Global warming at North, South Poles comes under microscope in UN-backed research

26 February 2007 –

The largest polar research programme in 50 years, with a major focus on global warming, gets under way this week with United Nations support as thousands of scientists from over 60 countries prepare to carry out 220 science and outreach projects in both the north and south polar regions.

The International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008, a programme of the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) officially beginning on 1 March, will be the fourth such event. The previous IPYs of 1882-83, 1932-33, and 1957-58, also known as the International Geophysical Year, all produced major increases in understanding the Earth system.

“IPY comes at a crossroads for the planet’s future; February’s first phase of the Fourth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has shown that these regions are highly vulnerable to rising temperatures,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said.

“However, meteorological and other regular environmental in-situ observation facilities at the poles are few and it is essential to install more and increase satellite coverage to gain a better overall picture of how rapidly these areas are changing, and of the global impact of these changes,” he added.

The IPY projects will focus on learning about the past, present and future environmental status of the polar regions, while advancing understanding about the interactions between those regions and the rest of the globe. They will also investigate the frontiers of science in the polar regions, and use the unique vantage point of the polar regions and develop observatories from the interior of the Earth to the Sun and the cosmos beyond. In addition, the projects will investigate the cultural, historical and social processes that shape the sustainability of circumpolar human societies.

In order to ensure full and equal coverage of both the Arctic and the Antarctic, IPY will span two full annual cycles, from March 2007 to March 2009. Many national and regional IPY launch events are being organized over the next few weeks. The official international launch ceremony will take place on 1 March at the Palais de la Découverte in Paris.

“We face many challenges as we start: funding, data sharing, and, most importantly, the surprising and rapidly changing nature of the polar regions,” IPY International Programme Office Director David Carlson said.

But we have an enormous strength: international enthusiasm and cooperation, at a higher level and across a wider range of science than most of us will see at any other time in our careers. IPY will succeed because of this scientific urgency and energy.”

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