The Second International Polar Year 19321933

The success of the first IPY stimulated an expanded effort 50 years later to hold a second IPY. During the 1920s, while conducting high-altitude weather balloon observations, scientists detected extremely strong winds at heights of 10-15 km above the surface of the Earth; these are known today as the 'jet stream'. One such scientist was Johannes Georgi, a meteorologist of the Maritime Institute of Hamburg. During a meeting of the Deutsche Seewarte (1927), Georgi proposed to investigate this phenomenon with a coordinated international research effort that would commence on the 50th anniversary of the first IPY.

In June 1928, an informal organisational meeting was held in London to discuss plans for the event and a year later, in 1929, the International Meteorological Organization (IMO), the predecessor of World Meteorological Organization (WMO), endorsed the effort and formed a commission to undertake planning for the second IPY. In August 1930, a first meeting of the International Polar Commission was held in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) under the presidency of Dr. D. La Cour of Denmark in order to organise and integrate the total effort. Delegates of 10 nations were present: Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, UK, USSR and the USA. A further 16 nations expressed an interest in this initiative. The aims and the scientific programme of the second IPY were presented during the second meeting of the International Polar Commission held in Innsbruck, Austria, in September 1931. When the second IPY started on 1 August 1932, forty-nine nations participated and, despite considerable economic challenges, due to the worldwide economic depression that began in 1929, it heralded advances in many fields: meteorology, atmospheric science, the mapping of the jet streams, ionospheric soundings and their role in radio communications, magnetic observations and, to a lesser extent, atmospheric electricity (Fig. 2.4). The IPY was notable for the first massive deployment of the new and somewhat experimental radiosondes for upper atmosphere measurement. Ninety-four research stations were maintained in the Arctic during the second IPY and many of these are still active today. This was the time of the Great Depression, so funds were limited. Plans for the Antarctic suffered as a result, and were not pursued as originally planned. Chile established a station at Punta Arenas and Argentina in the South Orkneys. Meteorological observations were made by Norwegian whalers in the Southern Ocean. Magnetic observations were made in several locations in the Southern Hemisphere, including Christchurch (New Zealand), Watheroo (Australia) and Cape Town (South Africa).

Figure 2.4: Stuart McVeigh, member of the Canadian team at Chesterfield Inlet on Hudson Bay, north-eastern Canada, holding airborne kite with a meteograph on it (photo courtesy: Department of Physics fonds, University of Saskatchewan Archives).

Figure 2.4: Stuart McVeigh, member of the Canadian team at Chesterfield Inlet on Hudson Bay, north-eastern Canada, holding airborne kite with a meteograph on it (photo courtesy: Department of Physics fonds, University of Saskatchewan Archives).

Among the many exceptional men that participated in the second IPY, one figure stands out as symbolic - Rear-Admiral Richard E. Byrd of the USA (Fig. 2.5). Byrd had intended to sail for Antarctica in 1932 in the middle of the IPY, but due to the funding problems created by the Great Depression had to delay sailing until late 1933 and did not reach the Ross Sea until January 1934, so in one sense his expedition was not strictly speaking part of the IPY. It was noted for its exploitation of major advances in technology, in particular aviation, navigation, motor transport and radio. These technologies changed the nature of polar exploration from ship-borne or land-based expeditions using dogs and sledges, to parties employing machines and aircraft. Clearly, while those early years of flying were adventurous, flying in Antarctica entailed considerable danger. Nonetheless, the potential of utilising aircraft for exploration purposes was"/>
Figure 2.5: Admiral Richard E. Byrd, ca. 1930 (photo courtesy: The Ohio State University Libraries;

huge, especially in Antarctica where so much remained undiscovered. Admiral Byrd knew this, having flown over the South Pole during his first Antarctic expedition in 1929, as well as over the North Pole. It is because he took full advantage of developments in aviation that he is now remembered as one of the most famous and influential polar explorers. During Byrd's polar expeditions during the second IPY he spent five months wintering alone whilst operating a meteorological station - the first-ever research station located inland from the coastal margin (Bolling Advance Base), on the Ross Ice Shelf, at the southern end of Roosevelt Island (123 miles from the sea).

Just as in the first IPY, research during the second IPY was not limited to the polar regions. Even so, although many observatories were located in equatorial regions, those responsible at the time did not change the name of the enterprise as the main emphasis was clearly on the polar regions. The global network of observations allowed, for the first time, an appreciation of geophysical phenomena at a planetary level.

A vast amount of data produced during the second IPY was collected and the Commission for the Polar Year established an official repository for IPY at the Danish Meteorological Institute in Copenhagen (Denmark). The second IPY officially continued until 1 September 1933, just prior to Byrd's departure from the USA.

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