IARC History

A Brief History Of the Founding Of IARC and the Syun-Ichi Akasofu Buiilding

See also The Akasofu Years.

The building that now houses the International Arctic Research Center (IARC) was originally conceived as an extension to the Elvey Building, the home of the Geophysical Institute (GI), which was expanding rapidly in the 1990s and desperately needed space for its new projects and faculty, students, and staff. However, financing the extension of the Elvey building was virtually impossible, since neither the University nor the State had funds for this. Thus, Syun Akasofu, who was then the director of the GI, sought funds from both the United States and Japan. In his discussions in Japan, it became clear that they were interested in participating in the development of an international research center, if a similar interest were to be expressed by the United States. Dr. Akasofu thus consulted with Senator Stevens, who wrote to Ambassador Kuriyama in February 1994, suggesting that the United States and Japan jointly establish an Arctic research center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Subsequently, then Vice President Gore also wrote to Ambassador Kuriyama who responded enthusiastically in March 1995, and asked for a concrete proposal. After preliminary discussions between the U.S. State Department and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, and with the approval of the University of Alaska Board of Regents, a proposal was prepared by Dr. Akasofu in collaboration with the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and submitted to the Japanese government via the U.S. State Department in the fall of 1995.

The government of Japan and the government of the United States, together with the State of Alaska, jointly agreed to establish IARC on the UAF campus as a project of the Common Agenda, which was signed by President Clinton and Prime Minister Hashimoto in March 1997. The basic principle of the Common Agenda is “… to demonstrate our ability to solve, jointly, problems that are beyond what any one nation can address.” (Joint Communiqué of May 2, 1997). Climate change had become an important subject, and one that urgently needed to be studied on an international basis.

The opening ceremony for the IARC building was held on August 27, 1999. Subsequently, the National Science Board authorized then NSF director Rita Colwell to negotiate a Cooperative Agreement with UAF on the operation of IARC.

The IARC building was officially named the Syun-Ichi Akasofu Building on April 27, 2007.  


building dedication
Syun-Ichi Akasofu and Helga Wilm unveil an engraved plaque that will hang in the Akasofu Building and tells the story of Professor Syun-Ichi Akasofu.

1987–1997

Syun Akasofu pursues cooperative agreements and funding to support establishment of an international center to address global climate change and its impact on society and the environment. A building site is designated at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and construction is completed. 

1998

  • The International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) meets in Fairbanks.
  • Syun Akasofu is appointed IARC Founding Director.
  • The Frontier Research System for Global Change Program is established at IARC by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology Center (JAMSTEC) and the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA), now the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
  • The opening reception of the annual AAAS Arctic Division meeting is held in the IARC Lobby; it is the first science-related event to take place in the building.
  • The National Weather Service moves its offices and activities to the IARC building. 

1999

  • The Keith B. Mather Library moves into the IARC building.
  • The IARC building opens with a formal dedication ceremony. 

2000

  • NSF and UAF sign a cooperative agreement for the operation of IARC.
  • The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) directorate office is established at IARC.
  • The first meeting of the NSF Oversight Committee is held at IARC. 

2001

  • The secretariat for Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) is established at IARC. IARC supports the archive of climate model output used by ACIA to obtain future climate scenarios for the Arctic. 
  • John Walsh joins IARC as Chief Scientist and President’s Professor of Climate Change.

2002

  • In collaboration with Norwegian researchers, IARC scientists evaluate 400 years of sea ice variations in the Nordic Seas. 
  • IARC scientists participate in the first NABOS cruise aboard a Russian icebreaker; moorings are deployed and hydrographic measurements obtained.

2003

  • The first IARC summer school on modeling of the Arctic climate is held. 

2004

  • The Frontier Research System for Global Change group is integrated into IARC science activities. 
  • Mooring data from NABOS cruises reveal abrupt increases in temperatures of Atlantic water below the surface of the Arctic Ocean.
  • IARC scientists document variations of storm tracks in the Arctic and Subarctic. 

2005

  • IARC scientists and collaborators demonstrate cohesive signal of multi-decadal variability in Arctic atmosphere, ocean, and sea ice. 

2006

  • Larry Hinzman joins IARC as deputy director
  • IARC scientists contribute scenarios of 21st-century sea ice coverage for the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  • IARC scientists document the effect of retreating snow cover on the springtime energy budget of northern land areas.
  • IARC scientists identify “Dipole Mode” of atmosphere as driver of across-Arctic transport from the North Pacific to the North Atlantic. 

2007

  • Larry Hinzman becomes director of IARC after Syun Akasofu’s retirement.
  • IARC scientists take a leading role in Sea ice Experiment – Dynamic Nature of the Arctic (SEDNA) in the Beaufort Sea.
  • NABOS cruise expands to include multinational participation during the International Polar Year.
  • IARC summer school on boreal ecosystems is held in a Russian forest preserve.
  • Two IARC-supported scientists are lead authors of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 
  • The IARC Building is named the Syun-Ichi Akasofu Building in honor of the IARC founding director.  

2008

  • IARC permafrost researchers collaborate with the National Center for Atmospheric Research to improve the permafrost module in Community Climate System Model (CCSM).
  • While on a cruise with Russian collaborators, IARC scientists measure unexpectedly large methane fluxes in Russian seas.
  • An international workshop hosted by IARC works out a plan for development of an Arctic System Model.
  • IARC celebrates 10 years of Arctic research and unveils a new mission statement and logo.
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