IARC founder longest serving UAF employee

Jeremia Schrock/Sun Star Reporter
Dec. 6, 2011

Every university has its old and wise professors — the individuals who, through sheer longevity, have become an institution unto themselves. Hogwarts had Dumbledore (60+ years) and the University of Alaska Fairbanks has Syun-Ichi Akasofu (53 years).

The name “Akasofu” is most likely familiar to UAF students by way of its architectural connotation: the Syun-Ichi Akasofu Building. The five-story 100,000-square-foot building on West Ridge is home to the International Arctic Research Center (IARC), which Akasofu founded, and regional offices for the National Weather Service. Akasofu served as director of IARC from 1998 until 2007. While at UAF, Akasofu also helped establish the Alaska Volcano Observatory and revamp the Poker Flat Research Range.

The building was dedicated to Akasofu in 2007 partially in recognition of his longevity.

“The [UA] Board of Regents honors and thanks Dr. Akasofu for his tireless vision and dedicated years of service to the university, the state and country in advancing arctic science,” read the minutes from the board’s April 2007 meeting.

Akasofu was born in Japan on Dec. 4, 1930. He grew up during World War II and attended college during the American occupation of Japan. He first came to UAF as a graduate student in 1958, beginning his (so far) 53 years at the university. As a graduate student, Akasofu studied the aurora under Sydney Chapman, receiving a doctorate in geophysics in the early sixties. He also has been a professor of geophysics since 1964.

The dynamic between Akasofu and Chapman is interesting to Walter Skya, the Asian studies professor at UAF. In America, after a student earns a doctorate, the relationship between student and mentor becomes one of equals.

“You become a colleague with that person and then you go on a first-name basis,” Skya said. “He couldn’t get himself to do that [with Chapman] because he’s very Japanese in that sense.” Skya is currently working on a biography of Akasofu.

Akasofu is also a prolific writer. He has written 11 books and published more than 550 articles on a wide range of scientific topics, according to his academic resume. In 2002 the Institute for Scientific Information named him one of the most cited authors in space physics.

In 2003, Akasofu was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure (second class) by the Emperor of Japan. Those who receive the award have shown dedication in either civil or military life. Other members of the order include economist Milton Friedman and actor Toshirō Mifune.

While he retired in 2007, he remains a professor of physics, emeritus. An emeritus is an individual who, while retired from professional life, is allowed to retain the title of the former profession.

Since retirement, Akasofu has been well known for his controversial views on climate change. A Google search reveals dozens of articles by and about Akasofu’s climate change research. Akasofu wrote that while the earth is warming up, it is most likely due to natural change, not human change.

In an interview with the Executive Intelligence Review (EIR), Akasofu explained that the Earth hadn’t finished recovering from the Little Ice Age. The Little Ice Age was a period of global cooling that stretched from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Since then, the earth has been warming up to its pre-Little Ice Age average.

In 2010, Akasofu continued to explore his theory on climate change in an article published in Natural Sciences, a scholarly journal. Approximately 80 percent of climate change is due to natural changes in the environment, Akasofu wrote in the article. The article responded to a 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that said by 2100 the Earth will increase in warming between two and six degrees Celsius. Akasofu’s own research leads him to believe the increase in Earth’s temperature is much lower, between 0.3 and 0.7 degrees Celsius.

Challenging conventional wisdom is nothing new for Akasofu.

“He’s somebody who challenges major scientific orthodoxies,” Skya said. One of the major ideas he challenged was the shape of the aurora. Akasofu proved that the aurora was oval, while many scientists at the time believed it to be circular.

“He challenges many ideas that are already there.”

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