By Steven Profaizer, Antarctic Sun staff

The last time the United States celebrated an International Polar Year, it built seven Antarctic stations in preparation to join 67 nations in concentrated polar research.

In March 2007, on the 50th anniversary of that IPY, the worldwide scientific community will again unite to further its understanding of the vital polar systems.

“There has been growing interest in the polar regions,” said Scott Borg, head of Antarctic science for the National Science Foundation (NSF). “And the international community has decided it is again time for a collaborative effort to better understand these regions.”

The NSF is the United States’ official lead agency for its participation in IPY, which will engage all federal agencies involved in research and education.

The NSF released a solicitation Feb. 1 that requested proposals supporting three general scientific areas of focus: ice sheet history and dynamics, adaptations at the cellular and genomic levels of organisms for life in extreme cold and prolonged darkness, and the arctic observing network.

In addition to the science focus, there is an emphasis on education and outreach, as well as the useful management of scientific information produced during the IPY. The NSF will now accept applications from grantee hopefuls on how to best address those areas of interest.

IPY will actually extend for more than one year, running from March 1, 2007, until March 1, 2009. The remote nature and extreme winters of polar regions limit when scientists can conduct their observations. The extra year provides more usable on-site time.

The International Council for Science (ICSU) and the World Meteorological Organization are leading IPY on the international level. More than 50 countries have pledged to participate.

The coming IPY will mark the third international celebration since the IPY was created in 1882. The first IPY was inspired by Karu Weyprecht, an officer of the Austro-Hungarian navy. He helped fuel the idea that polar expeditions should be primarily for scientific research not exploration. During that first IPY, 11 countries led 15 expeditions to polar regions in the name of science.

Fifty years passed before the scientific community again joined together to celebrate an IPY. In 1932, 40 nations dedicated resources to polar research, but the worldwide depression forced the IPY to be smaller than originally envisioned.

It took until 1957 for the event to reach the magnitude the scientists desired. It marked the birth of the modern age of research in Antarctica. The continent became accessible to scientists as it had never been before. The mysteries enshrouding Antarctica began to be pulled away, providing valuable information on a nearly blank spot on the map. Scientists now knew the thickness of Antarctica’s ice sheet, learned how its weight was depressing the land mass deep below, and located fossilized tree trunks near the South Pole.

At the conclusion of that IPY, 12 nations maintaining 65 stations stayed behind to continue their research. Borg said he hopes the upcoming IPY leaves behind a similar legacy, saying he expects “that IPY will usher in a new era of polar research.”

Learn more about IPY at