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CSS Colloquium - Lif Jacobsen: Danish and US Seismic Research during the Cold War

Info about event


Monday 30 September 2013,  at 10:15 - 12:00


1531-219 (Aud. D4), Math. Department

Danish and US seismic research during the Cold War

Lif Jacobsen, Centre for Science Studies, Aarhus University

Drawing upon the private letters of Danish seismologist Inge Lehmann, archival sources in Denmark and USA, scientific documents and personal accounts, this paper explores how Danish seismic science was influenced by Cold War geopolitics.

Before the Cold War, seismology, the study of earthquakes and the movement of seismic waves, was a hampered by the lack of method, standardised instruments and funding. With the spread of nuclear technologies in the 1950s it became a priority of the US military to develop scientific means for detecting nuclear bomb explosions at a long distance. Seismology could offer such means, since (underground) explosions created waves similar to earthquakes. As a result, government funding for seismic research increased dramatically in the USA.

By engaging Danish seismologists in research projects and other forms of scholarly cooperation with US scientific institutions, American military agencies sought to get access to knowledge and localities in Greenland. Individual scientists and the Seismic Section, on the other hand, initially accepted the co-option, because it gave them some degree of access to the growing American seismic research community and part in the knowledge exchanges.

As Denmark’s own disarmament policy increasingly directed the research activities at the Section, the relationship to US agencies became more complex and politically charged with each side pursuing their own agendas.

The paper is the result of research done for the Exploring Greenland- project.

Lif Jacobsen is a postdoc at Centre for Science Studies, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Aarhus. She is a history graduate from University of Southern Denmark and in 2010 received her PhD from University of Tasmania, Australia. Here she did her thesis on the environmental history of the Australian South-East trawl fishery. Her research focuses on the connection between science, politics and the environment in a historical context. Methodologically she prefers to work within a transnational or cross disciplinary framework. Currently she is working on a project about seismology in Greenland during the Cold War.