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March 2007

International Polar Year kicks off this month

UCAR/NCAR researchers participate in international effort
to study Earth’s polar regions


Scientists involved with International Polar Year will probe icy waters such as these off the coast of Antarctica. (Photo courtesy Gary Herbert.)

For the next two years, all things cold will be considered very cool.

International Polar Year officially began on March 1 with a launch ceremony in Paris. Sponsored by the International Council for Science and the World Meteorological Organization, IPY is the largest internationally coordinated scientific research effort of the past 50 years. Bringing together more than 50,000 researchers from 63 nations working on 228 projects, the program aims to monitor the health of Earth’s polar regions and gauge the impact of climate change. It runs for two years, giving researchers more opportunity to observe the full cycle of seasons at each pole.

Specific projects are as diverse as analyzing the effects of solar radiation on the polar atmosphere, taking a census of deep-sea creatures in the polar oceans, quantifying the amount of fresh water leaking from underneath ice sheets in Antarctica, and examining the culture and politics of the Arctic’s human inhabitants. Many of the projects are driven by a sense of urgency that warming temperatures due to climate change are transforming the Arctic in irreversible ways.

UCAR/NCAR scientists and researchers are already lending their expertise to IPY activities. A number of staffers were recently involved with Ice Fest, a community-wide event sponsored by CU-Boulder that ran March 8–11 to kick off IPY. Marika Holland (ESSL/CGD) gave a presentation on Arctic sea ice change; Caspar Ammann (also ESSL/CGD) spoke about ice in the mountains of Chile’s Atacama desert, Earth’s driest; and Bob Henson (Communications), author of The Rough Guide to Climate Change, participated in the “Making a Difference” panel discussion. EO also staffed a booth on Ice Fest Family Day.

On March 5, GLOBE hosted a pole-to-pole videoconference, during which GLOBE students in Alaska exchanged research ideas and interacted with GLOBE students in Ushuaia, the Antarctic region on the southern tip of Argentina. “We had a lot of good discussion between the students from each pole as well as students asking questions and talking with scientists,” says GLOBE director Ed Geary.

During GLOBE-sponsored Web chats on March 7 and 8, students were able to talk among themselves and ask questions about climate change and polar science, as well as post questions and ideas on an IPY Web forum to be answered by scientists.

Also as part of GLOBE’s IPY activities, Peggy LeMone is writing a Chief Scientist’s Blog (see “On the Web”) to discuss climate change and IPY-related topics. “One of the exciting things about the poles is that it’s where the biggest climate changes are taking place,” Peggy says.

Windows to the Universe, EO’s vast and colorful educational Web site covering Earth and space sciences, launched a new portal on March 1 called Earth’s Polar Regions (see “On the Web”), with links to topics such as geography and geology at the poles, the cryosphere, polar oceans, and Arctic culture. The site includes a “Postcards from the Field” component from a scientist studying how Adelie penguins in Antarctica are coping with climate.

“We wanted to do something fun for IPY, and it was an area of Windows to the Universe we had not yet explored,” says EO’s Lisa Gardiner, who developed content for the new polar section of the site.

In addition, EO is at work developing polar-related hands-on activities and demonstrations that will be unveiled later this year in the Mesa Lab Visitor Center, along with IPY-related classroom materials for educators. A new NASA-produced video, “A Tour of the Cryosphere,” will begin showing in the lobby theater later this spring.

And in COMET, staffers are laying the groundwork for a Webcast this summer that will feature interviews with polar scientists. “We’ll talk with several scientists who are doing cutting-edge research, and we’ll learn what tools they use, what issues are driving their work, and what they see as exciting future areas for investigation in this fascinating and unique location,” says COMET’s Vickie Johnson.

Polar researchers

A number of UCAR/NCAR scientists have long been involved in polar– related research.

Marika Holland (ESSL/CGD) studies sea ice and its role in the climate system. She and colleagues recently published research showing that the extent of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean could undergo surprisingly rapid reductions in the future due to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

David Lawrence (ESSL/CGD) uses the Community Climate System Model to study permafrost and how changes to permafrost interact with the rest of the climate system. He coauthored a 2005 study that found that much of the Arctic’s near-surface permafrost could thaw by 2100.

Jordan Powers (ESSL/MMM) is NCAR’s project lead for the Antarctic Mesoscale Prediction System (AMPS), a real-time weather prediction system designed specially for Antarctica’s extreme polar environment. The model has helped facilitate medical evacuations and other rescues from Antarctica, including the rescue of scientists and crew from the Magdalena Oldendorff, a supply ship that became trapped in ice along the Antarctic coast in 2002.

Shannon McNeeley (ISSE), a graduate student at the University of Alaska–Fairbanks and ISSE visiting scientist, is carrying out a project in community-based research to document Alaska Natives’ observations of climate change. Her goal is to gain climatic insights into a remote and little-studied region that has been significantly affected by warming temperatures, and to understand issues of vulnerability and adaptive capacity of interior Alaska Natives. Other ISSE scientists are also studying human-climate interactions in the polar regions.

On the Web

International Polar Year



Peggy LeMone’s Chief Scientist Blog

Windows to the Universe: Earth’s Polar Regions

In this issue...

International Polar Year kicks off this month

Project BudBurst to debut
GLOBE at Night

Short Takes

Denise Stephenson Hawk joins SERE

An interview with Katy Schmoll

Mesa Lab a medieval castle?

Just One Look

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