Initiated by a core group of enthusiasts and agencies with knowledge of previous international polar years, and building on existing international programs and organizational infrastructure, International Polar Year 2007-2008 (IPY1) grew from the ideas and grassroots efforts of polar scientists around the world. The impetus lay in emerging evidence of the importance of the polar regions in the global system; the timing presented an opportunity both to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957-1958 and to match or exceed the significant and enduring scientific contributions of the IGY. With its scientific focus on an integrative understanding of the polar regions in a time of rapid planetary change, IPY was the right initiative at the right time. At a time when the polar regions, and in particular the Arctic, are undergoing a transformation from an icy wilderness to a new zone for human affairs, the insights afforded by IPY could not be more timely or relevant.
Like its predecessor initiatives, IPY was designed to be an intense, coordinated field campaign of polar observations, research, and analysis. It was planned to facilitate both individual and national involvement and to allow scientists and agencies to focus on their priority issues through national peer review funding processes, ensuring cutting-edge science.
IPY attracted the involvement of more than 60 nations (Krupnik et al., 2011) and brought attention to a broad array of compelling interdisciplinary science. It was championed by ICSU2 and WMO,3 which provided key international nongovernmental and intergovernmental endorsement. An estimated 50,000 researchers, local observers, educators, students, and support personnel were involved in the 228 international IPY projects and numerous related national efforts.
Early indications of the IPY results demonstrate that the functioning of the Earth system cannot be understood without knowledge of the state and dynamics of the polar regions. The focused attention of IPY provided a forum to help people understand that the polar regions matter to all life on Earth. As humanity grapples with the complexities and challenges of changes in the environment and in societies around the world, the lessons and legacies from IPY offer information and inspiration for decision makers and planners now and in the future.
IPY was the largest, most comprehensive campaign ever mounted to explore Earth’s polar domains. Under its auspices, scientists worked together to unlock the secrets of the Arctic and Antarctic: How does life persist in these coldest, darkest corners of the globe? How will changes in glaciers, ice sheets, snow cover, and sea ice affect the Earth system? How are traditional ways
1 Throughout this report, International Polar Year 2007-2008 is referred to as IPY or IPY 2007-2008.
2 ICSU, the International Council for Science, is a nongovernmental organization with a global membership of national scientific bodies (121 members, representing 141 countries) and international scientific unions (30 members).
3 WMO, the World Meteorological Organization, is a specialized agency of the United Nations for meteorology (weather and climate), operational hydrology, and related geophysical sciences with a membership of 189 member states and territories.
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.
OBJECTIVES OF IPY
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.
THE HUMAN ELEMENT IN IPY
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
people who live in the polar regions.4 IPY showed that their traditional knowledge can enhance understanding of the global processes, and that science and scientists can provide effective means of achieving international discourse and penetrating boundaries.
Beyond the polar research community, why should the vast majority of people, who live in warmer areas of the planet, care about the polar regions or about IPY? The answer lies in a host of global connections and the siting of information about this planet that is unavailable anywhere else. The polar regions are essential links in the global climate system; they are growing in economic and geopolitical importance, and they hold unique information about Earth’s climate history that can help scientists understand environmental changes in the context of past changes. This understanding can in turn support informed choices for the future of the planet and its inhabitants. For these and other reasons, public interest in the poles is high, even as public trust in science has declined.
The critical “what happens at the poles affects us all” message was delivered to a wide audience during IPY through a broad spectrum of outreach and education activities. Professionally produced presentations engaged audiences with big-screen videos, vivid images, compelling music, and opportunities for direct interaction with dynamic polar researchers and Arctic residents with personal stories to tell. A key element was direct involvement of the scientists—while polar research is inherently appealing, the enthusiasm and dedication of individual researchers are the best hook for communicating polar research.
U.S. outreach activities took place at museums, science centers, and schools across the country. The polar research community reached teachers with new ways of communication, and teachers proved receptive to increased availability of polar science materials.
SCIENTIFIC ADVANCES AND DISCOVERIES
The poles are complicated, interlinked systems that are integrally connected to the rest of the planet. Study of the polar system includes knowledge of glaciology, atmospheric sciences, geosciences, space sciences, oceanography, biology, ecology, and social sciences.
During IPY, understanding of the complexity and interconnectedness of polar systems grew. The unanticipated activity of subglacial hydrological systems and their effect on ice sheet flow was revealed. Warm ocean currents were shown to have a greater impact on ice sheet behavior than previously realized. Researchers improved understanding of how reductions in sea ice and resulting changes in albedo have major implications for the amplification of polar warming and change, with impacts on the weather and climate of lower latitudes. The warming and freshening of the water in the Arctic Basin is increasingly affecting both sea ice reduction and basin stratification. For the living creatures of the polar oceans, recent work demonstrates that climate change is having a measurable effect at all trophic levels, from microorganisms to top predators. Terrestrial research has shown that warming over the land, the decline of sea ice, and the greening of the Arctic are all linked, and this observation of contemporary processes is supported by paleoclimate work on terrestrial and marine systems. In the Antarctic there emerged evidence during IPY for a previously unknown link between the springtime ozone hole, stratospheric cooling, and the increased strength of circulation in the Southern Hemisphere.
Scientific understanding of the connection of the polar regions to the rest of the planet also increased. A community compilation of lake sediment sequences, ice cores, and tree ring records from the Arctic borderlands demonstrated that the natural cooling trend of the last 2,000 years has been reversed by contemporary warming: the last five decades are the warmest on record, showing the influence of the rest of the planet on the Arctic. In recent winters, changing weather patterns in the eastern United States and Europe have been influenced by changing conditions in the Arctic. In both Antarctica and Greenland the contributions of individual ice sheets to global ocean volume were refined to more effectively account for the measured rate of sea level rise.
IPY-related research confirmed that the poles are changing faster than the rest of the planet. This was discovered by Arrhenius and verified 37 years ago by the first climate model of Manabe and Wetherald (1975),
4 Unless otherwise indicated, this report focuses particularly on Indigenous Alaskan and other Arctic inhabitants. There are no permanent Antarctic residents.
and it emphasizes the importance of monitoring how the poles continue to change. IPY helped to not only illuminate the pace of change but also benchmark the status of the poles. Researchers observed, for example, that the Greenland ice sheet, parts of the Antarctic ice sheet, and Arctic sea ice show clear signs of change unprecedented in the Holocene era, although the situation is complex. Multiple studies of the ice flux, ice surface elevation, and ice mass changes all show clear and coherent signals of changes in Greenland and West Antarctica. Multiple independent satellite data sets show that the ice sheets are losing significant mass at increasing rates in some locations, while elsewhere—as predicted for a warmer and hence moister atmosphere—snowfall has increased. Arctic sea ice loss in recent years has been dramatic, with record minima in areal extent for 2007 and in volume for 2011, far exceeding the pace predicted by many recent models.
There has also been a new realization that the total belowground carbon pool in Arctic permafrost is more than double the atmospheric carbon pool and three times larger than the total global forest biomass, providing an additional potential positive feedback in the global system with both the release of carbon dioxide and methane from once frozen reservoirs. Paleoclimate data now show that earlier interglacial periods over the last 3.5 million years, which were warmer than today, included the repeated collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet and likely included large reductions in the size of the Greenland ice sheet. This finding emphasizes that continued warming of the planet will cause continued ice loss and rising oceans, making coastal regions increasingly vulnerable to flooding.
The poles have long been at the frontier of exploration, and they are still places of discovery of the fundamentally new. Observation systems have a supporting role in discovery science—scientists often learn new things simply by looking. An entire mountain range under the Antarctic ice sheet, the Gambertsev Mountains, discovered during the IGY, was mapped during IPY with new, sophisticated radar methods revealing its surprisingly rugged alpine character. The Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica (LIMA) IPY project produced a high-resolution mosaic image with a detailed true-color view of Antarctica: penguin rookeries were mapped almost immediately and revealed new and abandoned sites, indicating substantial changes. IPY also continued to use Antarctica’s unique platform from which to peer out into the solar system to observe space weather, as well as into the cosmos beyond to probe the composition and workings of the universe. Asymmetrical auroras were observed simultaneously for the first time at both poles, altering previous notions of processes that influence solar wind and Earth’s magnetic field.
SCIENTIFIC TOOLS AND INFRASTRUCTURE
The polar regions have always presented great logistical challenges because the terrain is vast, access can be complicated and expensive, working conditions are difficult, and the areas of interest frequently cross national boundaries. Efforts to adequately observe interaction among the large-scale systems frequently require international cooperation and significant planning.
An important outcome of IPY was the development of new collaborations that enhanced scientists’ observational capability in many areas of the poles, including remote areas such as East Antarctica. Observation networks such as the Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON), the integrated Arctic Ocean Observing System (iAOOS), and the Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS) developed and/or expanded during IPY.
In addition to these collaborations, IPY saw not only the use of existing tools in new ways and in new places, but also first-time deployments of novel tools for observing the polar climate, ecosystems, and beyond. Increasing use of a system science approach necessitated new observing systems to better understand variability and change, and new tools—including sea gliders, unmanned aerial systems, and animal-borne ocean sensors—allowed for more comprehensive observations of the poles than ever before. The cost and complexity of these systems often made multiagency and/or international cooperation necessary, and the use of remotely controlled autonomous observing systems became increasingly common.
Satellite systems were a particularly effective example of collaboration among countries and agencies. IPY cannot claim credit for the generation of any new satellite missions, but it did succeed in an unprecedented set
of coordinated observations from spaceborne sensors operated by multiple national space agencies. The IPY Space Task Group coordination of the Polar Snapshot was so successful that the group continues to cooperate with national space agencies for the acquisition of observations that will support sustained space-based monitoring of the polar regions and offset decreasing observational capability as many satellite systems age and fail.
Observations are of little value if they are not available to researchers. But the challenges to availability multiply as data volumes increase and the needs of interdisciplinary research extend to data of unfamiliar form and content. A number of data centers in the United States stepped up to this challenge, made data management expertise available to IPY projects, and followed through with mechanisms to receive, organize, store, and make available metadata of all types to assist researchers in locating data relevant to a wide range of scientific pursuits.
The U.S. federal agencies that funded most of the U.S. participation in IPY have specific data archive requirements stated in their initial grant awards, resulting in large national data archives. IPY could have been an opportunity to encourage funding agencies in other countries to adopt similar policies, but this was not an avenue pursued by the IPY Joint Committee.
KNOWLEDGE TO ACTION
IPY activities sought to convert knowledge gained through scientific inquiry into societally relevant information. Extensive IPY research, particularly in human health, community vulnerability, food security, and local observations of change, was aimed at practical applications to be shared with polar communities, local agencies, and grassroots organizations in Alaska and across the Arctic.
As an example of such knowledge application, the record sea ice minimum in 2007, the first year of IPY, stimulated concerted efforts to understand its cause, project plausible future trajectories, and consider systemwide implications for the coming decades. Sea ice conditions have a direct impact on quality of life in Arctic communities, and the systems perspective advanced understanding of impacts on fishing, hunting, shipping, and coastal erosion. The information is being used in Alaska to develop new management strategies and balance native versus commercial resource needs as marine ecosystems migrate north in search of cooler waters. Arctic residents also depend on knowledge of sea ice conditions for the success of traditional hunting practices. Through community-based interactions, participants in the IPY Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook activity were able to develop and deliver meaningful information to local communities that merged measurements of atmospheric and oceanic conditions with indigenous and local observations.
Research during IPY led to the identification of new marine and terrestrial species, habitats, and ranges and greatly expanded the understanding and awareness of polar biodiversity (and invasive species). For example, the Southern Ocean Global Ocean Ecosystems Dynamics (SO GLOBEC) Program, an international multidisciplinary effort designed to examine the growth, reproduction, recruitment, and overwintering survival of Antarctic krill, has yielded key insights into the working of the Southern Ocean food web. Better understanding of Antarctic and Arctic ecosystem dynamics has in turn spurred new initiatives aimed at managing human activities in the oceans, with an eye toward protecting biodiversity and maintaining ecosystem functions as these ecosystems undergo profound transformations due to climate change.
Looking to the future, IPY-related predictive modeling will continue to play a crucial role in helping commercial enterprises, individuals, and governments assess the regional and global risks associated with melting ice, sea level rise, permafrost degradation, and other effects of high-latitude changes in a warming world. Such assessments can help inform a wide variety of decisions about the management, siting, and sustainable insurance of coastal property and infrastructure, as well as community planning and zoning, construction of ice roads, emergency preparedness, disaster response, and long-term planning for moving military, industrial, and public infrastructure (and in some cases whole villages) to higher ground.
LESSONS AND LEGACIES
IPY embraced existing, enhanced, and new programs. To examine the breadth of work in IPY, this report is based on the committee’s evaluation of polar
research reports, published articles, books, formal and informal research networks, workshops, and public outreach events that resulted during the 2 years of intensive activity at both poles. After reviewing many examples of IPY research, hosting a workshop to talk directly with IPY researchers, and listening to the polar science community (e.g., in conversations with colleagues), this committee concludes that IPY was an outstanding success. It fulfilled all its primary objectives and more.
Coming at a time of rapid polar and global change, IPY investments were both pertinent and timely, enabling the science community to observe and record a reference state of the polar system. The international polar science community, with the United States as a key player, was sufficiently mature and ready to undertake and execute this large endeavor.
Comments from participants indicate that IPY was seen as a rare and special opportunity, and intensive bursts of exciting and sometimes high-risk activity contributed to its success. Deadlines and the need for international collaboration helped to focus the efforts and decision making of the science community. The intensive nature of the effort built on and integrated existing national and international programs, making the “sum greater than the parts.”
IPY was broadly inclusive and collaborative, and the active participation of polar residents, educators, and young researchers helped further expand its reach. Ultimately, though, its success was due to the perseverance and hard work of a core group of researchers with a passion for polar science and the desire to communicate the centrality of the high latitudes in affecting the behavior of the Earth system.
IPY leaves a priceless legacy. The polar research community grew in numbers, skills, and knowledge during the 2 years. Researchers recognized that the required observations of the polar regions are beyond the capability of any single nation and were thus motivated to forge new relationships among many nations and to engage with Arctic residents as partners in research. New international partnerships also supported new tools and observational networks that increased the ability to detect and document the polar environment. IPY changed perceptions with new scientific insights, in particular the enhanced recognition of the connectivity of the poles to the Earth system, and did so by exploiting new technical and logistical tools and capabilities.
An objective assessment must also take stock of problems and remaining challenges. To that end the committee notes that despite valiant attempts by the IPY Data Committee and several coordinating workshops, the development and accessibility of IPY data products were hampered by a shortage of time and resources. More effective interagency coordination within and across nations, particularly in funding approval and logistics, would have been beneficial, as not all scientific research priorities received adequate support and delays in national funding processes affected abilities to coordinate field research and infrastructure sharing. The impact of IPY was very uneven across polar communities; some communities were actively engaged and informed, whereas many more had sporadic or ad hoc access to IPY information and resources. Furthermore, the sustained impact and momentum of the IPY legacy will require ongoing support from funding agencies for both the observing networks and the scientists.
In future years, scientists may look back at this IPY as they wonder whether there is merit in planning another International Polar Year. This IPY benefited from a number of important ingredients that proved fundamental to its success:
• The involvement of a well-connected and well-organized group of core proponents promoting IPY was essential. The early planning group and then the official planning committee both provided a clear vision and compelling science to justify the necessary investments.
• A small amount of early seed funding was neccssary to get things going and to add legitimacy in the world scientific community; U.S. funds were provided by the National Academy of Sciences and international funds by ICSU and WMO.
• Acceptance was needed from stakeholders—funding agencies and scientists—without which IPY could not have occurred. Active involvement grew from a small core group to a large and diverse range of people over the IPY planning period. For example, dozens of program managers from virtually every part of NSF, not just the Office of Polar Programs, evaluated and funded proposals for IPY-related research.
• IPY ultimately needed significant international monetary commitments from funders. Future IPY activities could benefit from the assertive engagement of funding agencies, as early as possible, perhaps through their own international planning group. During this IPY, extensive international commitment, participation, and support provided the stimulus for new and creative collaborations in research that would otherwise have taken longer to reach fruition.
• Coordination—both within the United States and across nations—was essential to establish structures and services to support all participants and ensure that they shared a common vision of IPY and understood that they were part of a bigger whole. The International Programme Office (IPO5) was key in this regard.
5 The IPO was located in Cambridge, UK, and was supported by funding from the UK and eight other nations to keep the IPY network running throughout 2005-2010.