The International Polar Year is a large scientific programme focused on the Arctic and the Antarctic from March 2007 to March 2009.
IPY, organized through the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), is actually the fourth polar year, following those in 1882-3, 1932-3, and 1957-8. In order to have full and equal coverage of both the Arctic and the Antarctic, IPY 2007-8 covers two full annual cycles from March 2007 to March 2009 and will involve over 200 projects, with thousands of scientists from over 60 nations examining a wide range of physical, biological and social research topics. It is also an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate, follow, and get involved with, cutting edge science in real-time.
The Urgencies of IPY
Changing Snow and Ice: IPY occurs amidst abundant evidence of changes in snow and ice: reductions in extent and mass of glaciers and ice sheets, reductions in area, timing, and duration of snow cover, and reductions in extent and thickness of sea ice. Changes in snow cover and sea ice have immediate local consequences for terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Permafrost, an additional form of ice that influences nearly 25% of the northern hemisphere landmass, also shows substantial decomposition due to warming climate. Permafrost degradation affects local ecology and hydrology as well as coastal and soil stability.
Global Linkages: Changes in the large ice sheets will impact global sea level, affecting coastal cities and low-lying areas. Changes in snowfall and shrinkage of glaciers will influence millions of people whose daily use of water for personal consumption or for agriculture depends on snowpack and glacial sources. Thermal degradation of permafrost will mobilize vast reserves of frozen carbon, some of which, as methane, will increase the global greenhouse effect. Changes in sea ice combined with enhanced river inputs of freshwater will lead to substantial changes in ocean circulation. Warming of polar oceans, coupled with changes in ice coverage and river run-off, will alter marine ecosystems with consequences for globally-significant fisheries.
Neighbours in the North: Polar changes occur not on a remote planet, but in the daily living environment of more than 4 million people, fellow citizens and neighbours of this planet. Northern communities face changes in their natural environment and in their natural resources and food systems, changes of rapidity and magnitude beyond recent experience or traditional knowledge. Northern people also face unique health challenges related in part to pollutants transported to polar regions, and accelerating pressures of development and commercialism.
Discovery: For a majority of participants, IPY stimulates a sense of urgency and discovery. What secrets, what clues to the planet