Souvenir sheet with two stamps pictures the Aurora Borealis (Northern lights) and the Aurora Australis (Southern lights). The stamps pay tribute to scientists from around the world who will work together in 2007-08 on research projects at the North and South Poles.
first international polar year
On August 1, 1882, the first International Polar Year (IPY) began.
Early polar expeditions of the Arctic had been staged to find a northern sea route from the Atlantic to Pacific to reach the Spice Islands of the Orient. In the 1800s, many expeditions were sent out to find items from the 1845 Franklin expedition or to reach the North Pole.
A change occurred in the 1870s. Austrian Naval Lieutenant Karl Weyprecht proposed an international effort to go to the pole to study it for scientific reasons. In a presentation about one of his previous expeditions, he stated, “Decisive scientific results can only be attained through a series of synchronous expeditions, whose task it would be to distribute themselves over the Arctic regions and to obtain one year’s series of observations made according to the same method.” Weyprecht proposed that scientists from different nations establish arctic stations and work together to study the pole’s geography, weather, plant and wildlife, and magnetic and electrical phenomena.
Many in the science community supported Weyprecht’s proposal and it was endorsed at the Second Meteorological Congress in 1879. Later that year, representatives from Austria, Denmark, Finland, Holland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the US met to discuss the idea further. They met again in 1880 and 1881, deciding at the latter conference to coordinate the First International Polar Year. The year would run from August 1, 1882, to August 1, 1883. The participating nations would establish 13 Arctic and two Antarctic stations that would operate for one or two years. The timing of the IPY was selected so that it would occur during the transit of Venus in front of the Sun on December 6, 1882.
One of the primary areas of study during the IPY was magnetism. In addition to the arctic stations, meteorological stations, magnetic observatories, and merchant and naval ships from around the world joined in. On the 1st and 15th of each month, they took magnetic measurements to get the most complete understanding of the planet’s magnetism up to that time. This period also saw a rise in sunspot activity, which helped in the collection of this data.
After the IPY ended, representatives assembled once again to discuss their data. They provided the first climate studies of the Arctic. While they didn’t take steps to combine their data as one would expect, the first IPY was considered an important event, as it was a major step forward in scientific study, especially as an international effort.
Fifty years after the first IPY, a second one was held from 1932-33. Forty-four countries joined in this time, studying meteorology, magnetism, atmospheric science, and the ionosphere, which helped advance radio technology.
A third IPY called the International Geophysical Year was held from July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958. This IPY involved 67 countries studying a wide range of sciences including aurora, airglow, cosmic rays, gravity, oceanography, seismology, and solar activity. The US and the Soviet Union also launched the world’s first artificial satellites.
The fourth IPY was held from 2007 to 2008. It included 50,000 researchers from over 60 countries working on 228 projects. It was the largest study of the Polar Regions in history. In recent years, the IPY database was established to collect all of the information from all four IPYs. New information is regularly added.