International Polar Year 2007–2009
Understanding our world
The major international scientific research effort that is International Polar Year (IPY) was launched in March this year. As a world leader in Antarctic research, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is playing a major role. Our scientists are involved in 50 IPY projects, making it by far the biggest UK player in IPY. These projects will come together to create a unique snapshot of the state of our planet at the start of the 21st century.
Today’s society faces unprecedented changes to our global environment. It’s vitally important that we have the best scientists available to understand the big global issues like climate change and biodiversity.
Polar research is crucial in understanding how our world works and our impact on it, especially in relation to climate change. “The polar regions are an integral part of the machinery of planet Earth. If you want to understand the global carbon cycle or the global water cycle, you must understand the polar regions”, says former BAS Director, Professor Chris Rapley.
Climate change is one of our greatest global challenges. Dr Rob Larter from BAS is involved in one of the many IPY projects investigating the role played by the polar regions in the global climate. The BIPOMAC project will use ice cores to delve into previously unexplored records of climatic processes uniquely stored in the ice, in an effort to unravel the intertwined roles of bipolar ice, oceans and the atmosphere. The data gathered will provide a pulse of information needed to better understand the global climate and to help focus our responses to the environmental challenges we will face in the future.
Though the polar regions have a profound influence on the global environment, the rest of the planet also impacts the poles. Man-made pollution reaches both Antarctic and Arctic ecosystems, with potentially dire consequences for species who live there, including humans. Dr Anna Jones from BAS is working on a Norwegian-led project to examine the sources and transport systems of these pollutants and investigate how climate change will have an affect. Involving scientists from different fields, including biologists and atmospheric chemists, the project exemplifies the interdisciplinary nature of IPY.
Dr Eric Wolff from BAS is involved in five separate IPY projects, from the stability of the Greenland Ice Sheet to the effect of air pollution on the atmosphere and climate. The collaborative ethos of IPY means data can be collected beyond the scope of individual investigators or disciplines, helping to produce a step-change in our understanding of key issues such as climate change.
According to Dr Wolff, “Because of their remote location, we are normally able to get only limited snapshots of important processes that are occurring in the polar regions. IPY allows us to organise sets of co-ordinated measurements at different sites in both polar regions that will help us to understand the underlying principles behind what we observe. This in turn will allow us to estimate how the atmosphere, ocean, ice and biota will alter as climate changes.”
International cooperation is a hallmark of polar science. As well as strong links with other UK research institutions, such as the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) and the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI), BAS is part of a truly global network, working with scientists from around 40 other countries — including China, India, the USA and Russia — on IPY projects. For most of our 60-year history British Antarctic Survey has engaged in a dialogue with the public. There is a national need to attract young people into careers in science — and to keep them in it. For IPY BAS formed partnerships with world leading organisations to develop resources for teachers and students and to develop events and exhibitions to enthuse young people in our science and operations. Many of the children using these resources or visiting this exhibition will become scientists, citizens and policy makers who will ensure that not only do we continue to get the best scientific research but that we also help future governments make informed decisions about adapting to global change.