Environmental change and variability are part of the natural pattern on Earth. But environmental changes currently witnessed in the polar regions are in many cases more pronounced than changes observed in the mid latitudes or tropics. The Arctic sea ice cover is decreasing; some ice shelves in Antarctica are retreating and thinning; glaciers are shrinking; and ecosystems are changing. These changes have had an impact on some of the people living in Alaskan villages; they are moving to higher ground in response to rising sea levels, and the thawing of permafrost is undermining roads and buildings in northern communities around the world.
Science educators worldwide can help their students understand the global impact of the Earth’s polar regions by engaging them in International Polar Year (IPY). The global launch of IPY will take place on March 1 in Paris.
What Is IPY?
The launch of IPY marks the beginning of an interdisciplinary and internationally coordinated research effort that will usher in a new era of polar science. Thousands of scientists from more than 60 countries will work on projects to enhance their understanding of the polar regions and their influences on the rest of the planet. The IPY campaign also aims to educate and involve the public in polar science. IPY projects will take place from March 2007 to March 2009.
More than 35 countries are engaged in planning IPY activities. In the United States, the Office of Science and Technology Policy has designated the National Science Foundation (NSF) as the lead agency to coordinate IPY activities. Several other agencies will also participate in the effort. The International Council for Science (ICSU) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) are cosponsors of IPY.
Scope and Objectives
At its most fundamental level, event organizers envision IPY to be an intense, coordinated field campaign of polar observations, research, and analysis that will be multidisciplinary in scope. Science educators will have the opportunity to enhance their students’ understanding of the physical, biological, and chemical processes in the polar regions and their global connections and impacts. “We know the world is changing…the climate is changing; it is affecting people, so we need to have a much better understanding of what is happening,” noted Karl Erb, director of the NSF’s Office of Polar Programs.
Event organizers have identified five broad scientific challenges that provide a framework for organizing IPY activities. These objectives include:
• Assessing large-scale environmental change in the polar regions, looking at both the physical and human dimensions of change and its impacts;
• Conducting scientific exploration of “new” frontiers, whether these are once-inaccessible places, such as the seafloor, or areas of inquiry that are now open because of advances in technology, such as the examination of biological adaptation due to the development of genomic tools;
• Observing the polar regions in-depth, with adequate coverage of the vast and challenging landscape, to provide a description of current conditions and allow for better future understanding of variability and change;
• Understanding human environmental dynamics in a region where the connections are intimate and where the impacts of change are clear; and
• Creating new connections between science and the public using these regions.
Science educators across the globe can engage their students in various activities to mark the launch of IPY on March 1.
To become part of this effort, teachers can provide their students with hands-on activities focused on the Earth’s changing ice and snow—one of the main themes of IPY, according to event organizers. Students can also launch a virtual balloon representing their school. Further information about these activities can be found at www.ipy.org/index.php?/ipy/detail/ipy_2007_2008_school_launch_event.
Following the global launch of IPY, educators can find additional activities, resources, and other information to retain their students’ interests in IPY at http://220.127.116.11/index.php?/ipy/content/links_resources/C27.
Educators can also engage in IPY activities at NSTA’s National Conference on Science Education set for March 29–April 1 in St. Louis. The conference will feature three IPY/NSTA symposia sessions on the impact of polar climate change on living systems, changes in polar climates, and the fragile ice. Each symposium will be a half-day event designed for teachers of grades 5–8. Tickets are required and can be purchased in advance or on-site. Further information on these sessions can be found at http://institute.nsta.org/symposia.asp.
Other sessions focused on IPY will include a short course titled Polar Science-Global Impact: Integrating Research and Education Through International Polar Year. The conference will also offer workshops and presentations on IPY. Additional information on IPY sessions being held at the St. Louis national conference can be found at www.nsta.org/conferencebrowse2/&searchby=keyword&Meeting_Code=2007STL.
For more information on IPY, visit www.ipy.org or www.us-ipy.org.