Today marks the official start of International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008, a large worldwide science programme focused on the Arctic and Antarctic. ESA is contributing to this important initiative, which will constitute the most intensive period of research on the polar regions in half a century.
Thousands of scientists from more than 60 countries will be conducting research during this two-year programme. IPY 2007-2008 will be an intense, internationally coordinated campaign of polar observations, interdisciplinary research and analysis that will enhance our understanding of physical, biological and social processes in the polar regions, examine their globally-connected role in the climate system, and set the stage for assessments, forecasts, recommendations, and future discovery.
Because of the remoteness and harshness of the polar regions, in situ research is very difficult to carry out and has proved to be insufficient for comprehensive studies. For the first time during an International Polar Year, the scientific community has at its disposal satellite measurements offering broad coverage of the polar regions and thus opening up new scientific possibilities.
The last International Polar Year was in 1957-1958 and provided the foundation for much of the polar science knowledge we have today. Given the important role polar regions play for global change, there is now more than ever a need for a coordinated international initiative to achieve a major advance in polar science and in the understanding of the Earth's climate and ecosystems.
For more than 20 years, ESA has been providing increasing support to the cryosphere communities in the form of satellite data. Since the early 1990s, ESA has been able to provide near-continuous satellite data on these regions over long periods of time. Continuous data are essential for scientists to identify and analyse long-term climatic trends and changes.