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Public Statements

International Polar Year

Location: Washington, DC

INTERNATIONAL POLAR YEAR -- (Senate - June 29, 2006)

Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I rise to take this time to speak about the Arctic and the upcoming International Polar Year. The Arctic is still a new frontier for many in Congress. For many, it is too far away, too dark and too cold to merit much attention. But whether you represent Florida, Iowa, or any other State, Americans around the country are connected to events in the Arctic. From climate change and the development of our natural resources, to international treaties and maritime rights, more knowledge about each of these issues is needed to help us formulate and shape the policies that will impact the Arctic and our country for future generations.

It has been nearly 14 years since the United States last developed an Arctic policy. The world was a different place 14 years ago. The Cold War had just ended. Climate change was barely being considered as an issue. An accessible, navigable Arctic Ocean was nowhere near as real a prospect as it is today. The Arctic Council, an intergovernmental organization that addresses many of the common concerns and challenges faced by the Arctic states, was just getting started. And we had nowhere near the sensitivity to the changes life is bringing to indigenous residents of the Arctic.

Times have changed, and we need a new Arctic policy. The upcoming International Polar Year will be the 50th anniversary of the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958 and continues a tradition of international science years that began in 1882-1883 and again in 1932-1933.

The purpose of the International Polar Year is to spark an interest in those whose expertise may not be in the Polar Regions. Most importantly, the theme is international.

IPY is being led by the International Council for Science, ICSU, and the World Meteorological Organization, WMO. Participating nations so far include Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Chile, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greenland, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, and others.

The International Polar Year is actually 2 years, from March 1, 2007, until March 1, 2009, allowing two field seasons of research in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. The timeframe was selected to encourage an intensive burst of effort that can be coordinated among many nations. During this time, scientists will lay the groundwork for sustained assessments of environmental change and variability. In addition, the resulting enhanced infrastructure and observation systems will provide an improved foundation for ongoing science.

In the United States, the administration has asked the National Science Foundation to lead U.S. IPY activities. NSF allocated roughly $13 million for this fiscal year for research opportunities. The announcements for these research grants will occur sometime in late July or August of this year.

Another round of grants is expected in February or March of 2007, as the President requested $62 million for fiscal year 2007 just in time for the start of the IPY.

Other agencies are contributing to IPY, including the National Institute of Health, NASA, the State Department, and the Department of Energy. In fact, the Department of Energy is sponsoring a summit on energy development and rural power as it relates to the Arctic. The core of the summit will be a technology conference held in Anchorage, AK, the week of October 14, 2007. Leading up to the technology conference and following the summit to its completion will be an education and outreach effort with the goal of capturing the interest of the public and decisionmakers and attracting and developing the next generation of scientists, engineers, and leaders.

Despite the many events and research projects that will be happening around the world, it is important that we not lose focus on why we are having IPY: to make a contribution that will not only serve as a benchmark in understanding the polar regions but also help leave a legacy for future scientists and researchers. The worst-case scenario for IPY is for great scientific achievements to happen over the next 2 years, and nobody knows about it. Showcasing IPY is essential.

As scientists work to achieve breakthroughs in their respective fields, they will also be increasing their collaboration with local communities and indigenous people as partners in research from designing the projects and collecting and interpreting the data to disseminating the results.

There are already projects trying to achieve a greater partnership. For example, The STUDENT-PARTNERS Project, SPP, headed by the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, unites students, teachers, and scientists to study the role of rivers in the Arctic system and create an innovative and effective education and outreach program. By partnering with K-12 grade students and teachers living beside the largest Arctic rivers in Russia, Canada, and Alaska, the high frequency river water samples that are needed to understand hydrologic and biogeochemical fluxes in the river systems will be obtained. In the process, the capability we seek in a multinational Arctic river observing network will be developed.

In the Bering Strait School District in Alaska, teachers are trained to educate students in grades K-12 about climate change data collection and scientific study. The project blends modern science with Native tradition, language, and subsistence needs. Full community involvement has been achieved in 13 of the 15 villages in the school district.

Scientists from the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska work with teachers and students to collect data on weather, erosion, sea ice movement, and wave and wind action. Native elders are involved in teaching the students using the Native language, culture, and historical observations. The elders use the data to assist them in predicting dangerous weather and sea conditions as the plan for subsistence activities. What they are doing not only benefits the community and sustains Native traditions, it also generates a new generation of individuals interested in Arctic science.

The upcoming International Polar Year can play a significant role in focusing our Nation, and for that matter the world, on the work that is being done, and needs to be done, in the Arctic. I plan to use the occasion of the International Polar Year to bring more of my colleagues to the north. When I say the north, I mean going to the Permafrost tunnel in Fairbanks or the Toolik Field Station on the North Slope of Alaska to see for themselves what the Arctic is really like.

The IPY is also an opportunity to craft greater coordination and cooperation among Arctic nations so that those who live in the Arctic benefit. And perhaps most important of all, it is an opportunity to develop the next generation of Arctic researchers to carry on this important work.

I look forward to further discussions on the Arctic as the International Polar Year draws closer and the relevance of the Arctic to the Nation and the world as a whole.

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