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Every Year is a Polar Year


The world has changed dramatically in the 125 years since Karl Weyprecht’s death in 1881, and I often wonder what he would make of the global change.  Alternating current has electrified the world. Radio communication, which didn’t exist at the time, lead to television, GPS and wireless technologies. Internal combustion engines, then in their infancy, have revolutionized transportation and industry and contributed to altering the climate system.  The world’s population has grown sixfold.  And our understanding of the Earth as a system has made leaps and bounds through diligent, scientific study and collaboration.  Throughout this period-- a few short generations but beyond the span of all but the most robust lifespans-- the International Polar Years have provided vision and leadership, fostering international scientific cooperation and understanding, transcending nationalistic agendas with the goal of sharing observations, data, and insights into the polar regions and their global linkages.

A quick Google search on the keywords “international year” churns up some 1.5 billion results and a plethora of variations on the theme: international years of microcredit (2005), rice (2004), deserts and desertification (2006), coral reefs (2008).  But the oldest, the original, the “real deal” is the International Polar Year.  The vision of a Lieutenant in the Austrian Navy named Karl Weyprecht who survived an 1872-74 Arctic expedition with Julius von Payer in which Franz Josef Land was discovered, but their ship, the Admiral Tegetthoff, has to be abandonded in the ice pack. Frustrated that the thousands of observations collected during the expedition “furnish us with a picture of the extreme effects of the forces of Nature in the Arctic regions, but leave us completely in the dark with respect to their causes,

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