It’s not too late for researchers to join one of the largest global efforts in Earth science history. Arctic and Antarctic specialists join forces in March 2007 to kick off the fourth International Polar Year. Despite its name, the IPY will actually span two years, extending to March 2009 to ensure that both poles are sampled over consecutive summers. The International Heliophysical Year, also set for 2007, will extend the focus to the entire solar system and beyond (see sidebar).
The natural peg for holding the IPY and IHY in 2007 is to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the International Geophysical Year. In 1957, the IGY pulled together scientists from 67 nations, including ones behind the Iron Curtain at the time, for landmark studies of the Earth system. As part of the IGY, Charles Keeling (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) began his famed monitoring of atmospheric carbon dioxide from Hawaii’s Mauna Loa. The sampling continues today, one of many IGY projects whose reverberations are still felt.
The idea of special “years“ for polar research goes back much further. The first IPY took place in 1882–83, inspired by Karl Weyprecht, an Austro-Hungarian naval officer who believed polar exploration ought to focus on scientific goals. It involved 11 countries during 15 expeditions. Fifty years later, the second IPY took place. Though diminished somewhat in scope by the global depression that raged in 1932–33, it included scientists from 40 nations. A third IPY coincided with the 1957 IGY.
Finland’s Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory had its roots in this station, built for the International Polar Year in 1882–83. (Photo courtesy NOAA.)
The view from Cambridge
David Carlson. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)
Leading the fourth IPY’s International Programme Office at the British Antarctic Survey is David Carlson, who knows a good deal about field campaigns. Carlson served for over a decade as director of NCAR’s Atmospheric Technology Division (now the Earth Observing Laboratory). He’ll head the IPY office in Cambridge for the next five years.
Carlson arrived at his new post in early May to a sea of coordination tasks that should only expand with time. “There are a lot of organizational pieces,” Carlson notes with understatement. The entities involved in the IPY read like a Who’s Who of Earth science research, including the International Council of Scientific Unions, the World Meteorological Organization, and national IPY committees in the United States and dozens of other countries.
One thing that didn’t exist during the last IPY was the Internet. E-mail and the IPY Web sites (see On the Web) make it far easier for scientists to keep tabs on the project’s status and join the effort. Thus far, they’ve posted nearly 1,000 expressions of interest from a wide range of fields. “There’s a really enormous breadth of science involved,”
The global environmental movement is another factor that’s emerged since 1957. With far more recognition of the fragility of polar ecosystems, Carlson expects IPY science in 2007–09 to be carried out thoughtfully and carefully. “It might,” he says, “even leave the environment cleaner than we found it.”
Huge leaps in observing technology will be evident in this IPY, although Carlson notes that polar research isn’t yet a piece of cake: “You still bring in your own fuel, you still worry about medical support, and you still have long stretches of cold and dark.”
NSF expects to issue a solicitation for IPY-related projects this summer, with a deadline toward the end of 2005. The Office of Polar Programs will work with a number of other NSF directorates and agencies on IPY activities.
At a planning workshop last July, NSF director Arden Bement cited the IPY’s potential to advance fundamental science. “NSF played a leadership role for the country in the IGY era and we are looking forward to helping hoist the flag for 2007 as well,” said Bement.
Next January, NSF will deploy its first shore-based polar observatory near the Antarctic Peninsula’s Palmer Station. The foundation is also in the process of upgrading the U.S. Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, operated on its behalf by Raytheon. The new station should be ready in time for the IPY, replacing the dome-topped structure commonly seen in photographs taken at the geographic pole.
One of the mobile tools to be considered for the IPY is the new NSF/NCAR High-Performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research (HIAPER). HIAPER’s range will allow researchers to sample the Antarctic atmosphere on sorties from a base in New Zealand or South America.
David Bromwich (Ohio State University) is among the scientists interested in clarifying our understanding of Antarctic weather and climate. “We don’t have that much in the way of direct measurements,“ he says. Bromwich and colleagues are proposing a study of regional weather interactions, including those between Antarctica and neighboring continents.
Even for a veteran polar specialist like Bromwich, there’s never been an opportunity quite like IPY 2007–09. “This is intended to be a major step up from where we are today, a more comprehensive look, with much more international participation and brand-new tools,”
To express your interest in IGY or IHY, please consult the “Get Involved” pages listed in On the Web.
The IPY vision goes well beyond physical scientists. According to the U.S. IPY Web site, “The hope is that many people—scout leaders, teachers, museum directors, filmmakers, journalists, parents, and students of all ages—will be involved.” Social scientists will join the IPY to study the evolution of indigenous Arctic cultures and their struggles with climate change.
Carlson sees 2007–09 as a chance to take a leap, “to jump our level of understanding, our observational capability, our level of data coordination, and leave a legacy that hopefully looks reminiscent of the IGY.”