The polar regions play a critical role in thegeodynamic and climate system of the Earth. Although located far from the main centers of human civilization, the polar atmosphere and oceans have strong global connections and therefore directly affect global weather, climate, and the world's population, living mostly in tropical and midlatitude environments. Antarctic geodynamic processes are the driving forces for ice sheet dynamics and global environmental change that affect current and long-term, large-magnitude sea level changes.

The importance of the polar regions for our natural environment has long been recognized. Many nations around the world are currently planning the International Polar Year 2007–2008 (IPY), an intense, coordinated effort of novel and comprehensive observations combined with multidisciplinary research, analysis, and educational activities (http://www.ipyorg).