Scientists to Discuss Night Skies and Light Pollution

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Date: October 6, 2016

One can experience wonderfully dark night skies in northern Michigan, especially at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (National Lakeshore). But the quality of those night skies is unfortunately increasingly affected by light pollution. When you hear the word “pollution,” you likely think about dirty air, dirty water, or dirty soil. So how can light be dirty?  

Dr. Jerry Dobek (Northwestern Michigan College (NMC)) and Kevin Skerl (Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore) will discuss “Evaluating and Preserving Dark Skies at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore” on October 13 at 9:30 a.m. at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center Auditorium in Empire, Michigan.

Mr. Skerl will first briefly detail the results of scientific investigations of the night sky resources at the National Lakeshore by the National Park Service’s (NPS) Natural Sounds and Night Skies program. They found that the park has very high quality night skies, but also documented the effects of light pollution from not only nearby towns but from much farther places, including Chicago and Green Bay. The National Lakeshore also recently completed a lighting inventory to better understand how it can reduce its own contributions to light pollution. The park is preparing to apply for designation as an International Dark Sky Park from the International Dark-Sky Association.

Dr. Dobek will then discuss the general causes and effects of light pollution as well as examples of proper lighting. The word “pollution” means the introduction of contaminants into the natural environment that causes adverse change. Light pollution is wasted light that contaminates the natural night sky. Unlike other forms of pollution, light pollution is easily remedied and the results can restore the natural environment with little effort and an actual overall savings in the economy and ecology. The solution is not “lights out,” but involves directing and containing the nighttime lighting to the areas we wish to illuminate - the ground. Too often, the majority of the light is directed horizontally or upwards where it will never reach the ground and only serves to illuminate the bottoms of aircraft and flying birds. 

Dr. Jerry Dobek is a professional astronomer and faculty instructor at NMC. He has taught astronomy and mathematics for NMC as an adjunct from 1987 until 2002 when he became a full-time faculty instructor. His research interests are in variable stars and dark material, which he conducts from his own observatory north of Traverse City. He is also the site coordinator/site director for Project ASTRO and Project Family ASTRO for the Michigan and Upper Wisconsin sites, and serves as the regional Solar System Ambassador for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Dr. Dobek is a founding member of, and the regional representative, for the International Dark-Sky Association and has been instrumental in writing lighting ordinances for the townships in Grand Traverse County as well as other townships and counties in Michigan.  

Kevin Skerl is the Chief of Natural Resources at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. He oversees the wildlife, vegetation, and water resources programs and facilitates research and restoration efforts at the National Lakeshore. He has worked for the NPS for 18 years and previously served as an ecologist at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Mr. Skerl earned a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Biology from Ohio University and a Master of Science in Conservation Biology from the University of Maryland, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Geography at Kent State University, focusing on the conservation applications of local spatial statistics. Before joining the NPS, he worked for The Nature Conservancy’s Latin America and Caribbean Division.

This presentation is part of a Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore speaker series called “Research Rendezvous.” To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the NPS and highlight the value of national parks as our nation’s “living laboratories,” the National Lakeshore is hosting a series of public talks by park researchers in 2016. All Research Rendezvous presentations offered at the National Lakeshore are free. The next “Research Rendezvous” presentation is:

"Blitz the Bear Launches Great Lakes Bioblitz Program" by Stephen Hensler and Paula McIntyre (Cerulean Center) on Thursday, November 10 at 9:30 a.m.

Please check for the current schedule of upcoming talks.

Last updated: October 7, 2016

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