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 user 2007-02-26 at 11:30:00 am Views: 56
  • #17429

    Huge polar study about to begin
    largest polar research programme for 50 years gets under way this
    week.International Polar Year (IPY) will see thousands of scientists,
    from more than 60 nations, working together on 220 projects at high
    latitudes.Scientists hope to improve their understanding of how changes
    to the polar regions affect the planet.IPY will be officially launched
    in Paris on 1 March, but the UK’s programme, involving 65 institutions,
    was unveiled on Monday in London.IPY actually runs for two years in
    order to allow equal coverage of both the Arctic and the Antarctic.It
    is organised by the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the
    World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

    Global scale
    have been three previous IPYs – held in 1882-83, 1932-33 and 1957-58 -
    each of which led to scientists gaining a much better knowledge of the
    remote regions.The UK research programme was unveiled at a ceremony,
    attended by the Princess Royal, at the Royal Society in central
    London.Cynan Ellis-Evans, head of the UK’s national committee, said
    much of the research that will carried out during the next two years
    would be part of existing projects.”But the difference with IPY is
    that… these large numbers of nations are going to be working
    together,” Dr Ellis-Evans explained.One example, he said, was a project
    called the Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML). The project will
    investigate the distribution and abundance of marine biodiversity in
    the region.It involves scientists from 18 countries, and aims to
    provide a benchmark against which future changes, including climatic
    shifts, can be measured.”This activity would never have been possible
    outside the IPY,” he added.Martin Siegert, who is leading a UK team
    that will explore Lake Ellsworth, a subglacial lake 2km beneath the
    Antarctic ice, explained why the IPY was so important to
    scientists.”Fifty years ago, the third International Polar Year
    happened. The reason for that period of activity was because we
    realised that we did not know anything about Antarctica,” the professor
    of geoscience at the University of Edinburgh told reporters.”The
    situation has actually not changed too much – we still know very little
    about Antarctica and the Arctic. But the big difference is that we now
    know the regions are very important.”So exploration is very much on the
    agenda for this IPY,” Professor Siegert revealed.There are six major
    research themes within the programme:

        * determine the current environmental status of the polar regions
        * quantify past and present environmental and social changes, and improve future projections
        * understand links between the poles and the rest of the planet
        * investigate the frontiers of science in the regions
        * use the polar areas to develop and enhance observation of the Earth’s interior and of space
        * explore the cultural, historical and social aspects of circumpolar human communities

    Ice loss
    of the institutes that will be playing a leading role in IPY is the
    British Antarctic Survey (BAS).Chris Rapley, BAS director, said that
    growing awareness of the threats posed by changes to the climate made
    the 24-month programme timely.UK Science and Innovation Minister”In
    many respects the Antarctic, although it is geographically distant, is
    in everyone’s backyard,” he said.”A warmer world always results in less
    ice and higher sea levels.”One area of research involved trying to
    understand how much and how fast ice-sheets would melt as temperatures
    rose, Professor Rapley explained.”The palaeo-evidence has been very
    thin and patchy, because when the major blocks of ice have collapsed in
    the past, they have not left much evidence of how quickly it
    happened.”International Polar Year will allow us to marshal the
    resources of all nations that are capable of addressing those issues in
    an intensive way, and speed up delivery of the answers.”

    ‘Significant year’
    UK’s Science and Innovation Minister, Malcolm Wicks, last week visited
    the BAS research station at Rothera to see first-hand the work being
    carried out by scientists.”The significance of the International Polar
    Year is that it brings together some of the globe’s best scientists to
    work together on a number of different projects,” he said.”In terms of
    scientific breakthroughs and the accumulation of knowledge of this
    vital area, I think the year is going to be a very significant
    one.”Ahead of the IPY’s launch, a team of researchers on the CAML
    project completed a 10-week census of marine life in a near-pristine
    stretch of Antarctic seabed.Previously encased by ice for several
    thousands of years, parts of the area became accessible only five years
    ago, following the collapse of the Larsen B ice-shelf.The team, led by
    researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Germany, found a number
    of likely new species, and gained an insight into the dynamics of the
    polar ecology.”What we learned from the… expedition is the tip of an
    iceberg, so to speak,” said team leader Michael Stoddart.”Insights from
    this and CAML’s upcoming International Polar Year voyages will shed
    light on how climate variations affect ice-affiliated species living in
    this region.”