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Has IPY already started?

In many places on this web site you will find reference to ‘IPY launch’ and launch events.  Many of us work on an IPY Opening Ceremony scheduled for 1 March 2007.  But, if you follow this blog, you have read reports from the vessel Tara, frozen into Arctic sea ice, and from Polarstern, already working near Antarctica in the southern ocean.  You might have noticed in recent news and blogs that a Chilean and US expedition, on the Swedish vessel Oden, departed a few weeks ago from Punta Arenas on “one of the first collaborative activities of the International Polar Year”.  So, has the IPY already started, or does it start on 1 March 2007?

IPY has definitely started.  To do any research in polar regions one has to make plans, deploy equipment, and start travel months to years ahead.  To have a vessel in a key position in the central Arctic for the summer of 2007, that vessel needs to enter the ice in 2006.  To assemble a complete census of Antarctic marine life (one of IPY’s goals) or to understand seasonal and annual variations of the integrated Southern Ocean ecosystem and its role in the global carbon cycle (another IPY goal), one needs to use scarce and expensive ship resources wisely over several seasons.  Ships, ice conditions, weather, supplies - for many reasons polar research must start early and will generally finish late.  Funding also plays a key, and nearly always, delaying role.  Obviously, some IPY projects have funding in hand.  Meanwhile, Denmark and USA have just announced new IPY funds - in those countries, researchers just now write their proposals.  In view of the logistic and funding realities, we know that some IPY activities will not complete their observations or archive (and share!) their data by 28 February 2009. 

We celebrate the start of this IPY with an auspicious and prominent Opening Ceremony in Paris on 1 March 2007, coordinated with many national launch events.  We use those ceremonies and events to call the world’s attention to our activities and goals.  We have a singular opportunity to develop a comprehensive assessment of the polar regions.  We should not expect that an activity as large and complicated as IPY can spring suddenly to life on a single day or complete all tasks neatly 731 days later. 

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