Our UAB research team’s visit to Palmer Station is timed this year with a truly historical event that touches each and every one of us. The “International Polar Year” or “IPY” as it is affectionately called, actually spans a two year period (March 2007 to April 2008), and marks the half century anniversary of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) (1957-1958).
The IGY saw the establishment of scientific bases across Antarctica and initiated what was to become the “modern age” of polar study. The initial IPY took place 150 years ago (1882-1883), and a second followed fifty years later in 1932-1933. Both bore many fruits in terms of science and international cooperation.
The current IPY is the by far the largest collaborative scientific effort to reach the shores of Antarctica. Indeed, it encompasses more than 50,000 people involved in more than 200 research projects from 60 countries.
The timing of the IPY is remarkable for several reasons. First, our country is currently greatly in need of an inspirational event that will reinvigorate young students who are increasingly choosing careers other than the sciences. As a result we have growing shortages of science teachers and we are losing our competitive edge in the scientific and technological world. And unfortunately, all at a time when we can least afford to do so. I hope that the IPY is much like Sputnik, in providing us an opportunity to rally around science education. In line with this view, considerable international resources during the IPY will go towards educational outreach.
The IPY also comes at a critical juncture in our collective understanding and acceptance of global climate change and its contributing factors. Our poles are sensitive barometers of climate change. As such, many of the international collaborative research projects that fall under the IPY umbrella are targeted to further our collective understanding of polar climate change, and how this, in turn, influences climate processes on land and sea across all regions of our planet.
The IPY kicked off on March 1, 2007 to considerable fan fare. This ranged from glasses of champagne raised in Paris by scientific leaders and diplomats from the sixty participating countries to the “virtual balloons” launched via the web by school children from schools around the globe.
We here at Palmer Station were not to be left out! After a lot of discussion of good ideas, we settled on taking a group photograph of everyone at the station sitting or standing on the end of the dock, with our UAB research divers and tenders in a boat below, dressed in their dive gear and ready to head off to dive (which they did right after the photograph!). With the help of computer graphics we added to our poster the official logos of the National Science Foundation and the International Polar Year… and at the bottom we added the names of all the station personnel. Finally, in big red letters across the top we wrote “PALMER STATION DIVES INTO THE IPY”.
We plan to send our Palmer Station IPY poster to the Director of the International Polar Year Committee, leaders in the National Science Foundation, and to the Director of the Smithsonian Institute, the official agency that will be archiving materials from the 2007-2008 IPY. Most importantly, we will frame a copy for the station. It will serve as a reminder that all of us here, carpenter, cook, plumber and scientist alike, are integral to past, present and future fruits of the International Polar Year.