Environmental changes currently witnessed in the polar regions are vivid and in many cases greater than changes observed in the midlatitudes or tropics. The Arctic ice cover is decreasing in extent and area; some ice shelves in Antarctica are retreating and thinning; glaciers across the globe are shrinking; ecosystems are changing; Alaskan villages are being moved to higher ground in response to coastal erosion; and permafrost thawing is causing the collapse of roads and buildings. We must understand these changes in the context of past changes in order to make informed choices for the future. Yet we do not understand how or why many of the changes are occurring. Exploration of new scientific frontiers in the polar regions may help scientists better understand Earth’s environment and will also lead to new discoveries, insights, and theories potentially important to all people.
In effect, the polar regions are central to many of the key science issues of our time. To better understand these and other questions, nations around the world are making plans to participate in International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008. At its most fundamental level, IPY 2007-2008 is envisioned to be an intense, coordinated campaign of polar observations, research, and analysis that will be multidisciplinary in scope and international in participation. IPY 2007-2008 is an ambitious program following in the footsteps of some historic past campaigns. During previous IPYs (1882-1883 and 1932-1933) and the International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957-1958, which was held on the 25th anniversary of the previous IPY, unprecedented exploration of Earth and space led to discoveries in many fields of science that fundamentally changed how we view the polar regions and their global linkages (see Chapter 1). In its turn, 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.
This IPY will be far more than an anniversary celebration of the IGY or previous IPYs: it will be a watershed event and will use today’s powerful research tools to better understand the key roles of the polar regions in global processes. Automatic observatories, satellite-based remote sensing, autonomous vehicles, the Internet, and genomics are just a few of the innovative approaches for studying previously inaccessible realms. IPY 2007-2008 will be
fundamentally broader than the IGY and past IPYs because it will explicitly incorporate multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary studies, including biological, ecological, and social science elements. Such a program will not only add to our scientific understanding but also it will result in a world community with shared ownership in the results.
IPY 2007-2008 will provide a framework and impetus to undertake projects that normally could not be achieved by any single nation. It will allow us to think beyond traditional borders—whether national borders or disciplinary constraints—toward a new level of integrated, cooperative science. A coordinated international approach maximizes both impact and cost effectiveness, and the international collaborations started today will build relationships and understanding that will bring long-term benefits. Within this context, IPY 2007-2008 will seek to galvanize new and innovative observations and research while at the same time building on and enhancing existing relevant initiatives. It 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 addition, there is clearly an opportunity to organize an exciting range of educational and outreach activities designed to excite and engage the public, with a presence in classrooms around the world and in the media in varied and innovative formats.
Enthusiasm for IPY 2007-2008 is strong and growing. In about one year the science community has progressed from its earliest discussions of possibilities for new
international science endeavors to serious planning of what IPY 2007-2008 might accomplish and what resources are needed. More than 25 nations have formally declared their intent to participate, and many more have discussions in process. Here in the United States, scientists have been presenting talks and holding open forums at professional meetings and using an interactive Website to brainstorm ideas where U.S. leadership might ensure significant contributions. A call to the science community for ideas about what science themes to pursue brought forward hundreds of ideas, and this input has been crucial in the IPY planning and in the preparation of this report.
The U.S. National Committee for the International Polar Year 2007-2008 was formed by the Polar Research Board of the National Academies to articulate a vision for U.S. participation in IPY 2007-2008 in coordination with and on behalf of our nation’s science community. The committee has worked closely with the U.S. science community using a variety of mechanisms, and it has worked with our international colleagues, especially the International Council for Science’s IPY 2007-2008 Planning Group, to identify important science themes and develop the detailed information needed to implement its many contributing activities. This report is a record of the committee’s deliberations. Chapter 1 outlines the rationale for organizing IPY 2007-2008. Chapter 2 provides an overview of the scientific challenges that lay the foundation for IPY activities. Chapters 3 and 4 look in depth at the proposed main science themes identified here in the United States, which are understanding change in the polar regions and exploring new scientific frontiers. In Chapter 5 the focus is on the technology needed to support innovative observations. Chapter 6 sets the stage for discussions on capitalizing on IPY 2007-2008 to increase public understanding of the polar regions and science more broadly. Finally, Chapter 7 presents a detailed list of the actions needed to implement IPY 2007-2008. These recommendations, which are supported by discussions in the main chapters, are as follows:
Recommendation 1: The U.S. science community and agencies should use the International Polar Year to initiate a sustained effort aimed at assessing large-scale environmental change and variability in the polar regions.
Provide a comprehensive assessment of polar environmental changes through studies of the past environment and the creation of baseline datasets and long-term measurements for future investigations.
Environmental changes currently observed in the polar regions are unprecedented in times of modern observation. Studies investigating natural environmental variability, human influence on our planet, and global teleconnections will help in understanding mechanisms of rapid climate change and in developing models suitable for forecasting changes that will occur in the twenty-first century. This effort will need to be sustained after IPY 2007-2008.
Encourage interdisciplinary studies and the development of models that integrate geophysical, ecological, social science, and economic data, especially investigations of the prediction and consequences of rapid change.
Because of its broad interdisciplinary approach, research initiated in IPY 2007-2008 stands to make a significant contribution to our understanding of the causes and consequences of change in the polar regions.
Recommendation 2: The U.S. science community and agencies should pioneer new polar studies of coupled human-natural systems that are critical to U.S. societal, economic, and strategic interests.
Encourage research to understand the role of the polar regions in globally linked systems and the impacts of environmental change on society.
Daily life and economic and strategic activities are constantly affected by changing environmental conditions, including the frequency and degree of severe weather events such as storms or droughts in many regions, including the continental United States. Investigations of impacts of linked environmental-technological-social change and health effects in many communities, including northern communities, are needed.
Investigate physical-chemical-biological interactions in natural systems in a global system context.
Interdisciplinary approaches hold great promise for understanding the dynamics of anthropogenic activities, technologies, and environmental consequences. Investigations of linked atmospheric-oceanic-ice-land processes in the polar regions will enable understanding of global linkages and transformations due to natural and anthropogenic causes.
Examine the effects of polar environmental change on the human-built environment.
Because of the recent large-scale environmental changes, northern communities, infrastructure, and other forms of human-built environment are affected by a variety of factors, such as the thawing of permafrost, higher frequency of severe storms and weather conditions; increased shore- and beach erosion, vegetation die-off, and fire danger. New engineering and policy research should investigate economically feasible and culturally appropriate mitigation techniques for countering the effects of a changing environment on technology, local communities, and their infrastructure, including all-season ground and air transportation, the design of roads, harbors, foundations, and buildings.
Recommendation 3: The U.S. International Polar Year effort should explore new scientific frontiers from the molecular to the planetary scale.
Conduct a range of activities such as multidisciplinary studies of terrestrial and aquatic biological communities; oceanographic processes, including seafloor environments; subglacial environments and unexplored subglacial lakes; the Earth’s deep interior; and Sun-Earth connections.
Opportunities for discoveries exist in many areas, and research could elucidate the structures of poorly understood biological communities, notably the microbial populations that contribute to most biogeochemical transformations; reveal oceanic processes that contribute importantly to biological productivity and climate; and discover new physical, chemical, and, potentially, biological characteristics of subglacial lakes long isolated from atmospheric contact. This research also could help understand major geological processes such as seafloor spreading, explore the subglacial topography and bedrock geology of regions important for Earth’s climate history, map the structure of
Earth’s interior and explore the links between mantle structure and surface processes, and provide an integrative synthesis of the interactions of our planet with the Sun.
Apply new knowledge gained from exploration to questions of societal importance.
Polar biological studies, notably those that employ modern genomic methodologies, will advance biomedical and biotechnological research. For example, understanding how small mammals withstand temperatures near freezing during hibernation will contribute to improved protocols for cold storage of biological materials and for cryosurgery. Studies of oceanographic phenomena will facilitate more accurate understanding of the mechanisms driving climate change. Understanding how increased flow of fresh water into the polar oceans alters circulation patterns and transfer of heat from the tropics to the poles is one example of contributions from oceanography. Advances in the geosciences (e.g., through study of the extremely slow seafloor spreading rates in the Arctic) may shed light on tectonic processes that contribute to seismic events. Better understanding of solar influences on the atmosphere and Earth will improve understanding of the forces that drive weather systems and of solar activity on global communications and other technical systems.
Invest in new capabilities essential to support interdisciplinary exploration at the poles.
New scientific discoveries are based in part on the availability of enhanced logistics to provide access to unexplored regions as well as new technologies to provide new types of data. The IPY field component should aggressively seek to further develop innovative strategies for polar exploration.
Recommendation 4: 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.
Design and establish integrated multidisciplinary observing networks that employ new sensing technologies and data assimilation techniques to quantify spatial and temporal change in the polar regions.
The IPY will provide the integrative basis for advancing system-scale long-term observational capabilities across disciplines. A goal of the IPY should be the design and establishment of a system of integrated multidisciplinary observing networks. New autonomous instrumentation requires development with the harsh polar environment in mind. Instruments required for different types of studies can be clustered together, minimizing the collective environmental risks of survival and encouraging integrated analysis. Common observational protocols, such as observation frequency and measurement precision, will increase the spatial range of the observations and simplify data assimilation. Once established in the IPY, such protocols will serve polar science in the longer term.
Conduct an internationally coordinated “snapshot” of the polar regions using all available satellite sensors.
Two hallmarks of the IGY were the dawn of the satellite era and the establishment of enduring benchmark datasets. Today’s ever-growing suite of satellite sensors pro-
vides unique views of the polar regions with unprecedented detail. Marshaling the collective satellite resources of all space agencies around the world would supply generations of future scientists an unparalleled view of the state of the polar regions during the IPY 2007-2008.
Recommendation 5: The United States should invest in critical infrastructure (both physical and human) and technology to guarantee that the International Polar Year 2007-2008 leaves enduring benefits for the nation and for the residents of northern regions.
Ensure the long-term availability of assets necessary to support science in the polar regions, such as ice-capable ships, icebreakers, submarines, and manned and unmanned long-range aircraft.
Although IPY 2007-2008 is planned as a focused burst of activity with demonstrable results, it should also provide long-term value and leave a legacy of infrastructure and technology that serves a wide range of scientific studies for decades to come.
Encourage development of innovative technologies to expand the suite of polar instruments and equipment, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), and rovers.
Observational systems for the polar regions can be improved enormously by applying innovative technologies. Recent technological advances in UAVs, AUVs, and robotic rovers can be marshaled and adapted for the IPY to ensure that these platforms enhance IPY research capabilities.
Develop advanced communications systems with increased bandwidth and accessibility capable of operating in polar field conditions.
The innovative technologies and large-scale field operations during IPY 2007-2008 will require advanced communications systems with high-speed, real-time access to communicate and distribute data from both polar regions to the rest of the world.
Develop international standards, policies, and procedures that ensure data are easily accessible for the current generation and permanently preserved for future generations.
The data management systems should provide free and open access to data in standard formats. In addition, extensive metadata should be included to facilitate long-term reanalysis and so that datasets can be used by a variety of users. This effort should include data rescue efforts to expand the data record back in time and ensure that historical data are not lost.
Develop the next generation of scientists, engineers, and leaders and include underrepresented groups and minorities.
Tomorrow’s leaders are in today’s classrooms, and the IPY effort should focus on cultivating an interest in the next generation of scientists, engineers, and leaders to create a lasting legacy.
Recommendation 6: The U.S. International Polar Year effort should excite and engage the public, with the goals of increasing understanding of the importance of polar regions in the global system and, at the same time, advancing general science literacy in the nation.
Develop programs in education and outreach that build on the inherent public interest of the polar regions and provide a broad lay audience with a deeper understanding of the polar regions.
The polar regions have important direct and indirect effects on the rest of the world, and the IPY can help explain the importance of the polar regions to the public.
Create opportunities for education, training, and outreach for all age groups and build on successful existing models. Education and outreach during the IPY should include innovative new approaches that are interactive, make use of diverse media, and provide opportunities for hands-on participation by the public.
The polar regions are inherently exotic to many people—the terrain, the plants, the animals, the weather, the remoteness—and they capture our imagination. This is key to engaging the public. There will be opportunities for formal classroom programs for people of a variety of ages, and media coverage that will provide both entertainment and enjoyable science education.
Recommendation 7: The U.S. science community and agencies should participate as leaders in International Polar Year 2007-2008.
Guide and contribute to IPY 2007-2008 activities and help to evolve the international framework, using the IPY as an opportunity to build long-lasting partnerships and cooperation across national borders.
IPY 2007-2008 is an international effort, with more than 25 nations already committed to participate. Because of the strength of U.S. polar programs, our nation stands to play a leadership role in organizing and carrying out this ambitious program. Planning at the international level is under the auspices of two major organizations, the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and the United States should lead the coordination with other countries through the ICSU and WMO to ensure the success of the IPY.
Continue to plan IPY 2007-2008 using an open, inclusive process.
The initial impetus for organizing IPY 2007-2008 came from the science community, which has come together and worked diligently to identify activities of merit. This open process leverages the intellectual assets of the U.S. science community and should be continued.
Coordinate federal efforts to ensure a successful IPY effort, capitalizing on and supporting existing agency missions and creating new opportunities.
International polar science efforts that have already been planned by the U.S. science community provide models for interagency collaboration, and additional future interagency efforts are encouraged, including coordination with the Arctic Council.
Continue planning for IPY 2007-2008, moving toward the creation of a more detailed science implementation plan.
The next phase of IPY planning will need to provide concrete guidance that defines the science goals and addresses logistics and other key aspects of implementation. This phase of planning should include active participation by the U.S. science community and U.S. funding agencies and also continued efforts to coordinate with international planning activities so that resources are leveraged.
Provide mechanisms for individuals, early-career researchers, and small teams to contribute to the IPY.
The overarching science goals of the IPY are broad and focused on international cooperation, but mechanisms for early-career researchers and small teams must be included in the larger IPY framework.