International two-year program launched to study poles

Ariel Lev

Research program focuses on increased awareness


Credit: Jason Hall

Students and scientists from around the world gathered in Paris today to celebrate the beginning of the International Polar Year.

IPY is a program focused on spreading knowledge about the Arctic and Antarctic and bringing scientists together to do research, demonstrate results and spread information to students.

The program will continue until March 2009 so that two full years of Arctic and Antarctic seasons can pass. During this time, more than 60,000 scientists from more than 60 countries will collaborate in person and over the Internet to increase awareness of the importance of the polar regions and the information they offer.

“The International Polar Year program is a big push for scientific research, public awareness and education for kids,” said Jenny Baeseman, U.S. IPY youth program representative. “Students will learn about the poles, climate change, global warming, and they will participate in scientific activities. But the goal is to create a legacy that will last beyond the two-year push.”

During IPY, scientists will perform hundreds of projects to determine the conditions in the polar regions, understand the events that have taken and will take place there and research the changes created by people and the impact those changes have on the world.

A major theme of IPY is the earth’s ice and snow and how they change. Students and teachers all over the world will participate in an IPY launch activity called Breaking the Ice. Students use clay, water and ice to see if melting icebergs and glaciers cause the earth’s water level to rise.

Associate geology professor Joseph Ortiz said if polar ice continues to melt at its current rate, the world’s sea level could rise as much as 30 centimeters by 2100.

“This loss of sea ice will cause a climate change,” Ortiz said. “Nobody knows how much this will change the climate. It will change the way circulation between the Arctic and the Atlantic Ocean will function.”

Ortiz explained that the climate change, along with the melting of permafrost (frozen soil) in the arctic will affect birds’ migration as well as the global water budget, which is the constant global water level.

The IPY program also lets students in different countries interact with each other via the Internet. The IPY Web site lets students launch a virtual balloon on its map. The IPY map is powered by Google Earth, a satellite map program that shows detailed images of the entire world. Launching virtual balloons lets students see who else is participating in IPY-related activities around the globe.

“The Web site offers a way to bring students from around the world together,” Baeseman said. “This way, teachers in classrooms around the globe can have their own IPY launch event and signify the launch of the International Polar Year.”

International Polar Year is sponsored by the International Council for Science and the World Meteorological Organization and it will be the largest internationally coordinated scientific research effort in 50 years, according to the IPY Web site.

Contact sciences reporter Ariel Lev at [email protected].