About International Polar Year 2007-2008

This Web portal is design as a "clearinghouse," a virtual common ground with links to places on the Web where the numerous federal agencies and organizations as well as the institutions of higher learning involved in supporting and conducting polar research during the International Polar Year 2007-2008 can describe that research and its results to the public through press releases, such media as video, animations and sound, and Web sites.

The portal also serves as a "jumping off place" for those interested in learning what research has been funded as part of IPY. It also allows individual agencies or organizations--such as the National Science Foundation or the Arctic Research Commission--to describe their mission as it relates to polar research through individual, agency maintained pages on the site.

There have been a several major international science initiatives in the polar regions since the first polar year  in 1882-83 and all have had a major influence in changing our understanding of global processes. The most recent previous polar year--in 1957-58--was known as the International Geophysical Year (IGY). It involved 80,000 scientists from 67 countries.

Thanks to advances in global telecommunications technologies since IGY, people worldwide have a rare opportunity to follow, and sometimes even participate in, Arctic and Antarctic research and exploration as part of the current polar year, which began in March 2007. Like IGY before it,  IPY promises to advance our understanding of how the Earth's remote polar regions affect global climate systems, to bring about fundamental advances in many areas of science, and to fire the enthusiasm of young men and women for careers in science and engineering.

IPY actually will extend from March 1, 2007, until March 1, 2009, to allow researchers to conduct two annual observing cycles in each region, particularly in isolated areas that are prohibitively cold and dark for roughly six months of the year.

The Polar Regions, physically remote from the rest of the globe, nevertheless have profound significance for the planet's climate. They act not only regulators of global temperature, but also as barometers of change. What happens at the Poles ultimately affects the rest of the planet.

Often, as in the case of the Arctic, these changes can be felt almost immediately, particularly by Native peoples whose livelihoods depend on the health of the Arctic ecosystem.

Antarctica is devoid of indigenous inhabitants, yet understanding the role that the massive ice sheets play in regulating global temperature is vital to understanding how the global climate system works.

The Arctic consists of an ocean surrounded by continents, while Antarctica is a continent surrounded by oceans.

But despite their differences, there are also physical similarities between the Earth’s polar regions. For example, the three fastest warming regions on the planet in the past two decades have been Alaska, Siberia and parts of the Antarctic Peninsula, which extends northward to South America. 

The Arctic and the Antarctic, meanwhile, are both incredible natural laboratories for answering basic, yet incredibly complex scientific questions as diverse as “How did the universe come into being” and “What are the extreme conditions at which life can exist?”

For all these reasons, the federally funded research conducted during IPY has the potential to affect and improve Americans' lives no matter where they live.

About U.S. Participation

The U.S. National Committee for IPY, established by the Polar Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences, formulated the vision for U.S. participation in IPY. That vision was articulated in a report, called A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007-2008. In the report, the committee identified seven recommendations for the U.S. science community and agencies to address during IPY.

The U.S. IPY effort, it said, should:

  • Excite and engage the public, with the goals of increasing understanding of the importance of the polar regions in the global system and advancing the nation's general science literacy.
  • Use IPY to begin a sustained effort to assess large-scale environmental change and variability in the polar regions;
  • Pioneer new polar studies of coupled human-natural systems that are critical to U.S. societal, economic, and strategic interests;
  • Explore new scientific frontiers from the molecular to the planetary scale;
  • Use IPY as an opportunity to design and implement multidisciplinary polar observing networks that will provide a long-term perspective on climate change and other phenomena.
  • Invest in critical physical and human infrastructure and technology to guarantee that IPY leaves a legacy of enduring benefits for the nation and for the residents of northern regions.
  • Encourage researchers to act as leaders in IPY efforts.

All U.S. federal agencies engaged in research and education will participate actively in IPY. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has identified the National Science Foundation (NSF) as the lead federal agency for coordinating U.S. IPY activities.

About this Site

This site is designed to provide researchers, educators, the news media and the general public with information about federally supported IPY research, expeditions, resources, events and related activities.

This Web site is maintained by the National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22230 USA. Send comments or questions to: ipy-public@nsf.gov

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