The First International Polar Year (1882—1883)

The Second International Polar Year (1932—1933)

International Geophysical Year (1957—1958)



A. O. Andreev*, M. V. Dukalskaja*, S. V. Frolov**         

Rapid development of polar areas started upon completion of the Second International Polar Year Programme. Soviet explorers successfully worked in the Arctic. On the 21st of May 1937 the first Soviet floating station SP-1 was put into operation. It was the start of integrated research of the Central Arctic basin from floating stations.

The Second World War interrupted international research activity. However, by the end of the 1940’s, the USA, Great Britain, Argentina and Chilli put their efforts into study of the Antarctic. Permanent research stations were created on the littoral areas of the glacial continent. The fourth expedition of R. Byrd with participation of about 4000 people, 13 warships, several aircrafts and helicopters was considered as the most important expedition of that time. The expedition crew founded a research base at Little America station. The crew made a research in oceanography, meteorology, geology and glaciology.

Soviet researchers continued investigations in the Arctic. In 1950 the floating station SP-2 was set up. From 1954 floating stations carried out research activities on permanent basis. From 1946 whaling flotilla “Slava” realized associated hydrometeorological investigations in the Antarctic waters.

By the middle of the ÕÕth century technological progress provided new possibilities for international co-operation in geophysical domain. Powerful vessels and aircrafts were built; new means of communication were created. Remote meteorological and hydrological stations were designed due to development of radio electronics. Improved rocket equipment was used for atmospheric sounding. The world was entering the era of space development. The first electronic computers helped solve the problem of data processing and storage.

In 1950 famous English geophysicist S. Chapman suggested launching a new international research programme not limited to polar areas. The World Meteorological Organisation supported this suggestion. In October 1951 the International Council of Scientific Unions under U.N.O. made a decision on organization of such research programme called “International Geophysical Year” (IGY). IGY programme was extended for 18 months (July 1st, 1957 – December 31st, 1958). The year of 1957 was expected to be a year of extremely high solar activity. Due to this fact any research carried out during this year was of high interest for geophysicists. Special IGY Committee headed by S. Chapman was established to manage and to co-ordinate research activities.

In 1956 Presidium of the USSR Academy of Sciences created the Soviet Committee in charge of IGY programme realization. Vice-President of USSR Academy of Sciences, academician I.P. Bardin was elected the Chairman of the Committee. Active members of the Committee were V.V. Belousov, P.K. Evseev, G.A. Avsyuk, E.K. Fedorov, V.G. Kort, A.A. Afanasyev, E.I. Tolstikov, M.M. Somov, A.M. Obukhov, P.A. Gordienko and many others. Fourteen Expert Commissions were organised under the Committee to cover all domains in the framework of IGY.

The principal goal of IGY research programme was to acquire geophysical data about the planet on the whole and to fill the gaps about individual regions including polar and equatorial regions. Each country participating in IGY undertook obligations to study specific regions of the world. USSR studied the Soviet sector of the Arctic and the Antarctic. The total number of IGY programme participants exceeded 10 000 researchers from 67 countries. They worked in expeditions and research stations. Out of 6000 stations 500 belonged to the USSR. All existing research stations and observatories were involved into the programme. At the same time several new state-of-the-art stations with modern equipment were built. Most stations located along the meridians 10°, 75°, 110° and 140° E and 80° W.

IGY programme included hydrometeorological observations from stations and ships, and ionosphere surveys including investigations using vertical sounding. Northern lights and airglow observations were scheduled for polar areas. A wide range of glaciological surveys was scheduled for glacial areas. 26 expeditions on 70 research vessels were supposed to study the world ocean. Specially equipped observatories were designed for astronomical observations. Gravity prospecting surveys were scheduled for different regions including Antarctic continent. Special attention was focussed on solar activity and geomagnetism study.

Upper atmosphere investigations using rockets and artificial satellites were scheduled in the framework of the programme. The rockets were launched from the land (the USA, the USSR, Japan, France and England) and from some vessels in equatorial and polar areas. The USSR and the USA planned launching artificial satellites of the Earth in the framework of IGY programme.
Standard terms were set for observation programme. Special IGY Committee worked out a system of special signals to notify research stations when more frequent or more detailed observations were required. Such signals were sent, for instance, in case of expected perturbations on the Sun. Moreover, a calendar of world days and time intervals for more frequent observations was developed. Four regional centres were in charge of co-ordination of observations and notification. World Data Centres were established for data acquisition and storage, including in the USSR and the USA.

Research activity in the Antarctic
In spring 1954 Special IGY Committee mentioned: “the Antarctic is one of the most important places in the world to carry out intensive research during the International Geophysical Year”. The IGY programme included establishing a dense network of research stations in the South Pole and organization of marine expeditions. The USSR, the USA, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Australia, Argentina, Chilli, Norway, Japan, New Zealand and the South African Republic participated in this research. The USSR started studies of the Antarctic in 1955. The First Complete Antarctic Expedition (CAE) headed by M.M. Somov consisted of marine and continental research groups. The marine group was in charge of investigations in the coastal waters of the Antarctica and in the open zones of the World Ocean. The continental group was in charge of Antarctic research stations development. Mirny observatory created in 1956 became a base of Soviet Antarctic stations. In the same year Pioneer and Oasis stations were built.

The Second CAE (1956-1957) and the Third CAE (1957-1959) played an important part in reaching the goals of IGY programme. During the Second Complete Antarctic Expedition (headed by A.F. Treshnikov) the existing research stations were extended, some new stations were built in the area of the South geomagnetic pole at 3500 m above sea level (Komsomolskaya, Vostok-1 and Vostok) The Third Complete Antarctic Expedition (headed by E.I. Tolstikov) carried out research observations at the stations Mirny, Pionerskaya, Oasis and Vostok-1. During a tour from Mirny through Pionerskaya and Komsomolskaya stations to the centre of the Antarctica a new station Sovetskaya was established at the height of 3662 m above the sea level. On the 14th of December 1958 a sledge and caterpillar train reached the Pole of relative inaccessibility on haulers and opened a temporary base there. Later this base became intermediate for continental tours. Marine crews of the expeditions surveyed separate parts of Antarctic coast and carried out integrated oceanographical and hydrographical studies. The Soviet Antarctic expedition had the biggest number of participants and the largest volume of research investigations.

Scientists of other countries took part in setting up Antarctic research stations at the same time as the Soviet scientists. In 1958 there were 48 research stations in the Antarctic with total number of researchers of about 900 people. Big number of stations situated on the Antarctic Peninsula and on the coast of the Waddell Sea.

American scientists made a considerable contribution into study of the Antarctic. American expedition “DeepFreeze” counted several thousands of people. The expedition worked in the Antarctic and in the waters of the Southern Ocean in the framework of IGY programme. R. Byrd was one the managers of this expedition. The Americans developed seven research stations: 2 continental and five littoral ones. The main base of American expeditions was Mc-Murdo station opened in 1955. Little-America V was considered the main American research station. In 1956 Amundsen-Scott station was opened on the South Pole.

Great Britain had the largest number of research stations in the Antarctic. In 1957 the total number of British stations was equal to 15. Ten Argentinean and nine Chilean stations worked in the Arctic and sub arctic zones.
In 1957-1958 most Antarctic stations served as bases for continental research tours. The crews of such tours carried out different research investigations including glaciological ones. British expedition headed by Vivian Fuchs was the first to cross the South Pole from Shackleton station to the Waddell Sea coast. The expedition made 3473 kilometres and stopped at Scott station situated on the opposite end of the continent.

Research activity in the Arctic
Research activity in the Arctic was active as well. According to IGY programme 50 polar research stations from different countries (including 33 Soviet stations) were set up on the Islands Dickson, Kotelny, Wrangel, Chetyrekhstolbovoy, Preobrazheniya, on the Chelyuskin Cape and the Wellen Cape. The biggest Soviet polar research station – Druzhnaya Observatory – was established in 1957 on the Hase Island (the Franz Josef Land). The Observatory carried out meteorological, aerological, ozonomertical, ionospheric, magnetic, atronomical and other research studies. Weather rockets were launched from the Observatory on regular basis. 35 out of 88 weather rockets were launched in high latitudes on the USSR territory during International Geophysical Year.

Apart from polar research stations three Soviet and two American floating stations operated in the Arctic during IGY programme realisation. SP-6 station started operation on the 15th of April 1956 on an ice island in the Arctic Ocean. It had been operating for 1252 days till the 14th of September 1959. The second station SP-7 started operation on the 23rd of April 1957 to the northeast from the Wrangel Island. It had been operating for 718 days till the 11th of April 1959. Upon official completion of the IGY programme the Soviet Union launched SP-8 station in April 1959. All floating stations were equipped with state-of-the-art devices for thorough investigations including instruments for magnetic observations specially developed for application in high latitudes. In March 1957 American floating station “Bravo” started operation on an ice island in the Arctic basin of the USA. The station was in operation till 1961. In April 1957 the USA set up another station “Alpha”, which was in operation till November 1958.

Littoral polar stations and marine expeditions carried out oceanographic investigations in the Arctic. Soviet marine expeditions worked in the Norwegian Sea, the Greenland Sea, the Chuckchee Sea and the Bering Sea. In 1956—1958 the Soviet oceanographic expedition worked in the Kara Sea. The expedition performed hydrologic surveys and currents surveying. For the first time the expedition crew used autonomous buoy-based stations with self-recording current meters. From 1956 the USA started using automatic hydrometeorological stations supplied with air temperature and air pressure sensors, as well as wind speed and wind direction sensors in the Arctic conditions. Glaciological investigations in the Soviet Arctic were carried out on the Franz Josef Land and the Novaya Zemlya Island. In order to fulfil the IGY programme the expedition of the Institute of Geography of the USSR Academy of Sciences, the Tenth hydrographical expedition of GLAVSEVMORPUT and Geological expedition of Scientific Research Institute of the Arctic Geology (NIIGA) worked on the Franz Josef Land.

Launching of Artificial Earth Satellite
Launching of the first artificial Earth satellite in the USSR was the most important event of the International Geophysical Year. The 4th of October 1957 became the date opening a new era not only in the domain of Earth sciences, but also in the history of the mankind on the whole. On the 15th of May 1958 the first world geophysical research laboratory “Sputnik-3” was orbited for space investigation. The task of the laboratory was to study pressure and composition of the upper atmosphere, magnetic field, meteor situation, concentration of charged particles, interaction of solar radiation with the upper atmosphere. The laboratory proved existence of radiation zones.

On the 26th of July 1958 the USA launched carrier rocket «Jupiter-C», which brought «Explorer-4» satellite to the near-Earth orbit for Earth magnetosphere studies. Totally 66 special stations, all astronomical observatories of the USSR and a number of foreign observatories took part in satellites observations.

IGY Results
International Geophysical Year became the biggest international project of the middle of the XXth century by the number of participants and volume of studies. Elaborate and well-organised observation system allowed acquiring unique geophysical data on the planet on the whole. Using rockets and satellites changed the methods of geophysical investigations and opened new possibilities for studying the Earth and the near-Earth space.

IGY encouraged further development of automated remote control facilities. Development of electronic computers allowed fast acquisition and processing of data. World Data Centres (WDC) provided access to processing results. Many scientists got possibility to data comparison. Within three years after launching the IGY programme, WDC received about 1 million units of issue for storage from all continents. Scientific results of IGY were published in international “IGY annals”.

Definite success of IGY was lying in effective research co-operation of different states. Such co-operation laid a foundation for future big international projects. The most important political result of IGY was Antarctic Treaty signed on the 1st of December 1959 by 12 states – participants of the Antarctic studies within the IGY framework. Later, other states joined the Treaty. The main principle of the Treaty is peaceful use of the Antarctic.

The overview of IPY/IGY programmes proves impressive development of geophysical science over 125 years. Undoubtedly, many discoveries and investigations did not make part of IPY/IGY programmes. However, each research programme pushed studies of polar areas. Concentration of scientific manpower, application of up-to-date technologies and generous financing raised the level of investigations and reserved scientific and engineering development in the future.

It is a pleasure to realize that Russia made a big, often determining, contribution into successful performance of IPY programmes. The coming International Polar Year (2007-2008) organized upon the initiative of Russia shall add a vivid page to the history of IPY and national polar studies.

* Russian state museum of Arctic and Antarctic

** Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI)

© Problems of Arctic and Antarctic, ¹ 75, 2007, AARI.


© 2004-2008 Gubernskaya Academy