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The Fourth International Polar Year (IPY) marked a unique opportunity for polar science, and the International Permafrost Association (IPA) took full advantage of it to focus on bipolar and regional activities relating to permafrost, within the context of enhanced international cooperation across a broad range of disciplines. This report describes the planning, implementation and legacy of the IPY for the IPA, from the standpoint of 15 months after its formal end in March 2009.


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There is a long history of permafrost observations associated with the international polar years. Ground temperature observations were part of the First IPY in 1882–83 with measurements recorded at seven of the 14 stations. Time series were obtained in soil at four levels where possible down to 1.6–2.0 m (Barr, 1983; Wood and Streletskiy, 2008). The four most complete data sets were from the stations at Jan Mayen, Sodankyla, Novaya Zemlya and the Lena River Delta. Regional and interannual differences among these sites were well documented and reflected the Atlantic maritime- and polar-type continental climates. At Barrow, Alaska, an 11.4-m shaft was sunk with bottom temperatures measured at a near constant -11.1°C (Ray, 1885).

More than a century later, formal planning for the Fourth IPY (2007–09) started with the IPA Council recommendation in July 2003 at its meeting in Zurich, Switzerland. By November 2003, a multi-authored draft plan by Vladimir Romanovsky and others was prepared and circulated for comment (The Thermal State of Permafrost: A Contribution to the International Polar Year). The overall IPA-IPY plans were further discussed and developed in 2004 including the meetings of the Arctic Science Summit Week in Reykjavik, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) conference in Bremen, the annual Russian permafrost conference held in Tyumen, Siberia and the IPA Antarctic workshop in Madison, Wisconsin. By the end of 2004, the proposed IPA-IPY Thermal State of Permafrost (TSP) ‘snapshot’ plans were well formulated (Brown, 2004) with a planning and implementation proposal submitted to, and subsequently funded by, the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). The IUGS grant enabled a comprehensive planning session in November 2005 in Copenhagen following the International Conference on Arctic Research Planning II. The Copenhagen workshop, organised by the IPA Secretariat, was attended by some 60 participants representing the four IPY permafrost projects.

Additional planning occurred during the Second European Conference on Permafrost in Potsdam (June 2005), meetings of the Carbon Pools in Permafrost (CAPP) project in Stockholm in March and October 2005 (Kuhry et al., 2009), the 6th Annual Arctic Coastal Dynamics Workshop (Overduin and Couture, 2007) in Groningen, the Asian mapping and monitoring workshop in Lanzhou (August 2006), and the annual Russian permafrost conferences in Tyumen and Salekhard (2006 and 2007, respectively).

The Ninth International Conference on Permafrost (NICOP) in Fairbanks, Alaska in 2008 was considered one of the seminal IPY-IPA permafrost events with both historical data and some early results of the IPY activities published in the two-volume NICOP proceedings (Brown et al., 2008a; Kane and Hinkel, 2008). IPY-related meetings were held during the NICOP to review progress and included a week-long, pre-conference Circumpolar Active Later Monitoring (CALM) Workshop.


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The major permafrost activities during the IPY period (2007–09) focused on: (1) the measurement of ground temperature and active-layer thickness, (2) the quantification of soil carbon pools and their potential future remobilisation, (3) erosional processes along the Arctic coasts, (4) periglacial and landform development processes, (5) expanding the Permafrost Young Researchers Network (PYRN), and (6) the development of community- and school-based outreach and university-level opportunities.

The IPY Joint Committee approved the following project clusters and co-leaders:

  • The Antarctic and sub-Antarctic Permafrost, Periglacial and Soil Environments Project (ANTPAS) (Project 33): Jan Boelhouwers and Megan Balks

  • The Permafrost Observatory Project: A Contribution to the TSP (Project 50): Jerry Brown and Hanne Christiansen

  • The Arctic Circum-Polar Coastal Observatory Network (ACCO-Net) (Project 90): Paul Overduin and Michel Allard

  • CAPP (Project 373): Peter Kuhry and Eva-Maria Pfeiffer

Together the four projects encapsulated more than 50 individual IPY Expression of Intent and were developed with the ultimate participation of researchers from more than 25 countries working in both polar regions, as well as in mid- and low-latitude, permafrost-dominated mountainous regions. Direct funding for coordination of IPA-IPY activities was provided in a three-year Norwegian Research Council grant to the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) in support of the IPA Secretariat. Hanne Christiansen, IPA Secretariat and Member of the IPA Executive Committee, administered many of the IPY-related activities prior to and during the IPY period.

A major objective of these coordinated and individual projects was to produce a ‘snapshot’ of permafrost conditions during the IPY period, with emphasis on the TSP. Other significant activities that contributed to the permafrost legacy were the continued development of the Northern Circumpolar Soil Carbon Database (Tarnocai et al., 2009), completion of the Arctic Coastal Dynamics Database with data for 1315 segments of the 101 477 km long Arctic coastline and the development of outreach programmes (Yoshikawa, 2008). The International University Courses on Permafrost (IUCP) enabled undergraduates, graduate students and young researchers to acquire knowledge and plan their permafrost education (Christiansen et al.,2007).

Many of the IPA's accomplishments during the IPY are reported in previous IPA reports in PPP (Bonnaventure et al.,2009; Brown et al., 2008a; Brown and Romanovsky, 2008; Christiansen et al., 2007; Kuhry et al., 2009) and in numerous other publications (e.g. Brown et al., 2008b; Kane and Hinkel, 2008; Parsons et al., 2007; Romanovsky et al., 2007; Yoshikawa, 2008). The two June 2010 conferences in Norway, together with this special issue of PPP, represent the first formal contributions to the IPY permafrost legacy. The IPY Oslo Polar Science Conference (8–12 June) includes IPA-organised sessions on ‘Permafrost on a warming planet’ with more than 100 oral and poster presentations. The Third European Conference on Permafrost, subtitled ‘Thermal state of frozen ground in a changing climate during IPY’, to be held in Longyearbyen, Svalbard (13–17 June), will have more than 200 presentations, many the result of bipolar IPY permafrost activities.


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The emerging IPY permafrost legacy is built on the combined quarter-century activities of the IPA, national research and engineering activities undertaken throughout the 20th century, and scientific results stimulated by financial support provided by IPY permafrost projects. The legacy builds on a range of IPA-organised and -sponsored activities that include monitoring, mapping, modelling, data archiving and outreach. Many IPY projects have continued beyond their official end and are expected to develop further and promote additional international cooperation in the upcoming years.

Securing the IPY legacy for the future depends to a considerable degree on success in continuing the observational programmes and managing the expanding databases. Both require sustained funding. Several national programmes increased funding for the IPY period, in most cases through a conventional competitive process. Both Canada and the US funded specific projects to university-based researchers, and their respective Geological Surveys continued or expanded their borehole and active-layer observations. Norway also greatly expanded its borehole network on the mainland and in Svalbard, and its Geological Survey took on the responsibility to develop the Norwegian Permafrost database (NORPERM) (Juliussen et al., 2010). At least ten Russian institutions participated in the TSP programme, facilitated by joint funding with the US. A similar arrangement between US and Danish institutions existed for western Greenland. These data are submitted to the US Cooperative Arctic Data and Information Service (CADIS) (

The current TSP network consists of more than 850 boreholes in both hemispheres with more than 25 participating countries (Table 1). The vast majority of sites are equipped for long-term permafrost temperature observations. Approximately 350 boreholes were established during the IPY period (2007–09). The borehole metadata and inventory including mean annual ground temperatures (MAGT) for approximately 600 boreholes (snapshot) will be available online as part of the IPY Data and Information Service (IPYDIS) in mid-2010.

Table 1. Provisional inventory of northern and southern hemisphere TSP boreholes and CALM sites.
Region/CountryAll yearsIPY years (new)Surface <10 mShallow 10– < 25 mIntermediate 25– < 125 mDeep >125 mMAGT reportingNo permafrost detectedCALM sites**
Northern hemisphere         
Austria3   3  2 
Canada192119 391222461362328
China396 51415126 11
Greenland118 72 2813
Finland11 1    1 
Germany (see Russia/Svalbard)*22   2 1 
Iceland4   4  41
Italy8   44 11
Japan (Svalbard/ Mongolia/Switzerland)*109 9 1    
Kazakhstan42 3 1 4 3
Mongolia7527 31338340 44
Norway and Svalbard6148 142913447183
Poland (Svalbard)*        4
Russia15112 39822541362745
Spain20 1  1  1
Sweden1210 83 19 1
Switzerland308 11514 2282
United States (includes outreach)18591 111163723157 48
Total790343 26932814444594100192
Region/CountryAll yearsIPY years (new)Surface <10 mShallow 10– < 25 mIntermediate 25– < 125 mDeep >125 mMAGT reportingNo permafrost detectedCALM sites**
South America  <2m2–10      
Argentina2-2---  14
Argentina and Spain   2      -
Antarctica         -
Argentina / Japan1--1---  -
Brazil151515----  -
Italy5-13-1-  4
Italy/Argentina/Japan1--1---  -
Italy/New Zealand2----2-  -
Italy/United Kingdom21-1-1-  1
New Zealand1-1----  1
New Zealand/United States7-7----  7
Portugal/Bulgaria/Spain33-3---  1
Portugal/Spain/Argentina222----  1
Russia6624---  3
South Africa/Sweden525----  -
South Africa/ Sweden/Norway11-1---  -
Spain/Portugal1198111-  3
Spain/Portugal/Russia33-3---  1
United States6521111  -
United States/Russia2-1-1--  2
Total (Antarctica)73474419361  24

The IPY also provided a unique opportunity to build on existing permafrost and periglacial research in the Antarctic with the development of new sites and mapping efforts. Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the US continued or expanded their Antarctic permafrost activities.

IPA activities within the IPY period also took place outside the two polar regions. Some European countries sponsored new activities or continued with their programmes, such as Switzerland and its Permafrost Monitoring Switzerland (PERMOS) programme (Vonder Mühll et al., 2008). Permanent Monitoring Network (PermaNet) was initiated for the European Alps as a whole. Individuals or institutions in several non-polar Asian countries including China, Kazakhstan, Japan and Mongolia were actively involved in permafrost research during the IPY and efforts were also made in South America.

As this special issue of PPP shows, the IPA's IPY results have broad relevance and significance for a warming Earth, the planet's atmosphere, and in relation to the immediate impacts of climate change in both the polar latitudes and high mountain regions. It is hoped that when the next IPY occurs, in 25 or 50 years permafrost researchers will look back on the Fourth IPY and reflect on how it strengthened international cooperation, trained a new generation of permafrost scientists and developed some of the first truly coordinated circumpolar data sets on permafrost conditions.


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