International geoscience: Past and future



The International Geophysical Year (IGY) differed from the preceding international polar years in that it had a significant component of solid earth research. The success of this venture led to succeeding programs, still under way, that have maintained and improved upon the communication mechanisms established during IGY. These programs differed from IGY in that they have a longer time span, usually a decade, and in that they have focused more on the exchange of ideas and data rather than shorter-term, specially funded research programs aimed at particular goals.

To borrow an analogy from oceanography, one might liken IGY to the Challenger expedition of a century ago; a one-shot venture that collected vast amounts of data during a single cruise; data that occupied the energies of a number of scientists over a period of years. The succeeding programs followed more the pattern of modern oceanography in which cruises take place continuously, steadily building the data base a n d generating new ideas. There is no question but that IGY was a major shot in the arm for solid earth research and it is fair to ask whether it is not time for another such venture. Our support mechanisms have tended to become more narrowly focused on disciplines and subdisciplines through time, reflecting the increasing complexity o f science. Perhaps it is time to choose some broad goals: to identify some experiments that require inputs from a number of disciplines and international collaboration in research and that promise us new and better insights into the nature and properties, the history and development of the earth.