The effort exerted during IPY toward networking various data centers should continue and expand into the future. Today, the rapid exchange of vast data volumes allows a distributed data center, and IPY used this to advantage in linking data sets hosted in widely separate data centers to form much larger virtual data centers (also the eGY concept). This trend will continue, but the partnerships between data centers need to be more than electronic links. To fully serve the needs of scientists strong in a single discipline but interested in multiple disciplines, the form and format of the data sets need to be modified to enable an increased level of interdisciplinary research. This will require collaborative planning on the part of data managers and scientists. It may not require changing the actual form of the data, but rather provision of interface tools that allow a data set to be understood by a variety of disciplinary experts.
Other considerations include institutional requirements for data release. Parsons et al. (2011) expressed the view that “the experience in IPY has shown that most effective enforcement mechanism is through funding mechanisms that either withhold some funding or reduce the ability of scientists to obtain future funding opportunities if they do not adhere to the data policy.” This is a familiar condition in the United States, where the NSF, which funds much of the polar research, imposes just such a requirement on funded investigators. In return for data shared by investigators and data managed by data centers, it is very important that users of the data provide proper and complete acknowledgment and credit these data in their subsequent use. Guidance for proper citation supplied by data centers is becoming more common. For example, with data sets archived in the National Snow and Ice Data Center, there is a sentence provided that explicitly states how the data and its archive should be referenced in documents that make use of the data. Understanding the data policies of all government funding entities involved is an important component for planning future international science endeavors like IPY.
The polar regions have always presented great logistical challenges because the terrain is vast, access can be difficult and expensive, the working conditions are invariably difficult, and the areas of interest frequently cross national boundaries. As a result, to adequately observe the large-scale systems interacting, international cooperation is frequently a necessity, requiring significant planning. Observation networks such as SAON, iAOOS, and SOOS developed and/ or expanded during IPY. IPY put in place the planning and infrastructure needed to develop long-term sustained measurement systems for the Arctic and Antarctic. The structure of these networks will continue to evolve as the data are analyzed and needs change. However, sustaining these systems in the long term will continue to present a challenge to the research community.
IPY saw numerous examples of first-time deployments of new tools for observing the polar climate, ecosystems, and beyond; examples include SeaGliders, unmanned aerial systems, and animal-borne ocean sensors. IPY also saw the use of existing tools in new ways and in new places. These new tools allowed for a more comprehensive observation of the poles than ever before. The use of remotely controlled autonomous observing systems became increasingly common, while the cost and complexity of these systems often made multiagency and/or international cooperation necessary. This was never more apparent than with satellite systems. IPY cannot claim credit for the generation of any new satellite missions, but it did succeed in an unprecedented set of coordinated observation from spaceborne sensors operated by multiple national space agencies. Through the IPY’s Space Task Group, this Polar Snapshot was so successful that the group has remained and continues to cooperate with national space agencies for observations intended to maintain an effective space-based monitoring of the polar regions to help overcome what is a decreasing observational capability as many satellite systems age and fail.
Observations are of little value if they are not available to researchers. However, the challenges to availability multiply as the data volumes increase and the needs of interdisciplinary research extend to data of unfamiliar form and content. A number of existing data centers in the United States stepped up to this challenge, making data management expertise available to IPY projects and following through with mechanisms to receive, organize, store, and make available metadata of all types that would assist researchers in locating data relevant to a wide range of scientific pursuits.