewood Resort Borealis Ballroom

Coastal bathtub rings: What ancient shorelines tell us about future sea level rise

Julie Brigham-Grette, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Glacial and interglacial change during the ice ages uniquely imposed on the Bering Strait region some of the most radical changes in sea level and paleogeography documented in the Northern Hemisphere. The Bering Land Bridge is a landscape that existed because of glaciation, exposing the shallow parts of the Bering and Chukchi seas.  Following the transition from a forested Arctic 3 million years ago to the first major glaciation of the northern hemisphere about 2.6 million years ago, coastal marine deposits found along the coasts of Alaska and Chukotka record a number of critical transitions in the evolution of Northern Hemisphere climate.  Ancient shorelines, or bathrub rings, record not only natural global warming but also the northward migration of marine ecosystems and changes in the extent of sea ice along Alaska’s shores. Changes in Beringian shorelines likely influenced the migration of man into North America. New research helps us understand the rate and timing of the last submergence of the Bering Strait, 12,000 years ago, and how ongoing sea level rise will likely cause changes in the shorelines we live along today.


January 19 - What do nano-technology, brain and border patrol have in common?

Martin Cenek, Assistant Professor, UAA

Climate change significantly effects vast regions of the sensitive arctic landscape. As a result, previously inaccessible locations will open up for commerce, research, natural resource exploration and recreation, with an increase of human traffic and environmental impact.  The ability to monitor the changes is vital for environmental monitoring, resource management, disaster response and patterns of use. The arctic region’s vast size, harsh environmental conditions, lack of reliable power and sparse communication infrastructure requires alternative means of survey and monitoring tools: cheap, redundant, decentralized, distributed and asynchronous. This talk will present a conceptual design of sensor networks that are inspired by the neuro-physiology of the human brain for event sensing in vast remote regions.

Martin Cenek is a computer science researcher and educator interested in a broad range of topics that include complex systems, cognition, artificial intelligence and artificial life, networks, machine learning, evolutionary computations and biologically inspired machines and computations. He received a PhD in computer science from Portland State University in artificial intelligence and complex systems. With his advisor Dr. Melanie Mitchell, he studied how to model of complex system processes information in order to solve a given problem. He's an avid outdoorsman.





January 26 - Drawing girls to science through art


Laura Conner, Research Assistant Professor, UAF-GI

Despite huge advances in the last few decades, women are still underrepresented in many science fields. For instance, only about 15 percent of engineers are female, and only 12 percent of physicists and astronomers are female. A leading cause of this disparity is a lack of interest in, and identification with, science among girls. Starting about middle school, girls tend to view science as rote, passionless, uncreative and not relevant to their interests. Our project is documenting how an educational approach that integrates art and science can change stereotypical views about scientists and science careers.

Laura Carsten Conner is a research assistant professor of science education at the Geophysical Institute and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at UAF. She was formerly the head of public programs at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, where she directed the development of exhibits and educational programs. Laura earned her PhD in ecology and evolutionary biology in 2007 from the University of Arizona, a master’s degree in science writing from the University of Washington in 2001, a master’s degree in plant pathology from Montana State University in 1998, and a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Colorado, Boulder.  She now conducts research in the learning sciences.  Laura enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, hiking and reading Harry Potter books in her free time.



February 2 - Tsunamis: How nature keeps surprising scientists

Elena Suleimani, Research Analyst, UAF-GI

The two shocking tsunami disasters of the 21st century have forever changed the definition of the word "tsunami." Its meaning was elevated from just an infrequent though potentially dangerous natural phenomenon to one capable of inflicting hundreds of thousands of fatalities and reaching every coastline on Earth. While the unrealized geophysical hazard was the major reason for the absence of a tsunami warning system and tsunami education in the Indian Ocean region and, as a result, the incomprehensible number of fatalities in 2004, the major cause of the high casualty rate in the 2011 Tohoku tsunami was failure to evacuate. The shift in paradigm caused by the tragic lessons learned from these recent catastrophic tsunamis is now used to reduce the potential damage and fatalities from future disasters.

Elena Suleimani holds a BS degree in radiophysics and electronics from the Gorky State University, Russia, a MS in Physical Oceanography from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and PhD in geophysics from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She has studied nonlinear dynamics of tsunami waves at the Institute of Applied Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and later numerical modeling of tsunami waves at the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Elena is currently at the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks and is working on tsunami inundation mapping for Alaska coastal communities.



February 9 - Exploring the subterranean realms of Alaska’s active volcanoes

Jessica Larsen, Professor, UAF-GI

Alaska, located along the North Pacific portion of the Ring of Fire, is home to 52 historically active, potentially hazardous, and spectacularly beautiful volcanoes. These not-so-silent residents of our state produce an astounding diversity in eruption styles; each volcano has a somewhat unique “personality.” In order to monitor, assess hazards, and provide timely and accurate information to the public about our restless volcanoes, we must investigate what happens within the crust of the Earth: a realm hidden from human eyes. In this talk we will observe the region beneath volcanoes, from their deep magmatic roots all the way to the surface of the Earth, and explore some of the reasons why together they exhibit an astounding array of differences in eruption style.

Jessica Larsen received her PhD in geophysics from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1996. Since arriving at UAF in 1997 to work with the Alaska Volcano Observatory, Larsen has focused her research on petrological imaging of the subterranean plumbing systems feeding Alaska’s many, frequently active volcanoes. To discover where magmas are staged in the crust and how they cause diverse, explosive or effusive eruption styles, she combines fieldwork in the remote Aleutian Islands and creates synthetic magma using high pressure and temperature experiments conducted here at UAF in the Petrology Lab.





February 16 - Home on the ice: Sea ice change and Arctic wildlife

Olivia Lee, Research Assistant professor, UAF-IARC

Sea ice plays a prominent role in the lives of walrus and ice seals in the Arctic. Learn how scientists and subsistence hunters are collaborating using a combination of satellite imagery and local observations to study the effects of changing sea ice on the behavior and migration of walrus, bearded, ringed and spotted seals in Alaska.

Olivia Lee has a PhD in wildlife and fisheries sciences from Texas A&M University, and a BA in marine science from the University of Hawaii at Hilo. She has studied seals and sea otters in Alaska and Russia, looking at migration patterns and how they use their environment to find food. She is interested in using technology and local knowledge to track changes in sea ice habitat in the Arctic.






February 23 - HAARP: New frontiers in space science on the last frontier

William Bristow, Professor, UAF-GI

The Geophysical Institute recently took over operation of the facilities of the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program after the Air Force Research Laboratory discontinued its research at the site. This high profile program has attracted a lot of attention over the years for a variety of imagined activities. The truth, however, is far more prosaic than was imagined, though still quite interesting. This presentation will cover some of the history of the program, including some of the significant results obtained, and plans for future research.


Bill Bristow is a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His research focuses on the physics of the near-Earth space environment, primarily through radar observations of the ionosphere. He is the group leader for space physics research at the Geophysical Institute and the principal investigator for five radar systems supported by the National Science Foundation, three of which are in Alaska, and two are in Antarctica. Bristow is the GI’s chief scientist for the HAARP system.  




2016 Flyer

2015 Lectures

2014 Lectures

Wonderous Sheen
Presented by Don Hampton

Icefields to Oceans
Presented by Anthony Arendt

World without Night
Presented by Franz Meyer

To Pluto and Beyond
Presented by Peter Delamere

Greening of the Arctic
Presented by Uma Bhatt, Skip Walker, Martha Raynolds, Vladimir Romanovsky, J.J. Frost, and Ina Timling

2012 Lectures

Alaska as Seen from an Unmanned Aircraft
Presented by Greg Walker

Protecting Our Eye Dentity
Presented by Bogdan Hoanca

Reindeer Tundra Gold
Presented by Greg Finstad

Space Research from Alaska Spaceports
Presented by Bob McCoy

When Icebergs Crash Into the Sea
Presented by Jason Amundson

2011 Lectures

2009 Lectures

Rockets into the Aurora
Presented by Dirk Lummerzheim

The Oil Age: What is it?
Presented by Rich Seifert

Frosty Feathers: Avian Tales of Winter Survival
Presented by Susan Sharbaugh

Out of the Blues: Beating Seasonal Affective Disorder
Presented by Suzanne Womack Strisik

Volcano Detectives: Locating, Predicting and Avoiding Ash Clouds
Presented by Peter Webley