UAS lectures target science for Alaskans

Subjects range from state's caves to water on Mars to the impact of diminishing Arctic sea ice on life

Posted: Monday, February 07, 2005

In the decades he's spent studying the aurora, Fairbanks scientist Dirk Lummerzheim has never heard it make a single sound.

Not a single hiss, swish, pop or whistle.

Nevertheless, Lummerzheim, a University of Alaska Fairbanks aeronomist, is striving to understand how the aurora could possibly create sound waves in the sky.

He will describe recent theories about sound and other aurora mysteries at the kick-off lecture of the popular Science for Alaska Series 7:30 tonight at Centennial Hall.

The family-friendly lecture series runs every Monday in February and will include talks on Alaska caves, the investigation for life and water on Mars and the impact of diminishing Arctic sea ice on seals and walruses.

It's the fourth year for the lecture series in Juneau, which started in Fairbanks and Anchorage 13 years ago. The series was expanded to Juneau.

"It became really popular," said Kevin Myers, spokesman for the University of Alaska Southeast.

Last year, the Science for Alaska Series in Juneau attracted a total audience of 9,000.

Science for Alaska Series Schedule

All lectures will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Centennial Hall.

Feb. 7:

"Sounds of the aurora and other persistent mysteries"

Dirk Lummerzheim, professor of Aeronomy,

Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Feb. 14:

"Alaska's caves: Unlocking the secrets to our past"

Daniel Monteith, UAF assistant professor of anthropology

University of Alaska Southeast.

Feb. 21:

"The search for water and life on mars"

Buck Sharpton, UAF professor of geology and geophysics.

Feb. 28:

"Arctic sea ice: diminishing habitat for seals and walruses"

Brendan Kelly, UAS dean of Arts and Sciences and Associate Professor of Marine Biology

Lummerzheim said people are fascinated by scientific mysteries like the alleged sound of the aurora. It's one of the first questions people ask when they learn about his specialty, he said.

"It's kind of baffling," Lummerzheim said. "So far, all we have to go by is the hundreds of people who claim they heard it," he said.

He plans to talk about some recent explanations and research into the aurora sound mystery - some of it in the publication process by a scientist in Finland, who claims to have recorded the aurora with a microphone, he said.

"It triggered my interest," he said. "It's not really proven yet."

The aurora isn't the only scientific mystery in Alaska.

UAS anthropologist Daniel Monteith will speak on Feb. 14 about Alaska's largely unexplored caves.

The caves in Southeast Alaska hold many clues to understanding the peopling of North America and the ecology of the Southeast rain forest, Monteith said.

The caves are hard to get to and are still being documented and mapped.

"We go out there and find 20 new caves per summer," Monteith said.

The caves in Southeast are much older but smaller than some of the more well-known caves in the Lower 48, he said. They can also be quite daunting - more remote, colder, muddier, wetter and more vertical than their Lower 48 counterparts, he said.

Monteith said he plans to give a lot of credit in his lecture to the volunteers from Alaska and from foreign countries that are working to document Alaska's caves each summer. He also plans to show and describe some of the gear that cavers use on their expeditions.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at

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