International Geophysical Year (IGY) and International Polar Year (IPY)

Marine Biology - IPY stamp issue
Marine Biology - IPY stamp issue (Photo: Australia Post 2008)
Oceanography - IPY stamp issueGlaciology - IPY stamp issueAstronomy - IPY stamp issue

The Australian Antarctic Program has a long record of participating in and contributing to collaborative small-scale research projects and large-scale coordinated international scientific programs.

The modern era of collaborative international scientific investigation in Antarctica, exemplified in the more recent International Polar Year (IPY), grew from the pioneering and highly successful International Geophysical Year (IGY).

International Geophysical Year (IGY) 1957–58

The International Geophysical Year (IGY) was proposed by the international scientific community as a comprehensive global study of geophysical phenomena and their relationships with solar activity. It aimed to make wide-spread, simultaneous and intensive observations of a range of geophysical phenomena, using the latest instrumentation, rocket and satellite technologies. IGY included studies an array of areas of scientific interest including: meteorology, geophysics, glaciology, oceanography, and seismology.

Antarctica was recognised as an area of major scientific importance, with 12 nations participating in IGY with Antarctic programs.

By the time the International Geophysical Year (IGY) commenced, Antarctic Division Director Phillip Law had developed Australia's capacity to visit most parts of the Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT), and had established two permanent continental stations at Mawson and Davis. This allowed scientists greater access to areas previously unexplored or investigated. Data collected in Antarctica during IGY provided a valuable source for scientific studies for many years after.

IGY had proved to be a hugely successful scientific experiment, demonstrating that many nations could work cooperatively together in the Antarctic. The spirit of cooperation that evolved during IGY prompted proposals that this uniquely scheme should be continued, leading to formation of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959. Australia’s credibility in Antarctic matters gave it a significant influence in the establishment of the Treaty. When it was ratified in 1961, Australia had become a leading nation in Antarctic science and exploration.

International Polar Year (IPY) 2007–09

An international program of coordinated, interdisciplinary scientific research was framed in a number of themes for the International Polar Year (IPY). During the IPY, five key Australian-led research projects made significant advances in scientific understanding in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Australia also contributed to many other international research projects.

IPY allowed the scientific community to investigate new frontiers, deepening knowledge and understanding of polar processes and their links to global processes, while increasing the ability of researchers to detect environmental changes. It provided an opportunity to collaborate with scientists from different nations and across disciplines, enabling research on a larger and more comprehensive scale than ever before.

IPY successfully captured the imagination of the global community, inspiring and developing the next generation of Antarctic scientists, engineers and logistic experts.

Today, Australian scientists continue to play a major role in the development and management of international program initiatives.