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Weyprecht’s inspiration


The first International Polar Year (IPY) took place from 1881 to 1884, and was the first series of coordinated international expeditions to the Polar Regions ever undertaken. The first IPY, inspired by the Austrian explorer Carl Weyprecht, was the antecedent for other international research programs such as the landmark International Geophysical Year (IGY) in 1957 and the upcoming 4th International Polar Year, planned to begin in 2007.

By 1874 Weyprecht was aware that solutions to the fundamental problems of meteorology and geophysics were to be sought near the Earth’s poles, and that decisive results would only be obtained through a series of coordinated scientific expeditions. Weyprecht’s inspiration came from his experience as a scientist and co-commander of the Austro-Hungarian Polar Expedition of 1872-74. Thousands of scientific observations were recorded, but afterwards he realized that all of the information amassed was of limited use. Weyprecht observed:

 

“But whatever interest all these observations may possess, they do not possess that scientific value, even supported by a long column of figures, which under other circumstances might have been the case. They only furnish us with a picture of the extreme effects of the forces of Nature in the Arctic regions, but leave us completely in the dark with respect to their causes.

 
 

Nations should put aside their unprofitable competition for mere geographical discovery, he said, and instead field a series of coordinated expeditions dedicated to scientific research. The work of these expeditions would be: “with instruments precisely alike, governed by precisely the same instructions, and for a period of one year at least, to record a series of the utmost possible synchronous observations.” Only in this way, he said, “shall we be placed in possession of materials enabling us to attempt a solution of the problems which now lie embedded in the Arctic ice…”

Weyprecht died in 1881, but his inspiration lead to the largest coordinated series of scientific expeditions ever undertaken in the Arctic during the 19th century—to what is now known as the First International Polar Year.

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This project supported by the NOAA Arctic Research Office
Contact: Kevin R. Wood and James E. Overland
NOAA | Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory | Arctic Zone | IPY-1
Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean
NOAA - University of Washington

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