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Antarctic region (left) and Arctic region (right)
National Science Foundation support of the International Polar Year — Introduction


The accompanying list of grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts tabulates the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) support of research, education, and operational support in the 2007-2009 International Polar Year (IPY). 

The Foundation, an agency of the U.S. Government, does not itself perform research.  Rather, it formulates basic research programs responsive to scientific and societal needs and obtains public funding for them as part of the President’s annual budget request to Congress.  Then it issues solicitations, evaluates proposals from universities and other institutions located throughout the United States, and awards funds to support the meritorious projects.  

NSF issued two IPY solicitations.  The first, in 2006, reflecting the National Research Council's A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007-2008 (2005), identified IPY as an intense scientific campaign to explore frontiers, improve understanding of the poles in global processes, and educate the public. Projects were to be interdisciplinary and to leave a legacy of infrastructure and data.  They also were expected to expand international cooperation, engage the public, and develop new scientists and engineers.  The emphasized research was ice sheet history and dynamics, biotic adaptation to extreme cold and prolonged darkness, and an arctic observing network.  The educational emphasis was on formal science education for teachers and students, and informal science education for the public.

NSF’s second IPY solicitation, in 2007, extended goals to physical, geological, chemical, human, and biological drivers of environmental change, how these drivers relate to climate, and how they impact ecosystems and link to global processes.  Proposals were invited for study of social, behavioral, and natural systems and of how humans and other organisms function.  Education proposals were invited to invigorate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.

Both solicitations noted that other, existing NSF solicitations were suitable for IPY proposals for projects within the IPY scope.

For the 445 IPY projects on the list, awards went to 341 different investigators or project leaders at 169 institutions in 44 of the 50 states.  The awards were made over four fiscal years, 2006-2009, with more than half the money going out during the 2007-2009 IPY field period.  Many awards, though, were of several years’ duration — to accommodate laboratory work and other follow-up after return from the field — so final funding increments for some of the later ones will not be sent until 2013.  The NSF IPY awards are expected to total a little over $347 million, of which Congress appropriated $60 million specifically for IPY.  The balance of funding came from NSF’s annual appropriation in which IPY and program goals are congruent — for example, climate research or geophysics.

A broad spectrum of researchers and educators responded to NSF’s IPY calls, and their proposals covered nearly the entire range of NSF’s discipline-oriented programs. 

Whether a particular NSF proposal was labeled IPY, or not, initially was the judgment of the proposers, who described the IPY relevance in the project summaries.  The 54 NSF program officers who administered the awards labeled proposals judged to be IPY with any of eight funding codes the Foundation had set up as signifying IPY.  For example, 5293 stands for “AON [Arctic Observing Network] implementation,” an IPY topic.  The community also was cognizant of the 55 Activity IDs whose “lead country” had been designated USA by the IPY international office in the UK.  NSF did not cross-link individual awards to IPY Activity IDs.

International collaborations during the IPY were extensive and are likely to have risen to a much higher level than before the IPY began.  The 2010 edition of the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators,1 latest in a series of biennial compilations of statistical data, states, “International collaboration has become the norm.”  It documents a rise in international coauthorship of research articles from 8 percent in 1988 to 22 percent in 2007 — more recent information not being readily available.  Polar research during that period was significantly more collaborative internationally, with 14 percent of the Arctic and Antarctic research literature having international coauthorship in 1988, rising to 41 percent in 2007.2  NSF-funded IPY projects collaborated with investigators in 28 countries.  Comments from U.S. investigators and others suggest that collaboration was higher than before IPY and that a number of projects whose scope demanded international collaboration would not have taken place at all without the enabling framework of IPY’s international structure.

Through workshops, national and international meetings, scientific papers, educational materials, and headlines, IPY research results already are finding their way into the broader research and education communities – partly because of the pressing need for polar climate and ice data to inform global models.  The IPY Publications Database3 describes 2,900 research publications and provides links to PDF files of most.


NSF-funded IPY research and education awards

The NSF-funded projects and their IPY funding amounts are

Please note the following:

  1. Titles shown here have been shortened and/or edited from official award titles.
  2. Some awards were split-funded by one or more NSF offices or programs. Awards are listed here under the principal or originating NSF entity.
  3. For further information, including abstracts, about individual awards, use the proposal number to query the "Search NSF Awards" database at
  4. Amounts in the IPY $ column are NSF International Polar Year funds awarded in fiscal years 2006 through 2009 and expected to be added -- as continuing increments -- to existing IPY grants in fiscal years 2010 through 2013. Because some awards are for both IPY and non-IPY purposes, amounts in this list may differ from the amounts shown in the NSF awards database

For more information about the International Polar Year, see:

Office of Polar Programs
National Science Foundation
Arlington, Virginia 22230 USA

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2 “The structure and development of polar research (1981-2007): a publication-based approach,” Dag W. Aksnes and Dag O. Hessen, Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research (41): 2, 155-163, May 2009. 

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