Global perspective Human stories

International Polar Year spurs critical research on global warming – UN agency

International Polar Year spurs critical research on global warming – UN agency

Research produced during the International Polar Year 2007-2008 shows clearly that the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctic are losing mass, providing a critical boost to knowledge of global warming, the United Nations’ climate agency said today.

“The International Polar Year 2007 – 2008 came at a crossroads for the planet’s future” said Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which today released a study entitled “The State of Polar Research” jointly with the International Council for Science (ICSU).

“The new evidence resulting from polar research will strengthen the scientific basis on which we build future actions,” Mr. Jarraud added.

A joint project of WMO and the ICSU, the International Polar Year (IPY) garnered international funding support of about $1.2 billion over the two-year period aimed at a better understanding of the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

More than 160 multi-disciplinary research projects, developed by scientists of more than 60 countries, have been carried out over the two-year period that will end in March 2009.

The new research shows that the warming of the Antarctic is much more widespread than previously known, and it now appears that the rate of ice loss from Greenland is increasing.

A freshening of the bottom water near Antarctica is consistent with increased ice melt from that continent and could affect ocean circulation, the research finds.

The report also identified large pools of carbon stored as methane in permafrost which, if thawed, threatens to become another massive source of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.

In addition to lending insight into climate change, the new research has aided our understanding of pollutant transport, species’ evolution, and storm formation, among many other areas, WMO said.

According to the agency, the Year will leave a legacy of enhanced observational capacity, stronger links across disciplines and communities, and an energized new generation of polar researchers.

“The work begun by IPY must continue” said Mr. Jarraud. “Internationally coordinated action related to the polar regions will still be needed in the next decades,” he said, adding that a major IPY science conference will take place in Oslo in June 2010.