International Polar Year
IPY 2007-2008
Updated on 14/4/05

History of IPY

A Short History of IPY

On three occasions over the past 125 years scientists from around the world banded together to organize concentrated scientific and exploring programs in the polar regions. In each major thrust, or “year,” scientific knowledge and geographical exploration were advanced, thereby extending understanding of many geophysical phenomena that influence nature’s global systems. Each polar year was a hallmark of international cooperation in science. The experience gained by scientists and governments in international cooperation set the stage for other international scientific collaboration. International scientific cooperation also paved the way for several political accords that gained their momentum from the polar years. IPY 2007-2008 will expand upon this legacy of scientific achievement and societal benefits.

First International Polar Year (1882-1883): The idea of International Polar Years was the inspiration of the Austrian explorer and naval officer Lt. Karl Weyprecht who was a scientist and co-commander of the Austro-Hungarian Polar Expedition of 1872-74.

From his experiences in the polar regions Weyprecht became aware that solutions to the fundamental problems of meteorology and geophysics were most likely to be found near the Earth’s poles. The key concept of the first IPY was that geophysical phenomena could not be surveyed by one nation alone; rather, an undertaking of this magnitude would require a coordinated international effort. 12 countries participated, and 15 expeditions to the poles were completed (13 to the Arctic, and 2 to the Antarctic). Beyond the advances to science and geographical exploration, a principal legacy of the First IPY was setting a precedent for international science cooperation. Unfortunately Weyprecht did not live to see his idea come to fruition.

Austria - Jan Mayen Island
America 1 - Point Barrow, Alaska ( 71deg N )
America 2 - Lady-Franklin-Bay at Discovery Harbor, Ellesmere Isl. ( 81deg 42'N) Denmark - Godthab, Western Greenland
England ( Canada ) - Fort Rae at the Great Slave Lake;
France - Orangebay at the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego (S. Hemisphere)
Finland - Sodankyla & Kultala ( at Ivalojoki River )
Germany 1 - Kingua-Fjord at Cumberland Sound, Baffin Island;
Germany 2 - Moltke-Hafen at Royal Bay, South Georgia (S Hemisphere)
Holland - Dicksonhafen - the expedition vessel "Varna" sunk so the expedition made its observations in the Kara Sea near Waigach Island
Norway - Bossekop / Alten, Altenfjord
Russia 1 - Karmakuly, Moller Bay, Nowaja Semlja
Russia 2 - Sagasta at the Lena estuary
Sweden - Cap Thordsen in the Icefjord, Spitzbergen

Beyond the advances to science and geographical exploration, a principal legacy of the First IPY was setting a precedent for international science cooperation.

NOAA have established a fascinating site where photographs and information relating to US activities in the First IPY are available. The IPO will be expanding its information on international activities in the First IPY over the coming months.

Second International Polar Year (1932-1933): The International Meteorological Organization proposed and promoted the Second IPY (1932–1933) as an effort to investigate the global implications of the newly discovered “Jet Stream.” 40 nations participated in the Second IPY, and it heralded advances in meteorology, magnetism, atmospheric science, and in the “mapping” of ionospheric phenomena that advanced radioscience and technology. Forty permanent observation stations were established in the Arctic, creating a step-function expansion in ongoing scientific Arctic research. In Antarctica, the U.S. contribution was the second Byrd Antarctic expedition, which established a winter-long meteorological station approximately 125 miles south of Little America Station on the Ross Ice Shelf at the southern end of Roosevelt Island. This was the first research station inland from Antarctica’s coast.

The International Geophysical Year (1957-58): The International Geophysical Year (IGY), 1 July 1957 to 31 December 1958, celebrated the 75th and 25th anniversaries of the First and Second IPYs. The IGY was conceived by a number of post-WWII eminent physicists, including Sydney Chapman, James Van Allen, and Lloyd Berkner, at an informal gathering in Washington, DC in 1950. These individuals realized the potential of the technology developed during WWII (for example, rockets and radar), and they hoped to redirect the technology and scientific momentum towards advances in research, particularly in the upper atmosphere. The IGY’s research, discoveries, and vast array of synoptic observations revised or “rewrote” many notions about the Earth’s geophysics. One long disputed theory, continental drift, was confirmed. A U.S. satellite discovered the Van Allen Radiation Belt encircling the Earth. Geophysical traverses over the Antarctic icecap yielded the first informed estimates of the total size of Antarctica’s ice mass. For many disciplines, the IGY led to an increased level of research that continues to the present. The world’s first satellites were launched. A notable political result founded on the IGY was ratification of the Antarctic Treaty in 1961. The success of the IGY also fostered an additional year of research through the International Geophysical Cooperation. The Special Committee for the IGY became the model on which three post-IGY Scientific Committees developed, for Antarctic, Oceanic, and Space Research, and several focused research efforts including the International Year of the Quiet Sun. The scientific, institutional, and political legacies of the IGY endured for decades, many to the present day.

Ionosonde experiments during the IGY.

Strengthening international science for the benefit of society