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International Polar Year 2007–2008: Report of the Implementation Workshop OVERVIEW The International Polar Year (IPY)1 2007-2008 will be an intense, internationally coordinated campaign of polar observations, research, and analysis that will further our understanding of physical and social processes in the polar regions, examine their globally-connected role in the climate system, and establish research infrastructure for the future. Within this context, the IPY will galvanize new and innovative observations and research while at the same time building on and enhancing existing relevant initiatives. It also will serve as a mechanism to attract and develop a new generation of scientists and engineers with the versatility to tackle complex global issues. In the United States, The National Academies’ Polar Research Board (PRB) established the U.S. National Committee for the International Polar Year (USNC) to outline a framework for U.S. participation in the IPY. The Committee authored a report entitled A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007- 2008 (NRC, 2004) that identified five scientific challenges: Assess large-scale environmental and social change in the polar regions; Conduct scientific exploration of the polar regions; Create multidisciplinary observing networks in the polar regions; Increase understanding of human-environment dynamics; and Create new connections between science and the public. To further IPY planning, the PRB then created an IPY Implementation Workshop Committee (see Appendix B for committee biographies) to organize a 2-day workshop on July 8-9, 2004 in Washington, D.C. (see Appendix C for the Workshop Agenda), aimed at promoting discussions between the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and federal agencies. The Workshop was attended by 47 agency representatives and scientists (see Appendix D for a participant list), to talk about how the United States might address these challenges and move ahead in the process of developing a suite of coordinated scientific activities in the context of known and potential international interests. This report outlines the results of that workshop, which provided specific discussions about potential activities and a 1 A list of acronyms is provided in Appendix A.
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International Polar Year 2007–2008: Report of the Implementation Workshop forum for frank discussion of how different agencies might participate and what each envisions as possible goals during the IPY. It is important to note that these IPY discussions are still at a very early stage with regard to specific plans, and it is likely that other ideas and more specific program plans will emerge in the coming months. This report does not contain consensus findings or any recommendations; rather, it is a summary of key discussion items. The workshop was organized around three main sessions—opening agency remarks made in the context of current understanding of international interests, discussion on possible U.S. and international IPY science and technology initiatives, and discussion of IPY implementation and next steps. The workshop began with prepared remarks from attending agencies2 that outlined potential agency interests in the IPY. This gave the workshop participants a starting point for discussion. Participants began the open discussion by focusing on polar environmental change. Participants noted that an internationally-coordinated study of environmental change would provide an understanding of rapid past changes and an account of current changes, and create a baseline for future comparisons. There also was discussion on studying the relationships of the polar regions to the mid-latitudes and tropical regions, and studying the polar regions as harbingers of change for the mid-latitudes and tropical regions. In the Arctic, a necessary component of the environmental change program would be to enhance the Arctic observing network, to create benchmark data sets, and to invest in data fusion, data assimilation, and modeling studies. In the Antarctic, key U.S. components would address ice sheet stability and climate history contained in high resolution ice and sediment cores, as well as develop targeted, internationally coordinated environmental studies. There were many statements that the U.S. efforts to address coupled human-environment dynamics are not as well developed as ideas for studying environmental change, and that additional efforts are needed to develop the social science and humanities portions of the IPY plan. Some participants suggested that the U.S. effort should include studies on contaminants, as well as studies on the management of fisheries and marine ecosystems. With guidance from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) perspective, there was discussion on the need for studying health issues in the polar regions with an emphasis on the emerging issues in the north, such as the recent increase in diabetes and heart disease; the prevalence of alcoholism and abuse; mental health, particularly as it relates to the polar night; and vector diseases associated with environmental change. Related topics that received considerable discussions were human adaptation, “wellness,” 2 Agencies present included Department of Defense/Arctic Submarine Lab, Department of Defense/Office of Naval Research, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security/United States Coast Guard, Department of the Interior/U.S. Geological Survey, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Institutes of Health, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Smithsonian Institution, The National Academies, and U.S. Department of State.
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International Polar Year 2007–2008: Report of the Implementation Workshop sustainability, and polar engineering studies in the IPY. These concepts are well-recognized in Alaskan communities, but they are not yet fully integrated into the U.S. IPY plan. The parts of the U.S. IPY program focusing on exploring new scientific frontiers will likely include exploiting new technologies and studying new or little-explored regions. Participants discussed that genomics is an incredibly powerful tool for understanding polar organisms and ecosystems, and that many aspects of polar biology represent emerging scientific frontiers. Participants also recognized the scientific community still knows relatively little about how organisms and ecosystems manage to survive in the extreme cold and dark of the long polar night. U.S. efforts focused on developing the capability for supporting biological research during the polar night would constitute a great accomplishment for the IPY. In addition, there is hope the IPY could be used to sequence a series of polar organisms for the first time. In terms of studying new and little-explored regions, some places the United States may try to explore include the Gakkel Ridge, Canada Basin, Eurasian Basin, continental shelves, East Antarctica, and the subglacial lake environments. Concern about accessing Lake Vostok (the largest known subglacial lake) during the IPY was expressed given the need for developing strong environmental safeguards and advancing drilling technologies and robotic sensors in the relatively short time remaining before IPY. The concept of studying a smaller subglacial lake was advanced. The development of multidisciplinary observing networks was seen as an important component of a U.S. IPY program. Some participants noted that the Group on Earth Observations is developing a world-wide observing network, and that the IPY could be used to implement this network in the polar regions, particularly the Arctic. As part of developing the network, there was strong support for U.S. participation in taking a global “snapshot” of polar conditions, where Earth observing satellites from many nations would be coordinated and coupled to intensive surface and airborne-based observational campaigns. Additionally, as part of developing this network, some participants suggested a concerted U.S. effort could focus additional energy on autonomous vehicles and new sensors. Furthermore, efforts to refurbish the icebreaker fleet and upgrade research infrastructure would help ensure the long-term viability of polar science. The workshop also examined data issues and education and outreach. There were many statements that data sharing, storage, and archival policies are not yet well-defined for the IPY, and that those need to be addressed, perhaps by a task force on data consisting of agency and data center personnel, and working scientists. In terms of education and outreach, a recent workshop on polar education was cited as an example of the level of effort to further IPY education and outreach. Again, discussion focused on mechanisms needed to organize the IPY education and outreach program, including the possibilities of an interagency working group or an education task force. The workshop continued with a discussion of additional projects that might occur in a more ambitious IPY, should this be possible. Some of the ideas included
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International Polar Year 2007–2008: Report of the Implementation Workshop a concentrated program on new technology, enhanced studies of global teleconnections, and the establishment of global infrastructure to create a legacy for generations to come. Some participants also discussed the steps needed to implement the U.S. IPY program, noting that, while the IPY is still three years away, planning must continue at a quick pace in order for the United States to be fully prepared. There was agreement that some important next steps include continuing to disseminate IPY information to the science community and facilitating their involvement; increasing attention on data, education, and outreach issues; and determining the future structure of IPY coordination. The workshop then concluded with a discussion of the potential outcomes of the IPY. There was discussion that a successful IPY program would improve understanding of the key role of the polar regions in the global context, advance technology for polar science, and improve our ability to undertake interdisciplinary studies. The IPY also would be successful if it inspired the human spirit of discovery and improved the lives of residents across the globe. Some commentators mentioned that the IPY could foster the continued peaceful use of the poles, inspire additional nations to undertake science and technology studies in the polar regions, and lead to a more globally-engaged scientific workforce.
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