Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Today's Polar Science

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Today's Polar Science

Article excerpt

The Earth's polar regions once seemed a remote realm, accessible only through the compelling tales of intrepid explorer-scientists. Accounts of these polar explorers have long fascinated our imagination. Their compelling stories include some of the greatest adventure sagas of all time, documented in wonderful books such as Alfred Lansing's Endurance (1999), Fridtjof Nansen's Farthest North (1999), Lennard Bikel's Mawson's Will (2000), and many others.

Today, of course, the Arctic and Antarctic have moved to the forefront of public attention. Melting ice floes and endangered polar bears have become iconic in our thinking about climate change and the global environment. Arctic sea ice has shrunk to record low levels, and some recent research suggests that the Arctic could be ice-free by midcentury (Stroeve 2007; also see Englert et al. on p. 20 in this issue of The Science Teacher). Studies show an alarming warming trend in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica (Fyfe 2006). Last February, over a period of just 10 days, a NASA satellite camera caught the breakup of over 400 km2 of ice from the Wilkins Ice Shelf off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula--one of seven major ice-shelf collapses in the past 30 years, after some 400 years of relative stability (Brown 2008). More than four million people who live in northern communities face unprecedented challenges due to rapid changes in natural resources and food systems. It is clear that these polar regions, though remote, are an integral and endangered part of the entire Earth system.

The International Polar Year (IPY) was launched in 2007 as a coordinated international research and education program to study this threatened territory. To give full coverage of two annual cycles in both the Arctic and Antarctic, the IPY is actually two years, from March 2007 to March 2009. According to the IPY, over 50,000 participants from more than 60 countries are involved in this interdisciplinary research. The current IPY is the fourth polar year, following those in 1882-83, 1932-33, and 1957-58.

For teachers, one of the most significant differences in the current IPY is the incredible wealth of information and teaching materials now available. Activities, teaching guides, data sets, and polar researcher blogs are readily available from many sources, along with incredible animations, video, and photographic images. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (www.arctic. noaa.gov/ipy.html), U. …

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