1
Why an International Polar Year in 2007-2008

“Whatever you can do, or dream that you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

GOETHE

Environmental changes currently observed in the polar regions are unprecedented in times of modern observation, and there is concern that these rapid changes may continue or even amplify in the coming decades (IPCC, 1998, 2001). The harbingers of change can be seen vividly in the polar regions. The Arctic ice cover is decreasing in extent and area (Cavalieri et al., 1997; Johannessen et al., 2004); some ice shelves in Antarctica are retreating and thinning (Skvarca et al., 1999; Shepherd et al., 2003); glaciers across the globe are disappearing (Arendt et al., 2002); ecosystems are changing (Hunt et al., 2002); Alaskan villages, including Shishmaref, are being moved to higher ground in response to coastal erosion; and permafrost thawing is causing the collapse of roads and buildings (ACIA, 2004). Are we witnesses to the maximum in natural variability or the threshold of an abrupt change? How will changes first seen in the polar regions propagate and influence humans and the environment across Earth?

Events observed today in the polar regions represent a call to action to address many important broad and interlinked research challenges. Changes that we are witnessing in the polar regions today are unlike any in recorded history, yet we do not understand how or why the changes are occurring, and we lack the tools and knowledge to predict, mitigate, or adapt to the outcome. Changes in ice mass reflect that multidecadal integrations of small changes can lead to big changes; implementing polar observation systems is an essential step to document these changes. Clues for understanding how and why similar changes occurred in the past remain stored in polar earth and ice; analyses of sediment and ice cores are needed for understanding past changes. Polar changes are interlinked with the behavior and survival of ecosystems, from microbial life to large organisms, including humans; inter-



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 9
A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007–2008 1 Why an International Polar Year in 2007-2008 “Whatever you can do, or dream that you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” GOETHE Environmental changes currently observed in the polar regions are unprecedented in times of modern observation, and there is concern that these rapid changes may continue or even amplify in the coming decades (IPCC, 1998, 2001). The harbingers of change can be seen vividly in the polar regions. The Arctic ice cover is decreasing in extent and area (Cavalieri et al., 1997; Johannessen et al., 2004); some ice shelves in Antarctica are retreating and thinning (Skvarca et al., 1999; Shepherd et al., 2003); glaciers across the globe are disappearing (Arendt et al., 2002); ecosystems are changing (Hunt et al., 2002); Alaskan villages, including Shishmaref, are being moved to higher ground in response to coastal erosion; and permafrost thawing is causing the collapse of roads and buildings (ACIA, 2004). Are we witnesses to the maximum in natural variability or the threshold of an abrupt change? How will changes first seen in the polar regions propagate and influence humans and the environment across Earth? Events observed today in the polar regions represent a call to action to address many important broad and interlinked research challenges. Changes that we are witnessing in the polar regions today are unlike any in recorded history, yet we do not understand how or why the changes are occurring, and we lack the tools and knowledge to predict, mitigate, or adapt to the outcome. Changes in ice mass reflect that multidecadal integrations of small changes can lead to big changes; implementing polar observation systems is an essential step to document these changes. Clues for understanding how and why similar changes occurred in the past remain stored in polar earth and ice; analyses of sediment and ice cores are needed for understanding past changes. Polar changes are interlinked with the behavior and survival of ecosystems, from microbial life to large organisms, including humans; inter-

OCR for page 9
A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007–2008 disciplinary polar studies in biology therefore are needed (NRC, 2003a). Keys to fundamental discoveries for understanding change may spring from new modes of exploration that range from using autonomous vehicles for ice studies to using genomics to investigate adaptation. Exploration reveals surprises. The changes are not restricted to the physical environment; communications technologies, such as television and the internet, are challenging traditional human lifestyles in cold regions and elsewhere. Yet these same technologies hold the potential for essentially instantaneous sharing of information and for promoting global understanding. Internet-based efforts in global data collection, data sharing, and education hold tremendous potential. In a world of much environmental uncertainty, citizens turn to science for answers. The polar regions are more sensitive to global climate changes, and therefore polar research plays an important role in providing answers (e.g., Albert, 2004; Stone and Vogel, 2004). To this end, scientists around the globe have come together to begin planning the International Polar Year 2007-2008. As described in the report by the International Council for Science’s (ICSU) IPY Planning Group (Rapley and Bell, 2004), IPY 2007-2008 is envisioned as the dawn of a new era in polar science—it will be an intense, internationally coordinated campaign that gives expanded attention to the deep relevance of the polar regions to the health of our planet, and it serves to establish the ongoing observation systems, programs, and intellectual commitment Photographs of the McCall Glacier in Alaska, located in what is now the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which has the longest history of scientific observation for any U.S. Arctic glacier. These observations began as part of the International Geophysical Year in 1957-1958 by Austin Post, who was given an honorary Ph.D. in May 2004 for his IGY contributions. The decrease in the ice extent is consistent with other glaciers across Alaska. Laser altimetry was used to estimate volume changes of 67 glaciers in Alaska from the mid-1950s to the mid-1990s and the average rate of thickness change of these glaciers was –0.52 cubic kilometers per year (water equivalent), equivalent to a rise in sea level of 0.14 millimeters per year. These recent losses of ice from Alaskan glaciers are nearly double the estimated annual loss from the entire Greenland ice sheet during the same time period and are higher than previously published loss estimates for Alaskan glaciers. They represent the largest glaciological contribution to rising sea level yet measured. SOURCES: Austin Post and Matt Nolan, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

OCR for page 9
A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007–2008 needed to fully understand the polar regions and their links to the global system. It will include research in both the Arctic and Antarctic, be multi- and interdisciplinary in scope, and be truly international in participation. It will educate and excite the public and help produce the next generation of engineers, scientists, and leaders. A framework such as the IPY can provide the impetus to undertake projects that could not be achieved by any single nation. It allows us to think beyond traditional borders—whether national borders or disciplinary constraints—toward a new level of integrated, cooperative international science. NATIONS WORKING TOGETHER CAN ACCOMPLISH WHAT NO ONE NATION CAN DO ALONE Nations around the world are making plans for IPY 2007-2008 to attempt to answer these and many more questions. Previous IPYs (1882-1883 and 1932-1933) and the International Geophysical Year (IGY; 1957-1958) produced unprecedented exploration and discoveries in many fields of research and fundamentally changed how science was conducted in the polar regions (see Box 1.1). IPY 2007-2008 will benefit society by exploring new frontiers and increasing our understanding of the key roles of the polar regions in globally linked systems. Recent technological developments give us a new ability to investigate previously unexplored areas, using new tools to understand Scientists working in the polar regions, like these scientists traveling across the Arctic sea ice, face many challenges caused by the harsh conditions. IPY will bring scientists from many nations together to study some of the most important questions of our times. SOURCE: Jackie Grebmeier, University of Tennessee.

OCR for page 9
A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007–2008 BOX 1.1 Past Polar Years and Their Contributions On three occasions over the past 125 years scientists from around the world banded together to organize concentrated scientific and exploration programs in the polar regions. In each major thrust or “year,” scientific knowledge and geographical exploration were advanced, thereby extending understanding of many geophysical phenomena that influence nature’s global systems. Each polar year was a hallmark of international cooperation in science. The experience gained by scientists and governments in international cooperation set the stage for other international scientific collaborations. International scientific cooperation also paved the way for several political accords that gained their momentum from the polar years. IPY 2007-2008 will expand on this legacy of scientific achievement and societal benefits. First International Polar Year (1882-1883). The fundamental concept of the first IPY was that geophysical phenomena could not be surveyed by one nation alone; rather, an undertaking of this magnitude would require a global effort. Twelve countries participated, and 15 expeditions to the polar regions were completed (13 to the Arctic and 2 to the Antarctic). For the United States it provided an opportunity to establish a scientific station at Point Barrow, the northernmost point in Alaska and the continental United States. Beyond the advances to science and geographical exploration, a principal legacy of the first IPY was setting a precedent for international science cooperation. Second International Polar Year (1932-1933). The International Meteorological Organization (a predecessor to the World Meteorological Organization) proposed and promoted the second IPY (1932-1933) as an effort to investigate the global implications of the newly discovered jet stream. Some 40 nations participated in the second IPY, which heralded advances in meteorology, atmospheric sciences, geomagnetism, and the “mapping” of ionospheric phenomena that advanced radioscience and technology. Forty permanent observation stations were established in the Arctic, creating a step function expansion in ongoing scientific Arctic research. The U.S. contribution to this effort also included more stations in the Arctic. In Antarctica the U.S. contribution was the second Byrd Antarctic expedition, which established a winter-long meteorological station approximately 125 miles south of Little America Station on the Ross Ice Shelf at the southern end of Roosevelt Island. This was the first research station inland from Antarctica’s coast. The International Geophysical Year (1957-1958). The IGY (July 1, 1957 to December 31, 1958) celebrated the 75th and 25th anniversaries, respectively, of the First and Second IPYs and had participation from 67 nations. The IGY was conceived by a number of eminent World War II physicists, including Sydney Chapman, James Van Allen, and Lloyd Berkner, at an informal gathering in Washington, D.C., in 1950. These individuals realized the potential of the technology developed during the war (e.g., rockets, radar), and hoped to redirect the technology and scientific momentum toward advances in research, particularly in the upper atmosphere. The IGY’s research, discoveries, and vast array of synoptic observations revised or “rewrote” many notions about the Earth’s geophysics. IGY research helped solve the long-disputed theory on continental drift. During the IGY, the Earth’s first artificial satellites were launched, and the Van Allen Radiation Belt encircling the Earth was discovered. For many disciplines the IGY led to an increased level of research that continues to the present. A notable political result founded on the IGY was ratification of the Antarctic Treaty in 1961. The success of the IGY also fostered an additional year of research through the International Geophysical Cooperation. The Special Committee for the IGY became the model on which three post-IGY scientific committees were developed, for Antarctic, oceanic, and space research, and several focused research efforts, including the International Year of the Quiet Sun. The scientific, institutional, and political legacies of the IGY endured for decades, many to the present day.

OCR for page 9
A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007–2008 once-unanswerable questions. Automatic observatories, satellite-based remote sensing, autonomous vehicles, the internet, and genomics are just a few of the new approaches for studying previously inaccessible realms. IPY 2007-2008 is being planned, from the start, as a truly international collaboration, with active planning from an international planning group and endorsements from a number of important international science organizations, including the ICSU and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO; see Box 1.2, Box 1.3, and Appendix A). This international framework is critical: IPY 2007-2008 will seek to marshal global scientific, human, and financial resources to address problems with a scope, complexity, and importance in ways that could not be accomplished by one nation alone. Development of the next IPY as a collaborative international effort has several tangible benefits, including: Wider participation. Nations can participate under the umbrella of the IPY at a scale that their resources allow. For instance, larger nations such as the United States, which already plays a key role in polar research (NSB, 1987; NSF, 1997), can provide enhanced ground-, ice-, air-, and ocean-based stations and platforms, while smaller nations can provide specific instruments for a network of sensors. This partnered research also will lead to increased innovation. Countries seeking a common approach to a mutual problem benefit from the aggregated expertise. The technical means to accomplish the mutual goal are increased and the gain is shared more widely. The continued revolution in technology that is producing ever more capable components in smaller and lower power configurations is supplying new tools ideally suited for polar applications. Broader perspectives. International collaboration provides multiple perspectives and capabilities. It offers the possibility of unique synergies of thought and optimizes shared resources, and it enhances our ability to understand one another as well as our world. Partnerships will be real and respectful, and will reflect the value of each contributor. This includes early engagement and full consultation during the initiation, implementation, and completion of all facets of these programs. Contributions of varying size and complexity, scaled to abilities and available resources, lead to the broadest participation. Increased data coverage and compatibility. The involvement of a larger number of nations increases the potential spatial coverage of field programs. For instance, BOX 1.2 Criteria for International Polar Year Initiatives In its deliberations, the U.S. National Committee for the International Polar Year suggested the following criteria for IPY initiatives: Address compelling science issues in both polar regions Involve multi-national and interdisciplinary interactions Attract and develop the next generation of scientists, engineers, and leaders Engage the public

OCR for page 9
A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007–2008 BOX 1.3 The International Planning Context Discussions about holding an International Polar Year in 2007-2008 began simultaneously in many nations and many scientific settings. Initial discussions were informal, but this loose brainstorming turned quickly into more organized planning when the International Council for Science established an IPY Planning Group in the summer of 2003. Endorsement by the WMO in this same time frame gave the effort added weight. The ICSU IPY Planning Group, composed of leading polar scientists, and including members with links to other planned large-scale efforts being organized in celebration of the IGY anniversary, was instrumental in laying out the basic vision for IPY and calling on nations to take an active role in the continued definition of science themes, goals, and procedures. The ICSU IPY Planning Group’s report to the ICSU Executive Board (Rapley and Bell, 2004) has been distributed and is posted online (http://us-ipy.org). In an effort to understand what the science community saw as the most important opportunities for IPY 2007-2008, the planning group put out a general call for input. The response was positive and reassuring: more than 325 proposals were received from many individuals, institutions, and organizations. This enthusiastic response has invigorated the polar communities. Nations continue to express interest in participating, ideas continue to be submitted, and planners are working hard to design the next steps so that these general ideas can be organized into active programs and clear mechanisms are designed to allow wide participation. The next step is for planners, with input from all involved nations, to work with scientific experts and agency representatives to transform the many research activities into a coordinated set of cutting-edge research projects that fulfill the IPY vision—programs which are multi- and interdisciplinary in scope, truly international in participation, educate and inspire the public, and train the next generation of engineers, scientists, and leaders. The U.S. research community is encouraged to participate fully in whatever planning activities occur within these international organizations to facilitate international cooperation at an early stage and to ensure that excellent research ideas are not lost. It is probable that some IPY research proposed by the U.S. National Committee will also be voiced in ideas proposed by other nations or by existing international scientific organizations. Common interests will be united by the ICSU IPY Planning Group. The roster of potential IPY 2007-2008 nations is large and growing. In the North there are eight nations with territory and populations in the Arctic, all of which intend to participate (i.e., the United States, Canada, Russia, Greenland/Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland), but there are many more nations with research interests in the region, including Germany, Japan, and China who likely will participate in IPY 2007-2008. In the South, 45 nations are signatories to the Antarctic Treaty and thus have put aside territorial claims to share the continent for scientific purposes. There are also a number of international organizations with responsibilities related to polar research, such as the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, the Scientific Committee for Oceanic Research, the International Arctic Science Committee, the Arctic Ocean Studies Board, and others that are now actively involved. Another layer of involvement comes from existing international science programs that share interest in the science themes being developed, such as the World Climate Research Program’s Climate and the Cryosphere project and the Scientific Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Physics’ Climate and Weather in the Sun-Earth System program. Taken together, all of these different participants bring great momentum to IPY 2007-2008 planning.

OCR for page 9
A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007–2008 nations can deploy similar systems, such as moorings, buoys, profilers, land- and ice-based systems, and share data in compatible formats. This international cooperation will result in benchmark and ongoing datasets collected by standardized methodologies. Differences in regionally based datasets remain a major impediment to global climate research. Temporally and globally consistent merged datasets from observing networks that span the full extent of the polar regions will provide calibrated base lines that are easily shared and that enable international research to flourish, ultimately allowing for scaling to larger spatial analyses of environmental change. Shared human experiences. Less obvious, yet palpable, benefits of international collaboration extend beyond the scientific arena. Apart from the advantages gained by humans when the climate of our planet is better understood, there is shared human experience in exploration that is deepened the more challenging the environment and the more hard-won the understanding. The IGY resulted in a number of unanticipated geopolitical accomplishments despite the tense political climate of the day. IPY 2007-2008 will incorporate this human experience not only by bringing together scientists into international teams but by allowing people across the planet to share in this experience. PURPOSE AND FRAMEWORK OF THIS REPORT The International Polar Year 2007-2008 will initiate a new era of sustained, internationally coordinated polar science. This report reflects the vision of the U.S. Committee for the International Polar Year for participation in that new era. The purpose of this report is to present an overview of potential science themes, enabling technologies, and public outreach opportunities submitted by individuals and the science community in the United States for the next IPY. The objectives are to build consensus on the possible content of the IPY and ensure that plans for its activities address the key IPY goals of addressing issues relevant to both the Arctic and the Antarctic, involving scientists from a range of disciplines and nations and focusing on compelling scientific questions. But this report is also written to engage people other than scientists in thinking about IPY 2007-2008. The U.S. Congress recently showed interest in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the IGY, and this report provides strong evidence that the U.S. and international science communities are already engaged in planning extraordinary activities. This report presents the vision that articulates the overarching science from ideas voiced by many U.S. scientists. This report is not a science plan, for that effort will unfold in the coming months as communities and agencies work together to further define specific IPY activities and to determine exactly what will occur during the 24 months of the IPY and lay the groundwork for what will occur in the following years. Information for this report was generated by a number of routes, including community information gathered through an online discussion forum, public comments on an IPY White Paper, solicited written summaries of research project ideas, committee expertise, and town hall meetings and special sessions at a variety of scientific conferences. Research ideas contributed by individuals and groups to the U.S. National Committee for the International Polar Year were insightful and wide ranging, and after deliberation the committee concluded that there were five scientific challenges (Chapter 2) and two very broad science themes: understanding change in the polar regions (Chapter 3) and exploring new frontiers (Chapter 4). These two overarching themes

OCR for page 9
A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007–2008 This Antarctic sunset near the McMurdo base shows the “calving” of icebergs from the floating Ross Ice Shelf—the largest ice shelf in the world. Larger than the State of Texas, it measures about 660 feet (200 m) thick at the outer edge and about 2,300 feet (700 meters) thick along the inner edge. SOURCE: George Somero, Stanford University. lay the foundation around which IPY activities can be organized. They are by definition very broad, to allow scientists to begin developing more specific science objectives during the next phase of planning. In many cases, innovative technologies and techniques will be needed to answer scientific questions. Chapter 5 outlines some of the enabling technologies that hold special potential in achieving the objectives of the next IPY. Finally, the committee and the community were adamant that public outreach and education be fundamental for the next IPY, and Chapter 6 outlines the key characteristics needed in such activities and provides examples to lead potential participants to think about how to build outreach into all aspects of IPY 2007-2008. In summary, this report is intended to present a first vision for U.S. participation in IPY 2007-2008. As international planning continues, research agency leaders continue discussions, and specific activities are developed, the vision for the IPY will sharpen. The next step in IPY planning will be to move from this broad vision, both within each participating nation and at the international level, toward more concrete activities. The mechanisms for this next step are still taking shape. The U.S. National Committee for the International Polar Year will continue to serve as a focal point for interaction with the international community and will seek ways to move the IPY from conceptualization to implementation.

OCR for page 9
A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007–2008 Research at the Bottom of the World Diana Wall, professor and director of the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University, is in love. More precisely, she is enchanted by invertebrates in the soil—“those under-appreciated animals that frame the web of life.” Wall’s research addresses the importance of soil biodiversity for ecosystems and society. Working in the Antarctic is “crazy,” she freely admits, and yet she can’t stay away. She is in awe of “the vastness, and the fact that I am on a landscape that is geologic history in front of my eyes—much like Mars.” And it’s important. “Understanding the polar regions is to global ecosystems what understanding model organisms is to human health,” she says. “They are inseparable.” The risk of not studying the polar regions is inconceivable, she adds. There are so many questions to answer—questions about weather, dispersal of organisms, evolutionary biology, and much more. Specifically, Wall investigates how soil biodiversity contributes to healthy productive soils. She also is concerned with the consequences of human activities on soil sustainability. Fueled by this passion, Wall has spent 13 field seasons since 1989 in the cold desert ecosystem of the Antarctic Dry Valleys, which she says is “thrilling.” Here she is learning how glaciers, soils, streams, and lakes are interconnected, and how biota respond. In many ways, the Dry Valleys are among the harshest and most isolated environments on the planet, says Wall. The average annual temperature ranges between a chilly –4°F (–20°C) and 3.2°F (–16°C). In winter a cloak of total darkness descends upon the valley for a long time, and temperatures may plummet to –49°F (–45°C). At that time, each ecosystem adopts its own extravagant survival strategies as ordinary linkages between ecosystems are severed. Because of these extremes in temperature and dryness, few species of plants and animals make their home in the Dry Valleys, Wall explains. Eukaryotic algae, cyanobacteria, and mosses comprise the stream communities, and microbial communities inhabit the glaciers and lakes. Food chains appear to be unusually short. So short, in fact, that the major polar “predator” in the valleys is the nematode—which is microscopic. The dominant invertebrate in this particular ecosystem, nematodes are present in 60 to 80 percent of the soils in the Dry Valleys, where they consume bacteria, fungi, and other microscopic animals. Working in the Antarctic has taught Wall much about planning and patience, she says. This is because you decide which pieces of equipment and gear you need—from Petri dishes to tents—to have a successful trip. And you design the experiments. “You plan this months in advance,” she says. “And then, when you finally get to the ice, you have to be patient. Ultimately, the weather controls whether you have a good field season and get the experiments set up. “If it’s great weather, then I may get data from all the experiments I planned,” says Wall. “If not, we have to make some hard choices about what are our priorities. “It’s crazy,” she says again. “It is hard, long, exhausting, and I love it.” Photo of Diana Wall. SOURCE: Emma Broos.