Glaciers, ice sheets and oceans at Earth's poles are the subject of the International Polar Year. NASA also begins work to explore other poles in our solar system.


Dr. Eric Rignot Research Scientist, Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

There's been predictions that sea ice cover will be gone by 2040, which is around the corner. These huge masses of ice can change far more rapidly than we thought. They don't change in time scales of centuries. We've seen changes within a decade, which is quite significant. The International Polar Year March 1, 2007 - March 1, 2009

Narrator: Despite its name, the International Polar Year research project runs two full years to allow thousands of scientists from over 60 nations to study two complete cycles of Earth's north and south poles. They will study all aspects of the poles: Land regions, ice sheets, glaciers, sea ice, oceans and the atmosphere.

Rignot: We live in an era of satellite observations. We have more quantitative information. We go beyond telling you the Greenland ice sheet is melting and losing mass. We can actually put a number to that and convert that number into something people will relate to. Dr. Leslie Tamppari, Phoenix Project Scientist, Jet Propulsion Laboratory We know from studying the Earth's poles that taking an ice core, it can tell us about the climate history of the Earth. They look at the trapped gases in the ice core and then they can tell, for example, how much carbon dioxide was in the atmosphere, how much methane was in the atmosphere, other greenhouse gases.

Rignot: I think to the general public, it's difficult to relate to a warming air temperature. If the air temperature warms up one to two degrees, I don't think it speaks very much. If they hear stories about the ice caps melting, the sea ice being gone by 2040 or even polar bears dying because there's no sea ice for them to survive, they can relate to that.

Narrator: The consequences, both natural and man-made, are seen at the poles sooner than elsewhere.

Rignot: This International Polar Year, the main goal is to establish the state of health of the polar regions and have a reference for future studies.

Narrator: NASA scientists are using poles to learn about our world and others.

Dr. Jim Garvin: Chief Scientist, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center The ice sheets of Earth and the polar regions are true frontiers, and they're frontiers that link Earth to the planets beyond Earth. In 2008, during the IPY, NASA will land the Phoenix Mars Polar Lander.

Tamppari: It will land in the northern polar region of Mars. We'll be in that environment that we can dig down into the soil and sample the ices in the soil that's there and analyze it in our on board instruments.

Garvin: In 2008, NASA will launch the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the vehicle will explore in earnest, using remote sensing, the poles of the moon. Relate them back to our Earth poles, even to the poles of Mars, and open up that frontier, we hope, for human presence, eventually sustained human presence. So we can actually learn about ourselves by exploring the moon, Mars, Saturn, Saturn's icy moons, Mercury, even Venus, and apply it to home, all through this scientific organizational framework that is the IPY.
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