International Geophysical Year

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INTERNATIONAL GEOPHYSICAL YEAR, eighteen months (1 July 1957–31 December 1958) of geophysical observations by about 30,000 scientists and technicians representing more than seventy countries. The extension of this program for an additional year (until 31 December 1959) was officially called International Geophysical Cooperation (IGC), but that period is generally included in the term "International Geophysical Year" (IGY).The IGY and IGC attempted simultaneous observations in eleven fields of earth, near-earth, and solar physics: aurora and airglow, cosmic rays, geomagnetism, glaciology, gravity, ionospheric physics, latitude and longitude determination, meteorology, oceanography, seismology, and solar activity. The IGY oversaw the launching of the first artificial earth satellites, inaugurating the age of space exploration.

International cooperation in science began in the 1830s with the networks of scientific observers organized by Karl Friedrich Gauss in Germany to observe and record geomagnetic changes, and by W. Whewell and Sir John W. Lubbock in England to make tidal observations. Because observations in high northern latitudes could not be made routinely, Lt. Karl Weyprecht of the Austrian Navy organized the First International Polar Year in 1882–1883, during which scientists and military men from ten European countries and the United States operated twelve stations in the Arctic and two in the Antarctic. The American stations were at Point Barrow, Alaska, and at Grinnell Land in the Canadian Arctic. The rescue of the latter's observers (under army Lt. A. W. Greely) is famous in the annals of polar exploration. Fifty years later the Second International Polar Year (1932–1933) saw fourteen countries (twelve from Europe, plus the United States and Canada) occupy twenty-seven stations, again mostly in the Arctic. Of the scientific publications that resulted, more came from the United States than from any other country.

By 1950, the rapid advances in geophysics and the need to restore the international network of scientists that had been ruptured by World War II led Lloyd V. Berkner of the United States to propose another international polar year to be held only twenty-five years after the previous one, in 1957–1958.The international scientific bodies to whom he referred his proposal, organized under the umbrella International Council of Scientific Unions, broadened it to include the entire earth; thus the IGY replaced its predecessors' limited programs with a comprehensive program of observations in fields where data recorded simultaneously at many places could yield a picture of the whole planet. Scientists occupied more than 2,500 stations worldwide at a cost of about $500 million.

Two of the most prominent achievements of the IGY were the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts and the calculation of a new, pear-shaped model of the shape of the earth. Both these results came from rocket-launched satellites, the IGY's most spectacular new feature. So successful was the IGY that it has been followed by a number of other cooperative research programs, including the International Year of the Quiet Sun (1964–1965), the International Hydrological Decade (1965–1975), and the International Decade of Ocean Exploration (1970–1980).


International Council of Scientific Unions. Annals of the International Geophysical Year. London, New York: Pergamon Press, 1957–1970. Sullivan, Walter. Assault on the Unknown: The International Geophysical Year. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961.

Wilson, J. Tuzo. I.G.Y.: The Year of the New Moons. New York: Knopf, 1961.

Harold L.Burstyn/a. r.; c. w.

See alsoGeophysical Explorations ; Greely's Arctic Expedition ; Observatories, Astronomical .


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IGY International Geophysical Year (1.7.57 to 31.12.58)

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International Geophysical Year