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IGY Films Online

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The third IPY, held between 1957-58, was expanded into the International Geophysical Year (IGY), and a small team in Boulder at the University of Colorado have been working for months with a number of colleagues, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, to get permission to put a series of films about IGY research online.  The 13 films, which are now up on the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics website, complement the IGY posters and accompanying booklet, providing an opportunity to compare and contrast today’s science, technology… and science education… with the state of the art fifty years ago.

The quality of the films, each 29 minutes long, is, shall we say, varied.  They are best viewed with a robust Internet connection and the latest version of Flash Player. The digital files were made from VHS copies transfered from 16mm films, and the theme music and narrative style, which some viewers of a certain age may recognize from having seen the films in grade school, seems specially designed to lull viewers to sleep with its hypnotic drone and, by today’s standards, slow pacing. 

Nevertheless, these films are true treasures: The Inconstant Air describes the studies of the atmosphere and the greenhouse effect; David Keeling’s pioneering research on global CO2 concentrations and flux was part of IGY.  The Flaming Sky describes research on auroras; it wasn’t until IGY that scientists understood that auroras are synchronous events, occurring in both polar regions at the same time. The Secrets of the Ice describes research on glaciers and ice caps and their role in the Earth system.

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