The International Geophysical Year

The International Geophysical Year (IGY), which ran from July 1, 1957, through December 31, 1958, was a period of concentrated international scientific cooperation in the spirit of the two International Polar Years (1882-83 and 1932-33). This particular 18-month period was selected because it was the 25th anniversary of the Second International Polar Year and because it would be a period of unusually active solar activity. Although 13 different scientific programs investigated the geophysical relationships between Earth and space, and between different locations on Earth, the primary purpose of the IGY was to gather and analyze simultaneously data from around the world in fields where conditions changed rapidly. Meteorology, which focuses on the constantly changing atmosphere and its interactions with Earth, was one of those fields.

More than 60 nations and thousands of scientists participated in the IGY. Participants focused most of their research at stations located in the Antarctic and Arctic, along the equator, and along the longitude lines of 10°E, 110°E, 70°W, and 140°W. A special committee assembled and sponsored by the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) provided uniform instructions to all participating nations. Each nation determined its own research program. The IGY's

The International Geophysical Year's (IGY's) logo clearly shows the intent to launch the first artificial satellite in history.

meteorology program, which focused most of its attention on the problem of the general circulation of the atmosphere, depended heavily on the international sharing of observational data. Establishing a chain of observation stations along three of the four longitudinal lines (10°E [Europe/Africa], 70°W [North/South America], 140°W [Japan/ Australia]), which effectively divided the globe into three roughly equal parts, participants simultaneously collected data on "Regular World Days" and "World Meteorological Intervals." Researchers launched rockets to high altitudes and developed balloons that could ascend to the outer reaches of the atmosphere to gather information on radiation, ozone, and carbon dioxide (CO2). These measurements aided scientists conducting research on the global energy budget (that is, the inbound solar radiation compared to the outbound Earth radiation). The resulting data were deposited in three World Data Centers (United States, USSR, and either Japan or Europe), which remain major repositories for global climatological information. (There are currently 52 centers holding data from 33 earth science disciplines.)

Through data collected during the IGY, meteorologists confirmed the presence of the jet stream that encircles the globe and identified the long-term trend in increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration (see the sidebar "The Keeling Curve"). The project's simultaneous collection of atmospheric information marked the first time that data required to meet the needs of new numerical weather prediction models had been available. The installation of new observation stations around the world and heightened international cooperation in meteorological research during the IGY set the stage for future global collection efforts, including the World Weather Watch of the 1960s and the Global Atmospheric Research Program (GARP) of the 1970s. The continued international efforts set in motion by the IGY would be critical as scientists focused on air pollution and climate change problems in the second half of the 20th century.

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