The International Polar Year 2007/2008

Understanding both the climate and the functioning of the earth as a system is one of the largest challenges of our time. In this context, polar regions play a pivotal role. Melting ice caps at the poles will cause sea levels to rise and, consequently, will make many coastal areas uninhabitable. Thawing of permafrost regions will release enormous quantities of the greenhouse gas methane. Hence, what happens to the polar regions has a direct effect on our lives. Nevertheless, the polar regions, sensitive and often difficult to access, are still largely unexplored. Existing climate models were unable to predict either the dramatic reduction of Arctic sea ice, or the breakage of the Antarctic inland ice.

 

Research under extreme conditions


Conducting research in the inhospitable regions of the Arctic and Antarctic requires tremendous logistical efforts. Within the context of the International Polar Year (March 1, 2007 to March 1, 2009), scientists from 60 nations will join force to investigate the polar regions. Numerous media representatives, artists and teachers, involved in Polar Year activities, will contribute by conveying the beauty of the Arctic and Antarctic and by passing on the fascination of polar research. This will enable the general public and upcoming talents to join, right from its start, the exciting journey to unknown worlds of ice.

 

History of the IPY

 

In the past, three large-scale international initiatives were aimed at studying the polar regions, i.e. the First International Polar Year (1882/83), the Second International Polar Year (1932/33), and The International Geophysical Year (1957/58). These extensive scientific events, with numerous expeditions, establishment of new research stations and internationally coordinated observation programmes, significantly enhanced our knowledge of the polar regions. The International Polar Year 2007/08 intends to continue this tradition. It is overseen by the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). Large-scale measuring campaigns and field studies will facilitate our understanding of the earth and its climate. This will be the only way to prepare for upcoming changes of our environment, and will not only affect the peoples of the far North who, already, have had to give up their traditional ways of life.