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Antarctica: A Keystone in a Changing World
FIGURE 2 Second International Polar Year. Left: Aircraft in Antarctica (from the Ohio State University Archives, Papers of Admiral Richard E. Byrd, #7842_18). Right: Launching a weather balloon in northern Canada (from the University of Saskatchewan Archives, 1931).
regular observations were recorded with pencil and paper, from meteorology to Earth’s magnetic field variations (Figure 1). Beyond the advances to science and geographical exploration, a principal legacy of the first IPY was setting a precedent for international science cooperation. The clear gap between Weyprecht’s vision and the outcomes was that the data were never fully integrated and analyzed together (Wood and Overland, 2006).
During the first IPY (1882-1883) the Brooklyn Bridge opened in New York City, five years before the Eiffel Tower opened in Paris. Fifty years later the second IPY (1932-1933) began, and this was the year the Empire State Building opened in New York City. Routine flights by aircraft and wireless communication were both now possible. During the second IPY, 40 nations conducted Arctic research focusing on meteorology, magnetism, atmospheric science, and ionospheric physics. Forty permanent observation stations were established in the Arctic. The U.S. contribution to the second IPY was the second Byrd Antarctic expedition. The Byrd expedition established the first inland research station, a winter-long meteorological station on the Ross Ice Shelf at the southern end of Roosevelt Island. Scientists employed aircraft to extend the range of their observations and for the first time received data transmitted back from balloons as they drift upward, allowing the first vertical sampling of the polar atmosphere (Figure 2).
The third IPY expanded beyond the polar regions, quickly becoming global. This polar year was renamed the International Geophysical Year (IGY) and ran from July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958 (see Figure 3). Coincident with the groundbreaking for the Sydney Opera House, the IGY was the brainchild of a small number of eminent physicists, including Sydney Chapman, James Van Allen, and Lloyd Berkner. These physicists realized that the technology developed during World War II, such as rockets and radar, could be deployed to advance science. Sixty-seven nations participated in the IGY. The IGY’s research, discoveries, and vast array of synoptic observations set the stage for decades of geophysical investigations. Data collected from ships were used subsequently to advance the theory of plate tectonics, while satellites detected the Van Allen Radiation Belt. Seismic measurements collected along geophysical traverses measured the thickness of the Antarctic ice sheet, enabling the first estimates of Antarctica’s ice mass. Emerging from the IGY was the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) in 1958 and the Antarctic Treaty in 1961. Permanent stations were established for the first time in Antarctica as a direct result of the IGY.
At the end of the IGY, Hugh Odishaw, executive director of the U.S. National Committee, noted, “We have only scratched the surface of our ignorance with respect to Antarctic…. There is at hand an unparalleled situation for stimulating the best in man” (Odishaw, 1959). Having scratched the surface of Antarctica, scientists and engineers of 1958 handed the baton to our generation to bring together scientists and engineers to understand the role the poles play in our rapidly changing world. It is for us to explore the remaining frontiers using the cutting-edge technologies available to us today: jet aircraft, ships, satellites, lasers, the Global Positioning System (GPS), advanced communications, computers, numerical modeling, passive seismics, autonomous observatories, and novel coring technologies.