Spring 2007

International Polar Year 2007-2008

Galina Diachkova

The scientific community has defined the years 2007 and 2008 as the International Polar Year (IPY). This name was formed for the first time in the 19th century when the scholars of some countries jointed their efforts to concentrate on Arctic studies. The first International Polar Year was organised in 1882-1883. In addition to geophysical, meteorological and other research, scientists also investigated indigenous knowledge: data accumulated through generations by Eskimos concerning their cultural adaptation to the Arctic, navigation and weather forecasting.

The second IPY, in spite of political tensions in the world, took place during 1932 and 1933 and contributed to the world’s knowledge in geophysics, meteorology, geomagnetics, etc. The third IPY, known as the International Geophysical Year (1957-58), was concerned with similar investigations, but in the shadow of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race. The experiences from organising that event showed the necessity of integrating international efforts to jointly solve Arctic scientific questions.

The current fourth IPY is a remarkable one because the research projects will greatly extend their social dimension. The potential of social sciences will be widely incorporated. Particular attention is attached to the cooperation between different organisations and social institutions, among which indigenous peoples are considered to be partners in the study of the experience of Arctic life. The investigations are oriented to solving ecological, social (including human rights and educational issues) and economic problems of far northern territories.

Individual countries have established their national committees to carry out the IPY in connection with this unprecedented emphasis on the social dimensions of the polar regions. A large number of research projects underwent a competitive selection. Many countries organised IPY youth committees. Special websites were developed to report about IPY-related issues.

Many projects will be going on in the Russian Arctic. One project is organised by geologists from Russia, USA, Canada and Germany about the lake El’gygytgyn (Chukchi language: “The lake of never thawing ice”) in Chukotka, which was formed a few million years ago as a result of a meteorite impact or an ancient volcanic eruption. The ice, according to Russian scholars, has stored information on the environment and climate of past times. The project leader, geologist Julie Brigham-Grett, researcher from the University of Massachusetts, notes that the better we understand the functioning of the Earth, the better we will be ready for the future.

IPY is the right time to solve imminent ecological problems and social issues and to enhance cooperation between various public, state and research institutions.