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own right. This overwhelming sense of rapid and increasing change, and what we can learn from it, especially in the polar regions where the change is fastest, is one of the major motivations for the development of the IPY (Albert, 2004).

Beyond the sense of planetary change, discovery is a keen motivator. In the 1800s exploration was conducted by teams of men pressing for the poles, led by Nansen, Amundsen, Scott, and Shackleton. Nansen captured the essence of geographically motivated exploration, noting that humankind’s spirit “will never rest till every spot of these regions has been trod upon” (Nansen and Sverdrup, 1897). Today we seek to push the frontiers of our knowledge of processes, rather than geographic frontiers. The community remains intensely motivated by Nansen’s second restless quest, which is to seek knowledge “till every enigma has been solved.” While Nansen sought to understand the circulation in the Arctic Ocean, today we see major opportunities for scientific discovery in Antarctic Earth science. Discovery is the second motivation for this IPY. The frontiers are no longer the geographic poles but the regions and processes hidden by kilometers of ice and water.

Propelled forward by the sense of planetary change and a sense of discovery, IPY 2007-2008 will be the largest internationally coordinated research program in 50 years, actively engaging over 50,000 scientists from 62 nations. The result of a five-year community-wide planning process, the IPY 2007-2008 will be an intensive period of interdisciplinary science focused on both polar regions—the Antarctic and the Arctic. The projects of the IPY 2007-2008 focus on deciphering these processes of change in the polar regions and their linkages with the rest of the globe while also exploring some of the final frontiers.


Today in our global interconnected world, “year” events occur at a frenetic pace. For example, 2002 was the U.N. International Year of Mountains and 2005 was the U.N. Year of Physics. These U.N.-sponsored events tend to focus on celebration, awareness, and education. For instance, in parallel with the IPY 2007-2008, Earth scientists have developed the U.N. International Year of Planet Earth, a celebration of the role of Earth science in society. Awareness, celebration, and education have consistently been a key facet of all IPYs since 1882-1883, but the central framework for the polar years has always been to facilitate collaborative science at a level impossible for any individual nation.

The concept of collaborative international polar science focused on a specific period was developed by Lt. Karl Weyprecht, an Austrian naval officer. Weyprecht was a scientist and co-commander of the Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition that set off in 1872 in a three-masted schooner, the Admiral Tegetthoff. The expedition returned two years later without the schooner. The expedition had abandoned the ship frozen into the pack ice and hauled sledges over the pack ice for 90 days to the relative safety of open water. Weyprecht was acutely aware that the systematic observations necessary to advance the understanding of the fundamental problems of meteorology and geophysics were impossible for men hauling sledges across the ice and struggling to survive. His frustration with the inability to understand polar phenomena with the data from a single national expedition is captured in his “Fundamental Principles of Arctic Research” (Weyprecht, 1875). He noted that “whatever interest all these observations may possess, they do not possess that scientific value, even supported by a long column of figures, which under other circumstances might have been the case. They only 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.”

Weyprecht believed that the systematic successful study of the polar regions and large-scale polar phenomena by a single nation was impossible. He argued that fixed stations where coordinated observations could be made were necessary for consistency of measurements. Weyprecht’s insights were central to the planning and execution of the first IPY.

A realization of Weyprecht’s vision, the first IPY (1882-1883) involved 12 countries launching 15 expeditions to the poles: 13 to the Arctic and 2 to the Antarctic, using coal- and steam-powered vessels (Figure 1). At each station a series of

FIGURE 1 First International Polar Year. Top: Norwegian ship in the ice, Kara Sea (from Steen [1887]). Bottom: Observer making temperature observations at Fort Conger, 1882 (from Greely [1886]).


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