Monday, September 3, 2007

The International Polar Year (or IPY) was a collaborative, international effort researching the polar regions. Karl Weyprecht, an Austro-Hungarian navy officer, motivated the endeavor, but died before it first occurred in 1882-1883. Fifty years later (1932-1933) a second IPY occurred. The International Geophysical Year was inspired by the IPY and occurred 75 years after the first IPY (1957-58).
The next International Polar Year will happen in 20072009. It is being sponsored by the International Council for Science (ICSU) and, it is anticipated by 2007, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The chair of the International Planning Group established within the ICSU for this event is chaired by Professor Chris Rapley and Dr. Robin Bell. The Director of the IPY International Programme Office is Dr David Carlson.

The First International Polar Year was proposed by Georg Neumayer and inspired by an Austro-Hungarian naval officer, Karl Weyprecht. They argued for a coordinated scientific approach, with observers making coordinated geophysical measurements at several locations during the same year. This would permit more views of the same phenomena, allowing more valuable interpretation of the available data, with only slightly more total money.
Seven years were required to organize the collaboration. There were 12 expeditions to the Arctic and three to the Antarctic. Twelve nations participated: the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.
Tragically, 17 of the 24 Americans involved in the Arctic expedition starved to death during the first IPY of 1882-83. A supply ship was missed, leading to the disaster where several bodies were consumed by the survivors.
The aforementioned countries operated 14 meteorological stations around the North Pole. Observations included meteorology, geomagnetism, auroral phenomena, ocean currents, tides, structure and motion of ice and atmospheric electricity. More than 40 meteorological observatories around the world expanded their programs of observations for this period. Data and images from the First International Polar Year have very recently been made available for browsing and download on the Web. These records of the First International Polar Year offer a rare glimpse of the circumpolar Arctic environment as it existed in the past and hold the potential to improve our understanding of historical climate variability and environmental change in the Arctic.
Shortly after World War I, mysterious, often defective behaviour in telegraph, radio and electric power and telephone lines began to persuade engineers and scientists that the electrical geophysics of the Earth needed more study. The airplane, motorized sea and land transport and new instruments made the proposals more interesting.
In 1927 a proposal came before an International Meteorological Committee. In 1928 the committee submitted a detailed report to an international conference of directors of meteorological services at Copenhagen. Part of one of the resolutions follows:
... magnetic, auroral and meteorological observations at a network of stations in the Arctic and Antarctic would materially advance present knowledge and understanding (of these phenomena) not only within polar regions but in general ... This increased knowledge will be of practical application to problems connected with terrestrial magnetism, marine and aerial navigation, wireless telegraphy and weather forecasting.
The conference suggested observing in 1932–1933, the fiftieth anniversary of the First International Polar Year.
The Second Polar Year (1932–33) program studied how much observations in the polar regions could improve weather forecasts and help transport by air and sea. Forty-four nations participated, and a vast amount of data was collected. A world data center was created under the organization that eventually came to be called the International Meteorological Organization.
By most accounts, the privations of these two early operations were extreme, with the men spending less than 10 percent of their time on science, and the rest of the time devoted to survival.
In the 1950s new instrumentation, including especially rocketry and seismography, inspired U.S. scientist Lloyd Berkner to propose a third Polar Year. The International Council of Scientific Unions, a parent body, broadened the proposals from polar studies to geophysical research, renaming the effort the International Geophysical Year (which see). More than 70 existing national scientific organizations then formed IGY committees, and participated in the cooperative effort. The IGY took place from July 1957 to December 1958.
While the IGY had taken place when the sun was at maximum output, this was followed by an examination of the sun and related geophysical phenomena at the low point in the solar cycle, the International Year of the Quiet Sun (IQSY). This lasted from July 1963 to December 1964.

International Polar Year History
The Royal Canadian Mint's $20 silver coin, launched on July 18, 2007 has evoked one of the darkest moments in the history of polar exploration and rankled Canada's main Inuit organization.

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