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Autosub launches from RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer.
Photo Credit: James Perrett/National Oceanography Centre, Southampton
A robotic submarine is launched from the RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer during a science cruise to study Pine Island Glacier, an IPY project led by Stan Jacobs in collaboration with the British. NSF officials say future international initiatives may include ice-coring projects.

IPY made large-scale, deep-field projects possible


The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) External Non-U.S. government site and the International Council for Science (ICSU) External Non-U.S. government site hosted the first effort to synthesize the findings from the IPY effort, estimated at more than $1.2 billion from all participating nations. In a “State of Polar Research,” a report released in Geneva at the end of February by a joint IPY committee of the WMO and ICSU, scientists reported the effects of global warming on both poles.

The 16-page report said: “New assessments of the state of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been made using novel techniques. These include satellite measurements of changes to the elevation and the gravitational fields of the ice sheets. … These assessments continue to be refined, but it now appears certain that both the Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass and thus raising sea level, and that the rate of ice loss from Greenland is growing.”

The ocean appears to play an active role in ice melt. A project led by Stan Jacobs External Non-U.S. government site, with Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University External Non-U.S. government site, aboard the USAP’s RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer External U.S. government site, is monitoring the incursion of slightly warmer water onto the continental shelf in an area of West Antarctica called Pine Island Bay External U.S. government site — home to one of the continent’s fastest moving glaciers.

People install a weather station at Pine Island Glacier.
Photo Credit: Cliff Leight/Antarctic Photo Library
Weather instruments and a GPS are placed on ice near Pine Island Glacier, one of the fastest moving glaciers in Antarctica.


The ocean-ice shelf interaction is another important variable as the science community attempts to calculate sea-level rise, with recent reports estimating a one meter increase by century’s end.

“My expectation is that this cruise collected a lot of data to advance understanding of that process, but I haven’t seen the data sets yet,” Borg said.

One expectation is that the spirit of IPY — the broad international cooperation it fostered — will live well past this month. In light of the current global recession and the increasing cost and scope of polar research, it seems collaboration between nations must continue.

That’s the conclusion Tom Neumann, expedition leader of the second leg of a joint Norwegian-U.S. IPY Traverse External Non-U.S. government site across East Antarctica, made after the team completed the nearly 5,000-kilometer-long overland journey to study climate variability.

“This project has been carried out in the true spirit of the International Polar Year,” Neumann wrote on the expedition’s Web site dated Feb. 23. “Neither the U.S. nor Norway could have completed this project, either scientifically or logistically, on their own. Our collaboration has been the key feature of this project.”

Ted Scambos External Non-U.S. government site, lead scientist at the Boulder, Colo.-based National Snow and Ice Data Center External Non-U.S. government site and member of the Norwegian-U.S. IPY Traverse, said the new level of cooperation led to unprecedented scientific advances in East Antarctica.

“I think one of the main legacies of IPY is that it really opened up East Antarctica. We knew some things about East Antarctica from [the IGY], the earlier traverses through the 1960s, but we didn’t know a whole lot.”

The Norwegian-U.S. IPY Traverse, for instance, will add new details to the climate record of East Antarctica from the last millennium. The traverse scientists also mapped out a region of subglacial lakes called the Recovery Lakes. And AGAP, ICECAP and other projects all contributed to a more robust understanding of East Antarctica, which contains enough ice to raise sea level by 60 meters should it all melt. (An unlikely scenario for thousands of years.)

“All of that puts East Antarctica into the same league as West Antarctica in terms of understanding what kind of player it is in the ocean-ice system,” Scambos said.

Borg said he anticipated more logistically challenging projects in the future, but said the NSF had not funded anything specific at this time. “We do have active interest in collaborating in new ice-coring sites in the near future,” he said. “And I’m sure things like AGAP will come along in future.”

The report from the WMO and ICSU stressed the need for further research into the Antarctic and Arctic, based on the findings from IPY.

“The polar regions are an integral and rapidly changing part of the Earth system. Humankind’s future environment, well-being and sustainable development require that we comprehensively understand and observe polar systems and processes and the changes that are already upon us,” the report concluded. “The message of IPY is loud and clear: what happens in the polar regions affects the rest of the world and concerns us all.”

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