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Exploring Polar regions, understanding climate

26.02.2007 - (idw) Alfred-Wegener-Institut für Polar- und Meeresforschung

The International Polar Year 2007/08 begins on 1 March. EMBARGO: February 26, 2007, 1300 MEZ (CET)

When more than 50,000 scientists, working in the remotest areas of the world unite, it is an important event, that demands attention all over the world. More than 60 nations are joining forces, with research into ice and snow, in order to investigate climate.
On 1 March, a wave of opening ceremonies will take place around the world: from Japan and Australia, through to China, and Europe to Brazil. In Germany, the opening of the International Polar Year on March 1 will be celebrated in Berlin. Not only will the most important research projects be presented, together with a live transmission from the Arctic, the winner of the youth painting competition on the theme "Children's impressions of polar regions of the earth" will be announced.

Our greatest challenge is to understand the earth and climatic systems. The Polar regions play a key role in this understanding, and ecological and economic impacts of climate change can already be clearly seen. The melting of ice-masses in the Arctic has forced indigenous peoples and animals to alter their normal way of life. Polar bears find fewer ice floes and reindeer herds belonging to nomadic people, sink into mud. However, new sea routes that up till now have been blocked by ice are also opening up. The International Polar Year 2007/08 comes at a time when discussion over climate change is both topical in the media, and at the forefront of people's minds. The recently published world climate report, published by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) shows once more that climate has been altered dramatically. In the words of Prof. Dr. Reinhard Dietrich (President of the German Commission for the International Polar Year) "Now that one of the largest international research campaigns in our Polar regions is about to begin, it is a once in a lifetime chance. It is only when we understand global climate that we can make good predictions, and thus prepare for possible changes"

Polar regions as climate indicators
The aim of the International Polar year is to determine the role that the Arctic and Antarctic play in climate, and in this context, to study the earths ecosystems. If mainland ice melts, the sea levels will rise and large areas of coastal regions will be flooded and become uninhabitable. If Permafrost regions thaw, enormous amounts of methane will be released. Whole ecosystems will change, plants, animals and also humans must adapt or they will be threatened. We can only react to environmental changes when we know how they are connected, and then we will be able to make good predictions. In addition, climatic data that describe both current and past conditions are necessary. In order to achieve this, many expeditions are needed. Hundreds of thousands of years of climatic history can be found trapped within permanent ice. Scientists can reconstruct past climates from tiny inclusions in the ice and sediments from the ocean floor.

The largest international research campaign for 50 years
Despite their importance, the Polar regions remain to a large extent, unexplored. This is mainly due to the high level of logistics that are necessary to live and work in such hostile environments such as the Arctic and the Antarctic. On the other hand, sometimes, different countries set different priorities, that can make collaboration difficult. The Polar Year 2007/2008 offers a once off opportunity, to make available the knowledge, the know how and the logistical possibilities from Institutes and Universities from more than 60 countries in order to achieve scientific breakthroughs in the area of Polar and climate research. The data obtained from these projects will be made public and therefore readily accessible. It will be the first time that the public, and in particular schools will be involved in such a research campaign. It will not only create an awareness of how important the polar regions are for our climate, but will also inspire a whole new generation of scientists.

From journeys of discovery to international research campaigns
Internationally coordinated polar research began 125 years ago, with the first International Polar Year 1882/83, an initiative from Carl Weyprecht (who came from Hessen, Germany). The fact that several nations collaborated on a research project was at that time a sensation.
The choice of dangerous expeditions, over fame and the political and economic interests of individual countries was made: new regions claimed and new sea routes discovered. Now we know just how necessary International and interdisciplinary collaborations are. After the first International Polar Year, came the second International Polar Year (1932/33), and then the International Geophysical Year (1957/58). These large scientific events, made possible by a multitude of expeditions, the establishment of new research stations and internationally coordinated observation-programs produced crucial knowledge about Polar regions. The international Polar year 2007/2008 will follow this tradition. It will be carried our through the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

Opening ceremony in Germany
The International Polar Year will open with a ceremony in Langenbeck-Virchow-Haus, Berlin on 1 March at 10am. A large number of scientists will talk about their projects, to give an idea about the variety of research projects that are planned for the Polar year. A live-transmission from the Arctic German-French Research Station as well as a presentation about the new Antarctic Station Neumayer III is also planned. The inclusion of children and young people is an important part of the Polar year. Activities for schools will be presented, and the winner of the painting competition on the theme "Children's impressions of polar regions of the earth" will be announced at the opening ceremony. Many of the entries will be on display.

Notes for Editors: Your contact person in the press and public relations office at the Alfred Wegener Institute is Dr. Susanne Diederich (Tel: +49 471 4831 1376, E-Mail: Susanne.Diederich@awi.de). Your contact persons in the German commission for the International Polar Year are Prof. Dr. Reinhard Dietrich (Tel: +49 351 463 34652, E-Mail: Reinhard.Dietrich@tu-dresden.de) and Dr. Eberhard Fahrbach (Tel: +49 471 4831 1820, E-Mail: Eberhard.Fahrbach@awi.de). Further information about the Polar Year and the opening ceremonies can be found under: http://www.polarjahr.de and http://www.ipy.org.

Press Conference: Media representatives are invited to a press conference at Langenbeck-Virchow-Haus in Berlin on 1 March at 12.00 noon. Please contact Dr. Martina Kunz-Pirrung on: Tel: +49 471 4831 1236, E-Mail: Martina.Kunz-Pirrung@awi.de.

Opening ceremony: You will find the program for the German opening ceremony and a compilation of research projects together with the responsible contact person under: http://www.polarjahr.de/Eroeffnungsveranstaltung.193.0.html

School activites related to the start of the Polar year can be found under:
http://www.ipy.org/index.php?/ipy/detail/ipy_2007_2008_school_launch_event/
http://www.polarjahr.de/Breaking-the-Ice.218+M52087573ab0.0.html

An overview of the worldwide opening ceremonies can be found under: http://www.ipy.org/index.php?/ipy/detail/launch/

Information on the history of Polar Research can be found under: http://www.polarjahr.de/Geschichte-1882-1958.63+M52087573ab0.0.html

A list of research projects sorted by topics can be found under: http://www.polarjahr.de/Research-Projects.26+M52087573ab0.0.html

Material for television can be found under:
http://www.polarjahr.de/Filme.142+M52087573ab0.0.html
http://www.iwf.de/IWF/Faecherinfos/Umweltwissenschaften/Polarstern_Expedition.htm

Current reports of expeditions can be found under: http://www.polarjahr.de/Expeditionsberichte.38.0.html
http://blogs.dw-world.de/polarstern/

The international Polar year committee has put together a statement on the meaning and aims of the Polar year. In can be downloaded from:
http://www.ipy.org/index.php?/ipy/detail/the_scope_of_science_for_the_international_polar_year/

Contact persons from the German Commission for the International Polar year can be found under:
http://www.polarjahr.de/Deutsche-Kommission.17+M52087573ab0.0.html

A list of all the German Institutes and Universities that are taking part in the International Polar Year can be found here:
http://www.polarjahr.de/Institute.144+M52087573ab0.0.html


The Alfred Wegener Institute carries out research in the Arctic, the Antarctic and in the oceans at both high and low latitudes. It coordinates Polar research in Germany and provides important infrastructure such as the research ice-breaker Polarstern and research stations in the Arctic and the Antarctic, which are made available to International researchers. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the fifteen research centres belonging to the Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.

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