National Academies Press: OpenBook
« Previous: 5 Knowledge to Action
Suggested Citation:"6 Reflections." National Research Council. 2012. Lessons and Legacies of International Polar Year 2007-2008. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13321.



With a scientific focus on advancing understanding of the polar regions in a time of rapid planetary change, IPY 2007-2008 was the right initiative at the right time. Dramatic environmental changes were occurring in polar regions, and the research community was ready with the tools and the expertise to investigate these changes in sophisticated new ways.

The success of IPY can be attributed to its timeliness in addressing the key roles of the polar regions in the Earth system; its international reach, making it possible to exploit initiative and capabilities worldwide; its unprecedented breadth of interdisciplinary involvement, from glaciology and geophysics to ecology, human health, social sciences, and the humanities; its multilayered organization and planning; and its engagement of new constituencies in the science process—educators, early career scientists, polar residents, and the general public. The committee concludes that the Vision for the International Polar Year 2007-2008 (NRC, 2004) was realized (Box 1.2 and Box 6.1).

Once established as a concept and plan, IPY developed through the grassroots efforts of researchers, local observers, educators, students, and support personnel from more than 60 nations, including 37 national IPY committees (Krupnik et al., 2011). Contemporary change and compelling science enabled scientists from many disciplines to envision their involvement in IPY (Albert, 2004). An estimated 50,000 researchers, local observers, educators, students, and support personnel were involved in the 228 international IPY projects and in numerous related national efforts (Krupnik et al., 2011). In addition to collaborating internationally, individual scientists and nations were able to focus on their priority issues through their national peer-review funding processes, which also ensured cutting-edge science.

It is significant that IPY was championed early on by two important international organizations, the nongovernmental International Council for Science (ICSU) and the governmental World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Their support served as an international and cross-disciplinary endorsement.

The committee also notes that the U.S. polar research community was well positioned to play a key role in IPY owing to its expertise, resources, and disciplinary breadth. A history of investments in an international focus for U.S. polar research, combined with logistical and scientific strengths, paid off during the planning and preparation for IPY. In addition, strong international professional relationships, spanning many disciplines, enabled U.S. scientists to seize opportunities and take actions to realize goals beyond the capabilities of any single nation.

Examples of successful international collaborations are numerous. Longstanding international colleagues in the ice coring community established the International Partnerships in Ice Core Sciences. New international partnerships, under such banners as the joint U.S.-European Union SEARCH for DAMOCLES (Developing Arctic Modeling and Observing Capabilities for Long-Term Environmental Studies) project and the Arctic Ocean Sciences Board World Climate Research Program’s Integrated Arctic Ocean

Suggested Citation:"6 Reflections." National Research Council. 2012. Lessons and Legacies of International Polar Year 2007-2008. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13321.

BOX 6.1
Original IPY Scope and Objectives Statement from Vision for the International Polar Year 2007-2008

At its most fundamental level, IPY 2007-2008 is envisioned as an intense, coordinated field campaign of polar observations, research, and analysis that will be multidisciplinary in scope and international in participation. IPY 2007-2008 will be a framework and impetus to undertake projects that could not normally be achieved by any single nation. It allows 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 will seek to galvanize new and innovative observations and research while at the same time building on and enhancing existing relevant initiatives. IPY 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, IPY is clearly an opportunity to organize an exciting range of education 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.

The IPY 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, Internet, and genomics are just a few of the innovative approaches for studying previously inaccessible realms. IPY 2007-2008 will be fundamentally broader than past international years because it will explicitly incorporate multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary studies, including biological, ecological, and social science elements .


SOURCE: NRC, 2004.

Observing System (iAOOS), set up shared observing networks throughout the polar seas. The Arctic Observing Network (AON) and the 24-nation Polar Observing Network (POLENET) launched new terrestrial observational networks. Young scientists from a range of disciplines and countries exploited social networking facilities on the Internet to form the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS) for sharing knowledge and experience. IPY thus provided the impetus for a novel means of collaboration and action among both established and “next-generation” polar scientists and engineers.


IPY was largely about change: climate system change due to humans, changes in understanding of the polar regions, corresponding changes in research focus, and changes in who does science, how it is done, and how it is communicated. During this time, it became more widely acknowledged that humans are influencing the planet and its climate system, that some changes are occurring faster than anticipated, and that there is a need to take action in response to these changes (i.e., NRC, 2011a).

Historic and current evidence collected during IPY by international teams helped to clarify the impact of human activities in the polar regions. IPY studies yielded important findings about, for example, the continuing dramatic sea ice decline in the Arctic and in the Bellingshausen Sea in the Antarctic; rapid losses of ice in the Greenland ice sheet, on the Antarctic Peninsula, and in coastal areas of West Antarctica; thawing permafrost, terrestrial greening, and biome range changes; and the impacts of climatic warming on ocean circulation and productivity. New sampling also revealed evidence of pollution in remote areas of Antarctica previously thought to be pristine. These and other discoveries during IPY directed scientific inquiry to questions of societal impact, longer-term environmental issues, and sustainability.

In terms of changes in who does science, IPY increased diversity among those involved in the study of the poles. The research community expanded to include more female lead investigators, energetic young scientists launched their own network with the creation of APECS, and Arctic residents and indigenous people’s organizations became active participants in the systematic collection of observations.

Methods of research changed as new tools and observational networks supported by new international partnerships increased the ability to detect and document the polar environment. The exploitation of cutting-edge technology and logistics changed understanding of the polar regions by enabling the imaging of previously inaccessible locations across a huge range of spatial scales, from tiny bubbles in thousand-yearold ice to entire mountain ranges under ice sheets. The resulting advances in knowledge of ice sheet formation and flow have profound implications for the ability to

Suggested Citation:"6 Reflections." National Research Council. 2012. Lessons and Legacies of International Polar Year 2007-2008. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13321.

predict their future behavior, including their critical contribution to global sea level rise, which has the potential to impact societies all over the world. In addition, a joint project carried out by the United States and United Kingdom (with support from China, Germany, Australia, Japan, and Canada, among others) revealed an alpine environment long hidden beneath the core of the East Antarctic ice sheet, yielding insights into how the ice sheet formed. And the discovery of areas where liquid water beneath the ice sheet freezes onto its underside, providing a significant mechanism for ice sheet growth, was a total surprise.

Evidence of change recorded by international teams of IPY scientists and their local collaborators in polar communities provided vivid content for science education and outreach. IPY science disseminated by new electronic media, special outreach programs, and live communication captured the attention of the public. Dramatic video footage illustrating effects of the changing climate (e.g., Extreme Ice Survey1and Polar-Palooza2) raised public awareness that what happens at the poles matters to everyone. Participation of U.S. teachers in field work—through programs such as PolarTREC,3 involvement in the National Science Teachers Association’s IPY activities, and international educational linkages through the IPY Programme Office—raised the bar for communication of science to the public and in schools around the world, reaching thousands of schoolchildren. In addition, new standards were established recognizing the responsibility of scientists to communicate to the public and local stakeholders and providing “best practice” methods for doing so.

The Committee has summarized a number of the changes in the perceptions of the polar regions and of polar research that occurred during and because of IPY—see Table 6.1.


With the perspective of several years since the official IPY end date, this committee identified lessons that might inform the planning and organization of future polar research; those lessons are numerous, even as the research results from IPY continue developing.

“International years” are very complex programs. Past such endeavors (e.g., the International Year of Physics in 2005, International Heliophysical Year during 2007 through 2009, International Year of Astronomy in 2009, International Year of Biodiversity in 2010, and International Year of Forests in 2011) have covered a wide variety of important topics. To take flight from enthusiasts’ dreams and drawing boards, each “international year” needs energetic, well-placed and-connected individuals and teams to bring together the multiple entities that will become the essential components of the global venture.

For IPY 2007-2008, the concept of an “international year” proved to be as valid for today’s highly dynamic global science as it was 50, 75, and 125 years ago. International years give a higher level of visibility, allow greater breadth of work and implementation of infrastructure, and increase the leverage and “esprit de corps” of the science community. These attributes helped to make this IPY an exciting once-in-a-lifetime event, not just for researchers, but also for students, journalists, and members of the general public.

The inclusiveness of the IPY planning process and implementation was a strong motivator for broad participation and a powerful driver of the IPY success. Science initiatives with a specific focus sometimes are (or appear to be) exclusive—to other disciplines, to nonscientists, or to nonparticipating nations. The explicitly inclusive approach adopted by the IPY planners and coordinators unleashed the energy of volunteerism, new partnerships, and cross-boundary communication. It helped bring down barriers between science fields, between scientists and polar residents, between professional researchers and science educators, and between nations with and without significant previous engagement in polar research. Not all future initiatives may achieve the breadth of IPY 2007-2008, but those that strive to be inclusive will have a greater and longer-lasting impact.

This IPY revealed the level of effort required of the core enthusiasts to convince and engage the community at large. It illustrated the importance of careful planning, inclusiveness, effective mobilization of the energy and ideas of hundreds of volunteers, and good timing. It also underscored the amount of time needed



Suggested Citation:"6 Reflections." National Research Council. 2012. Lessons and Legacies of International Polar Year 2007-2008. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13321.

TABLE 6.1 Changing Perceptions of the Polar Regions and of Polar Research

Before IPY During and After IPY
White—sea ice, glaciers, snow-covered tundra Dark—with the open water in the Arctic as sea ice retreats, barren land revealed by melting valley glaciers, lakes on top of glaciers, northward migration of shrubs and boreal forests
Frigid/cold Warming—as shown by contours of recent and projected future terrestrial and marine warming
Frozen/icy Melting/thawing—as vividly seen in the glacial moulins, retreating ice-cored coasts, and structures undermined by thawing permafrost
Static/slow—ice “cap,” “perma” frost, compact Arctic vortex, stable fisheries Dynamic/fast—old sea ice blown out of the Arctic, Greenland and Antarctic ice streams accelerating, icebergs calving, lobes of winter Arctic air penetrating south, advancing/replacement fisheries
Pristine Contaminated—ozone hole, evidence that cold trapping results in high concentrations of organochlorides in polar bears, evidence of industrial airborne pollution in the Greenland ice sheet, Asian and North American sources of particulates in troposphere
Robust, intimidating, stable, thick ice Vulnerable
Inaccessible—thick sea ice hampers access to the interior Accessible for a fee—tourism along previously ice-clogged coasts of Greenland, the Canadian Archipelago, and the Antarctic Peninsula; airplane access to the North and South Poles
Domain of the residents—indigenous peoples in the north, scientists in the south Collaborative networks—increased online partnership and data sharing
Remote and disconnected Connected—global sea level rise from glacier melt, “warm Arctic/cold continent” leading to weather changes in highly populated temperate zones
Peripheral—literally “off the map” Central—warming first and fastest, 2-3 times amplification
Disciplinary, multidisciplinary Increasingly interdisciplinary—complex in terms of systems, participatory
Basic research Research increasingly driven by applications
Spatial and temporal distributions and variability Trends, thresholds, tipping points, global feedback, studying change while experiencing change
Arctic and Antarctic as separate, opposing domains Bipolar science, growing exchange, Arctic-Antarctic connections and partnerships (“polar bears” and “penguins”)
Expeditions and multiyear initiatives In situ long-term observations and monitoring by local residents
Models seen as worst case Reality is worse than models (heading above IPCC’s “A1B” scenario, sea ice loss, glacier mass loss)
Scientists primarily male Increasing number of female participants and leaders
Established researchers Energized next generation of researchers, newly formed Association of Polar Early Career Scientists
Education and outreach a duty, an add-on Education and outreach integrated with and feeding back into research
Public perception of poles as remote or “cute” Public awareness of changes, interest and concern
Established specialist community with tendency to national focus International focus with many new players

SOURCE: Compiled by the Committee based on Committee members’ experience as researchers and educators and on interactions with the public.

for preparation (4-5 years before the actual research and observation period), the value of timely endorsement by and involvement of a broad spectrum of the science community, and the role of respected international institutional leadership—in this case ICSU and WMO—to ensure proper governance and visibility.

A key organizational lesson of IPY is the critical role of seed resources for planning and implementation. The original investment by ICSU in the IPY planning in early 2003 was $60,000—a fraction of a percent of the total estimated funds used in IPY as a whole. That investment supported the ICSU Planning Group of 14 international members who produced the crucial overarching IPY framework from July 2003 to October 2004.

In addition to funds from ICSU and WMO, the U.S. contribution was critical to early planning, with the timely injection of $200,000 in the spring of 2003 by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to support the U.S. National IPY Committee. This support resulted in the National Research Council (NRC) document, A Vision for the International Polar Year 2007-2008 (NRC, 2004), that was instrumental in mobilizing the U.S. science community and agencies for IPY. NSF, for example, referenced the NRC report multiple times in its calls for proposals, and advised

Suggested Citation:"6 Reflections." National Research Council. 2012. Lessons and Legacies of International Polar Year 2007-2008. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13321.

applicants that “IPY proposals are expected to help implement the vision developed by and articulated in the [Vision Report].”4

The NRC also held an implementation workshop for federal agency representatives, members of the NRC Polar Research Board (PRB), and members of the U.S. National Committee for IPY to talk about how the United States might address the scientific challenges articulated in the Vision Report (NRC, 2004) and how to move ahead in developing a suite of coordinated scientific activities (NRC, 2005).

Support from NSF, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES5) for education and outreach brainstorming workshops in 2004 and 2005 galvanized and organized the polar community, helping them prepare for an extensive and effective educational campaign to accompany the IPY science programs and findings.

U.S. federal agency involvement in IPY was led by NSF, which committed over $347 million6 for science and education activities, including a $60 million appropriation from Congress. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NOAA, and the U.S. Geological Survey also funded IPY-related programs, many of which had significant international partnerships. In addition, a plethora of smaller but innovative programs arose from endowed university-based programs, museums, and other nonprofit organizations; these contributed to IPY outreach and increased public engagement.

In 2005, additional ICSU and WMO investments of $250,000 supported the IPY Joint Committee of 20 members, who steered the science preparation, implementation, and completion of IPY in 2005-2010. The daily tasks of managing the international IPY activities via the International Programme Office (IPO) in Cambridge, UK, were supported by a UK national contribution of approximately $1.5 million (again, a small percentage of the estimated total funding for IPY as a whole). These modest investments leveraged additional national funding from all countries for research in 2006-2009 that totaled more than $1.2 billion for IPY as a whole.7

As might be expected with any large-scale, complex endeavor, some challenges and difficulties arose. For example, 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. As a result, this committee relied as best they could on international coordination and negotiation using existing data systems and management structures.

More effective interagency coordination within and across nations, particularly in funding approval and logistics, would have been beneficial. Not all scientific research priorities received adequate support (anecdotally, climate modeling has been mentioned as one such area), in part because of inherent difficulties in coordinating research from the top down, whereas decisions about which projects will be funded often come from a merit-based (i.e., more bottom-up) system. Delays in national funding processes affected abilities to coordinate field research and infrastructure sharing. A formal mechanism for interaction of representatives of funding agencies from many nations and the international community-based planning committee(s) would have been helpful. In the end, leads of federal funding agencies from the United States and other nations forged agreements through their own initiative to enable the success of large international programs.

The lack of continued support to coordinate IPYinitiated programs has made it difficult to maintain the full scope of valuable researcher, funding, and innovation networks developed and nurtured during IPY. Useful components of the larger IPY structure—such as the international IPY website, its publication database, and educational/outreach efforts—have struggled to find alternative resources, and funding could have maintained the U.S. IPY website as a more consistently useful resource during IPY. Overall, the sustained impact and momentum of the IPY legacy will require


4 Section IX, p. 22, of Program Solicitation NSF-06-534.


6 This estimate includes awards made over four fiscal years 2006-2009, with more than half the money going out during the 2007-2009 IPY field period. Many awards, though, were of several years’ duration—to accommodate laboratory work and other follow-up after return from the field—so final funding increments for some of the later ones will not be sent until 2013.

7 Estimates of total IPY funding vary from approximately $1.2 billion (not counting many national polar infrastructure investments; Krupnik et al., 2011) to approximately $1.5 billion (Carthage Smith, International Council for Science, personal communication, 2011).

Suggested Citation:"6 Reflections." National Research Council. 2012. Lessons and Legacies of International Polar Year 2007-2008. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13321.

ongoing support from funding agencies for both the observing networks and the scientists.

The Vision Report defined the terms for U.S. IPY efforts, and this follow-up report on lessons and legacies provides the concluding bookend for those efforts. Several other nations (Canada, Sweden, Japan, the United Kingdom, Norway) invested in the production of timely assessments of their national IPY activities similar to this report, whereas others closed their IPY programs without a concluding assessment or statement.

The authors of this report urge planners of the next IPY (or of similar international efforts) to consider all of the lessons identified in this report, as well as the mix of ingredients that made IPY such a success.


IPY changed perceptions and understanding of the polar regions. Its findings revealed that the Earth system cannot be understood without knowledge of the dynamics of these regions, a message that is especially relevant in light of evidence of the many global impacts of polar change. It also became clear during IPY that traditional knowledge can make a material contribution to the joint assessment of global processes and that science and scientists can provide effective means of achieving international discourse. At a time when the polar regions, in particular the Arctic, are undergoing a transformation from a perceived icy wilderness to a new zone for human affairs, these new insights could not be more timely or relevant.

The success of IPY was also evident in the people it touched. The international polar research community grew in terms of inclusiveness, capability, and experience. Arctic residents, and particularly indigenous communities, learned that information from science and scientists can be used to inform and enrich their daily lives. For their part, scientists learned how to make the results of their science useful for decisions faced by citizens of both the Arctic and the midlatitudes. Students and public audiences in numerous countries became engaged in learning about the current climate change that affects all people, and in the thrill and excitement of unraveling the mysteries of the planet and its extraordinary polar environments.

For all these reasons, IPY was a success scientifically, organizationally, and as a collective international endeavor as humanity grapples with the complexities and challenges of the many changes occurring in the environment and societies around the world. May it provide an inspiration for planners of the future, as science increasingly provides the knowledge that informs action.

Suggested Citation:"6 Reflections." National Research Council. 2012. Lessons and Legacies of International Polar Year 2007-2008. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13321.
Page 105
Suggested Citation:"6 Reflections." National Research Council. 2012. Lessons and Legacies of International Polar Year 2007-2008. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13321.
Page 106
Suggested Citation:"6 Reflections." National Research Council. 2012. Lessons and Legacies of International Polar Year 2007-2008. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13321.
Page 107
Suggested Citation:"6 Reflections." National Research Council. 2012. Lessons and Legacies of International Polar Year 2007-2008. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13321.
Page 108
Suggested Citation:"6 Reflections." National Research Council. 2012. Lessons and Legacies of International Polar Year 2007-2008. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13321.
Page 109
Suggested Citation:"6 Reflections." National Research Council. 2012. Lessons and Legacies of International Polar Year 2007-2008. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13321.
Page 110
Next: References »
Lessons and Legacies of International Polar Year 2007-2008 Get This Book
Buy Paperback | $54.00 Buy Ebook | $43.99
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

International Polar Year 2007-2008 (IPY) was an intense, coordinated field campaign of observations, research, and analysis. It was the largest, most comprehensive campaign ever mounted to explore Earth's polar domains. Legacies and Lessons of the International Polar Year 2007-2008 summarizes how IPY engaged the public to communicate the relevance of polar research to the entire planet, strengthened connections with the Indigenous people of the Arctic, and established new observational networks.

Legacies and Lessons of the International Polar Year 2007-2008 also addresses the objectives articulated for IPY in the 2004 National Research Council report, A Vision for International Polar Year (NRC, 2004). These objectives include: suggestions for scientific communities and agencies to use the IPY to initiate a sustained effort aimed at assessing large-scale environmental change and variability in the polar regions, the need to explore new scientific frontiers from the molecular to the planetary scale, investment in critical infrastructure and technology to guarantee that IPY 2007-2008 leaves enduring benefits for the nation and for the residents of northern regions, as well as increase public understanding of the importance of polar regions in the global system.

Legacies and Lessons of the International Polar Year 2007-2008 explains how activities at both poles led to scientific discoveries that provided a step change in scientific understanding and helped translate scientific knowledge into policy-relevant information. At a time when the polar regions are undergoing a transformation from an icy wilderness to a new zone for human affairs, these insights could not be more timely or more relevant. From outreach activities that engaged the general public to projects that brought researchers from multiple disciplines and several nations together, the legacies of IPY extend far beyond the scientific results achieved, and valuable lessons learned from the process will guide future endeavors of similar magnitude.

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook,'s online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    Switch between the Original Pages, where you can read the report as it appeared in print, and Text Pages for the web version, where you can highlight and search the text.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  9. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!