The International Council for Science has organized a period of intense polar study, the International Polar Year (IPY): March 2007 – March 2008. Over 60 countries are involved in this study. It is comforting to know that a large number of countries became involved in this study because they are concerned with the changing state of our global environment and they are aware that all countries are responsible for our communal fate.

The polar regions are highly sensitive areas, and given the increasing impact humans are having on the planet, it will be extremely useful to study ecosystem changes and the future of the human condition as we are affected by global changes. It was recently noted that the Greenland Ice Sheet is melting three times faster than originally predicted, and the Arctic Ocean will be free of ice in the summer season within the century. Dr. Alpert, a founder of the IPY study and professor at the Thayer School at Dartmouth, stated that we need to study the polar regions “before they melt away.”

While scientists have been studying these regions for decades, this will be a period of heightened study, education and awareness. Observatories will be constructed that will include temperature probes to measure ice temperature fluctuation in the future. Additionally, scientists will look at the ice and the records of the air that are trapped in the ice – they will be able to look at the atmosphere composition prior to the industrial revolution. While ice cores containing climate records have been gathered in the Arctic and Antarctic regions before, the findings have not received enough coverage. It is very exciting that this will be a focal point in the scientific community and that even more importantly – there will be a focus of leveraging the findings of these studies (and hopefully already existing studies) into our societies.

Note – scientists also believe that they may uncover medicine in the arctic – such as genomes that are capable of bone healing, perhaps a cure to cancer. Slightly disturbing: they also believe that new fisheries may open in more northern areas, as ice cover melts. I prefer focusing on the much more important task at hand – bringing awareness and education to the world about our interconnected communities.