These questions and answers were developed in preparation for use during IPY 2007-2008, and have not been updated.


International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008 will be an intense, coordinated campaign of polar observations, research, and analysis that will be multidisciplinary in scope and international in participation. IPY will use today’s powerful research tools, such as high powered computers, automatic observatories, satellite-based remote sensing, autonomous vehicles, and genomics, to better understand the key roles of the polar regions in global processes. IPY 2007-2008 will be fundamentally broader than the International Polar Years held in 1882-1883 or 1932-1933 or the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958. This IPY will explicitly incorporate multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary studies, including biological, ecological, and social science elements.

IPY 2007-2008 is a way to undertake projects that normally could not be achieved by any single nation. It allows us to think beyond traditional borders–whether national borders or disciplinary constraints–toward a new level of integrated, cooperative science. The international collaborations started today will build relationships and understanding that will bring long-term benefits.

In addition, IPY will serve as a mechanism to attract and develop a new generation of scientists and engineers with the versatility to tackle complex global issues. IPY is an opportunity to organize an exciting range of education and outreach activities designed to excite and engage the public, with a presence in classrooms around the world and in the media in varied and innovative formats.


The polar regions–both the Arctic and the Antarctic–are inherently international terrain, both because of the many nations who share these regions and because what happens in the polar regions affects nations around the globe. The science challenges we face far exceed the capability of any one nation and so IPY provides a framework to undertake projects that normally could not be achieved by any single nation. It allows us to think beyond traditional borders–whether national borders or disciplinary constraints–toward a new level of integrated, cooperative science. A coordinated international approach maximizes both impact and cost effectiveness, and the international collaborations started today will build relationships and understanding that will bring long-term benefits.


Environmental change in the polar regions is unprecedented: Arctic sea ice cover is decreasing in thickness and extent; some Antarctic ice shelves are retreating and thinning; glaciers around the globe are retreating, permafrost is thawing with implications for road and structures; and ecosystems are changing. The polar regions play key roles in global processes; and are harbingers of change elsewhere, so what we learn here has important implications. In addition, the ice and sediments of the polar regions are a unique “library” of information about the past, and these harsh, challenging regions still offer many unique areas and issues to explore.


IPY is actually designed to last two years, from March 1, 2007 until March 1, 2009, to allow two field seasons of research in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. This timeframe was selected to encourage an intensive burst of effort that can be coordinated among many nations. This period is expected to lay the groundwork for sustained assessments of environmental change and variability. In addition, the resulting enhanced infrastructure and observation systems will provide an improved foundation for ongoing science.

WHY 2007-2008?

This is the 50th anniversary of the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958 and continues a tradition of international science years that began in 1882-1883 with the first International Polar Year and continued with a second International Polar Year in 1932-1933. But more than an anniversary, IPY 2007-2008 is an opportunity to increase our understanding of the polar regions and their teleconnections. New advances in technology and logistics can provide ways to address new issues and access new areas.


IPY will produce careful, useful scientific information that will advance our understanding of the polar regions and their connections to the rest of the globe. IPY will have six overarching science themes:

  1. Determine environmental status by studying spatial and temporal variability
  2. Quantify past and present environmental and human change
  3. Advance understanding of polar/global teleconnections
  4. Investigate the unknowns at the frontiers of polar science
  5. Use the unique vantage point of the polar regions to enhance observations of Earth and beyond (the inner core, magnetic field, the Sun and beyond)
  6. Investigate cultural, historical, and social processes that shape the resilience and sustainability of circumpolar human societies

IPY will have six observational goals:

  1. Produce a synoptic set of multidisciplinary observations to establish the status of the polar environment
  2. Acquire key data sets to understand factors controlling change in the polar environment
  3. Establish a legacy of multidisciplinary observational networks
  4. Launch internationally coordinated, multidisciplinary expeditions into new scientific frontiers
  5. Help implement polar observatories to study important facets of Earth and beyond
  6. Create datasets on the changing conditions of circumpolar human societies from the First IPY 1882-83 to the present

Specific research projects have not yet been selected, but many things are possible. Researchers might collect coordinated measurements to compile a snapshot of environmental conditions as a baseline for understanding future environmental change. Satellites might gather consistent data on ice extent. Ecologists might mount an effort to conduct a census of marine life to better understand population trends for important fisheries. Multidisciplinary teams might document ecosystem changes in far northern communities where traditional subsistence foods are important to the local lifestyle and try to understand how changes are affecting the people of those communities.


At the international level, IPY is being led by the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). In the United States, the National Academy of Sciences has played a key role in getting IPY planning started and it continues to play a role in communication and coordination. The National Academies’ Polar Research Board serves as the “US National Committee for IPY.” But IPY will actually be conducted by scientists and engineers around the world, who will go into the field and do actual research. Students of all ages will also be involved through formal and informal mechanisms.

Participating nations so far include: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Chile, China, Denmark, Greenland, Finland, France, Germany, Greenland, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, and others. In each of these countries, there are opportunities for:

  • National planning committees
  • Scientists and engineers
  • Universities
  • Agencies
  • Communities
  • Foundations
  • Educators at all levels
  • Media of all types
  • Private sector organizations
  • Non-governmental organizations


The US National Committee is a group of volunteers appointed by the US National Academy of Sciences to facilitate US participation in IPY. In the beginning, the group focused on engaging the science community in defining what IPY should accomplish. The committee hosted a number of information-gathering meetings, scientific sessions, and an interactive website. The committee’s report, A Vision for International Polar Year 2007-2008 (2004), is available from the National Academies Press.

The committee continues to work as a conduit for information from international planners to the US science community and from US scientists to the international group. The US National Committee is not planning or endorsing particular US science activities. Rather, activities are planned by the scientists and teams of scientists who hope to conduct the work, or by educators and the media. The committee’s membership is listed here.


IPY activities will be funded in different ways in different nations. Some nations have designated particular activities as their contribution and set aside a targeted pool of funding for those activities. Other nations have announced plans to devote specific ships or other logistical assets to IPY as their contribution. Here in the United States, the research conducted during IPY will be selected and funded through normal science funding mechanisms. This means that scientists have to write detailed proposals that go through various steps of review for quality and relevance. Getting funds is likely to be very competitive because budgets are tight. It is up to scientists to find appropriate funding for their activities; there is no one “pool” of IPY money. Key agencies include the National Science Foundation (which has been appointed the lead federal agency by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, US Geological Survey, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and National Institutes of Health. Foundations could also be a source of support for both science and educational initiatives.


IPY is still being planned and activities are just taking shape. See the international website at www.ipy.org for a database of the projects being proposed and watch the US website at www.us-ipy.org for general information and links to other related sites. If you want to be added to the list to receive periodic newsgrams about IPY, send your email address to: prb@nas.edu.

If you are a scientist:

  • Work with colleagues in science and the funding agencies to plan activities, increase awareness, and move toward implementation
  • Form international partnerships and help nurture national and international funding sources and logistics coordination.
  • Follow the guidelines at the ICSU-WMO website < www.ipy.org > and submit descriptions of your projects by the deadlines listed.

If you are an educator:

  • Link up with others who are working to plan the education and outreach activities such as: http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~mkt/PolarED_Web.htm
  • Start thinking about how you could orient part of your curricula toward polar topics. Kids love penguins and polar bears–you can study their biology, draw them in art class, or write about them in composition class. History teachers might think about the great polar explorers and how they help us understand world politics in their times.
  • Find a partner school in the Arctic and use email to share information.

If you are a member of the media:

  • Get your imagination going about how you can cover some aspect of the International Polar Year for your audience. The questions and topics are endless. You could explain how creatures can survive in the extreme polar environments, challenge people to think about whether the changes in sea ice will harm polar bear populations, or use this as an opportunity to look back on the great polar explorers. You could look at how communities in the Arctic are changing in response to both physical and social change.
  • Contact your local university or any university with scientists who work in the Arctic and Antarctic; they might just be looking for partners because every IPY research activity is required to have education and outreach components.

If you are a student or anyone with an interest in the Arctic and Antarctic:

  • Look for ways to get your schools, friends, and family interested. For example, plan a visit to the Smithsonian Institution or Marian Koshland Science Museum in Washington DC, both of which will have exhibits and programs of interest.
  • Ask your science teacher to do some classes about glaciers or ice sheets, or biology in cold regions. Maybe your social studies teacher could arrange to partner with a school in an Arctic community and you use the Internet to share stories about how you live. Ask your literature teacher to assign some of the many outstanding books about the polar regions: read The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, or South: A Memoir of the Endurance Voyage by Ernest Henry Shackleton, or Barry Lopez’s vivid modern book, Arctic Dreams.
  • If you are a scout, propose a special merit badge on polar exploration or cold weather survival skills. Did you know that they took the nation’s top Eagle Scout to Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year in 1957-1958?


US Site: www.us-ipy.org
US Government Site: www.ipy.gov
International Site: www.ipy.org
General Questions: prb@nas.edu

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