The First International Polar Year

The IMO was involved not only in coordinating the meteorological services but also in international polar research, specifically in the organizing of the First International Polar Year 1881-1884.20

The First International Polar Year was the initiative of the Austrian explorer Carl Weyprecht, who thought that the fundamental problems of meteorology and geophysics were to be found near the poles and that a coordinated scientific expedition could provide the decisive results.21 Moreover, he had decided it was time to collaborate internationally in polar research rather than continue the independent expeditions aimed at geographical exploration but with limited scientific value.22 Initially, he tried to raise support from scientific academies and other learned societies but the lack of concrete plans and the fact that Russia was at war with Turkey delayed the start of the project. It was clear that Russia had to be part of such a venture to succeed.23 Finally in the spring of 1879, Weyprecht presented his plans to the IMO. This led to the first international polar conference in the fall of 1879, which decided on a common coordinated effort in the polar regions with instrumental measurements.24 By the time enough financial support for the project had been gathered, Weyprecht had died. When the project was launched in 1882-83, eleven countries participated: Austria-Hungary, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States. Twelve different research stations were located in the Arctic with at least 13 auxiliary stations. There were close connections between meteorology and polar research in several countries. In Denmark and Finland, the central meteorological offices

19 WMO, "The Historical Roots of WMO."

20 WMO, "IMO: The Origin of WMO," (Accessed 18 Oct. 2005).

21 NOAA Arctic Research Office, "The First International Polar Year," (Accessed 28 Apr. 2005).

22 William Barr, "Geographical Aspects of the First International Polar Year, 1882-1883," Annals of the Association of American Geographers 73, no. 4 (1982): 463.

23 Frangsmyr, "Polarforskning - fran hjalte till vetenskapsman," 8.

24 Frangsmyr, "Polarforskning - fran hjalte till vetenskapsman"; Barr, "Geographical Aspects of the First International Polar Year, 1882-1883."

were responsible for the expeditions.25 In Sweden, several members of the polar year committee had connections to meteorology and one of the expedition members was a young meteorologist who would later become head of the central meteorological of-fice.26

The different expeditions and auxiliary stations gathered vast amounts of data, including details on temperatures, wind, and air pressure. The material also includes one of the first detailed meteorological descriptions of a passing low pressure area. However, the data gathered was never fully utilized. They were published in different languages without any coordination, and it is not until recently that they have become available in a coordinated manner.27 Therefore, the First International Polar Year is sometimes not considered to have contributed any major scientific breakthroughs.28 That may have been the case for the natural sciences, but not necessarily in all study fields. For example, Arctic anthropology traces its roots back to this international effort, especially the studies of indigenous knowledge, including Inuit observations of sea ice, patterns of navigation, local weather forecasting, and human adaptations.29 Social scientists active in planning the International Polar Year 2007-2008 have also noted that many publications from the First International Polar Year show how polar research was construed as a multidisciplinary endeavor over 100 years ago, "much to the surprise of our colleagues from other polar disciplines."30

The preparation and the execution of the First Polar Year illustrate an attempt to shift polar research from a nationalistic focus, where the polar regions were used to build a national image, to the building of international scientific networks. It appears that the existing political realities were not quite ready to support such endeavors, however. Not only was the effort delayed due to wars, there was also no strong international coordinating mechanism that could ensure that data were properly gathered and analyzed. The IMO was either not strong enough or interested enough in the issue to take on such a role. The Arctic may simply not have been central to the concerns of the meteorological offices that made up the IMO. Maybe the effort was dwarfed in relation to remaining nationalistic interests in the Arctic. It also appears that the interdisciplinary networks that were built for the effort did not become long lived. This early internationalist effort and its lack of legacy can also be understood in the context of the general development of science. As Crawford describes, there was a surge in international scientific congresses and organizations at the end of the 1800s, made possible by a new mode of communication: the railroad. Some of these left legacies, especially in creating standards, while others were more short-lived. Crawford points out that nationalism and internationalism in science co-existed to a degree that had not occurred beforehand and was not to recur again, which explains why many internationalist efforts became cau

25 Barr, "Geographical Aspects of the First International Polar Year, 1882-1883."

26 Frängsmyr, "Polarforskning - Fran Hjälte Till Vetenskapsman," 9-10.

27 NOAA Arctic Research Office, "The First International Polar Year."

28 NOAA Arctic Research Office, "The First International Polar Year."

29 Igor Krupnik, Michael Bravo, Yvon Csonka, Grete Hovelsrud-Broda, Ludger Müller-Wille, Birger Poppel, Peter Schweizer, and Sverker Sörlin, "Social Sciences and Humanities in the International Polar Year 2007-2008: An Integrating Mission," InfoNorth 58, no. 1 (2005): 91.

30 Krupnik, et al., "Social Sciences and Humanities in the International Polar Year 2007-2008: An Integrating Mission," 92.

salities of the World War I.31 The lack of legacy from the First International Polar Year could thus partly be understood by the lack of structures that could support continued international coordination of research.

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