The Fourth International Polar Year 20072008

The fourth IPY marks the 50th anniversary of the IGY, and will be one of the most ambitious internationally coordinated scientific research programmes ever attempted. The official IPY 2007-2008 observing period will be from 1 March 2007 to 1 March 2009, in order to include two full annual seasonal cycles in the Arctic and in the Antarctic. Planning for the fourth IPY began at SCAR's Shanghai meeting in 2002, and took off with support from ICSU in 2003 for an International Planning Group. For former IPYs, the rationale behind them lay in coordinating international activities to explore the unknown. While exploration of the geographical unknown is also an important aspect of the fourth IPY, the main emphasis now is on integrating international efforts so as to better comprehend the behaviour of the Earth system, and understand the roles of the poles in global change. This change in emphasis is readily apparent from the six IPY themes: status, change, global linkages, new frontiers, vantage point and the human dimension (see below).

The fourth IPY involves over 200 projects endorsed by the ICSU/WMO Joint Committee that steers the process. The projects are either focused on the Arctic, or on the Antarctic, or are bipolar (Fig. 2.9). Just as impressive is the amount of endorsement and publicity that has surrounded the fourth IPY. For example, the Antarctic Treaty Parties, at their summit in Edinburgh on 19th June 2006, stated 'We express our support for a successful IPY. We believe that the scientific research undertaken during the IPY will increase knowledge of the Antarctic and will yield a better understanding of the major terrestrial, ocean and atmospheric systems that control the planet. The polar regions are sensitive barometers of climate change, and we value their biodiversity. Their health is vital to the well-being of the Earth's systems and its inhabitants'.

As in the case of the third IPY relative to the second IPY, technology has advanced considerably in the interim, and we now have a network of remote sensing, navigational and communications satellites along with massive advances in information technology that together have changed the way in which science is done. Much can now be done remotely - e.g. automated weather stations reporting back to base via satellite. There is much less emphasis therefore in the fourth IPY than there was in the IGY on establishing bases. Instead much will be done by remote observation. Another new departure is that much of the data collected will form important contributions to computer-modelling investigations of polar processes, such as ice sheet changes. Given the huge quantities of data that


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