of life in the North facing the challenges of a changing planet? What will be discovered when 21st century technology examines this unique frontier?

Given the size and scope of IPY, it is important to ask: Was it a success? What was learned? And what could be done better next time? This report is an attempt to answer these questions by considering the accomplishments and lessons learned through IPY. Because science funding for IPY projects in the United States was awarded from 2006 to 2009, all polar science conducted during this time is recognized under the umbrella of IPY in this report on U.S. lessons and legacies.

Evidence to date shows that IPY accomplished its goals. Activities at both poles led to scientific discoveries that provided a step change in scientific understanding and yielded insights about the importance of the polar regions. IPY facilitated a major expansion of the polar science capabilities of people, tools, and systems; it inspired the engagement of educators, students, polar residents, and the public at large; and it saw the transitioning of its scientific knowledge to policy-relevant information.


The International Polar Year of 2007-2008 was built on a foundation laid by International Polar Years in 1882-1883 and 1932-1933 and the International Geophysical Year in 1957-1958. In its time, each of these campaigns marked a breakthrough in internationally coordinated exploration of Earth and space. IPY 2007-2008 took place in a different context from previous such efforts. The years leading up to it saw a mounting recognition of increasing global temperatures, rising sea level, and environmental change. Events such as the breakup of the Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica and the diminishing sea ice and seasonal opening of the Northwest Passage in the Arctic highlighted the rapid pace of change at the poles.

To address these and other polar and planetary interactions and changes, the following objectives were articulated for IPY in the 2004 NRC report A Vision for International Polar Year (NRC, 2004):

•   The U.S. scientific community and agencies should use the IPY to initiate a sustained effort aimed at assessing large-scale environmental change and variability in the polar regions.

•   The U.S. scientific community and agencies should include studies of coupled human-natural systems critical to societal, economic, and strategic interests in the IPY.

•   The U.S. IPY effortshould expIore new scientific frontiers from the molecular to the planetary scale.

•   The International Polar Year should be used as an opportunity to design and implement multidisciplinary polar observing networks that will provide a long-term perspective.

•   The United States should invest in critical infrastructure (both physical and human) and technology to guarantee that IPY 2007-2008 leaves enduring benefits for the nation and for the residents of northern regions.

•   The U.S. IPY program should radio and engage the public, with the goal of increasing understanding of the importance of polar regions in the global system and, at the same time, advance general science literacy in the nation.

•   The U.S. scientific community and agencies should participate as leaders in International Polar Year 2007-2008.


People were the engine that powered IPY. The capability, enthusiasm, and experience of the international polar research community grew through participation in IPY and the community grew more connected as participants collaborated on IPY international projects. Young polar researchers from around the world were drawn to polar science and formed an active peer network that will help empower the next generation of polar scientists. In addition to growing in number, the polar research community grew more diverse, in particular with more women becoming involved and taking leadership roles both in planning and in conducting field programs.

IPY also drew polar residents, in particular those from indigenous communities in the Arctic, into the research community and spurred partnerships in polar observations and resource management. Arctic residents became more aware of the advantages to be gained by using the outputs of scientific investigations to assist in their daily lives, and the research community enhanced its ability to return meaningful value-added products to residents. Furthermore, engagement with the inhabitants of the Arctic has led to new capacities for learning about the social processes and health of the

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