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  Polar Year


The International Polar Year is a large scientific program focused on the Arctic and the Antarctic from March 2007 to March 2009.

IPY, organized through the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), is actually the fourth polar year, following those in 1882-3, 1932-3, and 1957-8. In order to have full and equal coverage of both the Arctic and the Antarctic, IPY 2007-8 covers two full annual cycles from March 2007 to March 2009 and will involve over 200 projects, with thousands of scientists from over 60 nations examining a wide range of physical, biological and social research topics. It is also an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate, follow, and get involved with, cutting edge science in real-time.

IPY 2007-2008 is a history-making event that builds on the three previous international science years, IPY 1882, IPY 1932, and the International Geophysical Year in 1957, which changed the face of modern geoscience.

During the two years of the current IPY, public audiences of all ages, through formal or informal education venues, will have the opportunity to join the excitement. Whereas the 1957 IPY took place before the world's first satellite was launched, IPY 2007-2008 takes place at a time when direct communication via satellite and other technological advances make it possible to include a worldwide audience in real time to witness discoveries and share in the research endeavor.

The first IPY took place from 1881 to 1883, and was the first series of coordinated international expeditions to the Polar Regions ever undertaken.

During the first IPY, 11 nations combined to establish 14 principal research stations spread across the Polar Regions; 12 were located in the Arctic, along with at least 13 auxiliary stations. Some 700 men incurred the dangers of Arctic service to establish and relieve these stations between 1881 and 1884. Leading geophysical observatories around the world also contributed to the coordinated research program of the IPY.

The second IPY was proposed in 1928 at an international conference of meteorological service directors. Forty nations participated in Arctic research from 1932 to 1933 (the 25th anniversary of the first IPY), and it heralded advances in meteorology, magnetism, atmospheric science, and in the "mapping" of ionospheric phenomena that advanced radioscience and technology.

Forty permanent observation stations were established in the Arctic, creating a step-function expansion in ongoing scientific Arctic research. In Antarctica, the U.S. contribution was the second Byrd Antarctic expedition, which established a winter-long meteorological station approximately 125 miles south of Little America Station on the Ross Ice Shelf at the southern end of Roosevelt Island. This was the first research station inland from Antarctica's coast.

The third IPY was renamed the International Geophysical Year (IGY) and lasted from 1957 to 1958. The IGY encompassed eleven Earth sciences: aurora and airglow, cosmic rays, geomagnetism, glaciology, gravity, ionospheric physics, longitude and latitude determinations (precision mapping), meteorology, oceanography, seismology and solar activity.

IGY activities literally spanned the globe from the North to the South Poles. Although much work was carried out in the arctic and equatorial regions, special attention was given to the Antarctic, where research on ice depths yielded radically new estimates of the earth's total ice content. IGY Antarctic research also contributed to improved meteorological prediction, advances in the theoretical analysis of glaciers, and better understanding of seismological phenomena in the Southern Hemisphere.

Sixty-seven nations conducted research during the third IPY/IGY, with 12 nations maintaining 65 stations in Antarctica. A notable political result founded on the IGY was ratification of the Antarctic Treaty in 1961.

Jon Bowermaster

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