University of Saskatchewan

History & Purpose


First International Polar Year: 1882-1883

"International collaboration on geophysical studies started in 1882-83 with the First International Polar Year. It was inspired by a young Austro-Hungarian naval officer, Karl Weyprecht. He argued for a fundamental scientific approach, teams of scientific workers stationed at selected locations in the polar regions for a year or more making observations on aurora, geomagnetism, atmospheric electricity, and the meteorological elements…
Seven years had been required to conceive and launch this first notable collaborative effort to promote those sciences which required observational data irrespective of national boundaries…
…eleven countries participated. There were 15 expeditions (12 to the Arctic and 3 to the Antarctic).

Second International Polar Year: 1932-1933

Not until 1927 was a proposal made for a second international polar year, although the need for one had become evident during the previous decade…
The preliminary planning was done by an International Meteorological Committee. A detailed report was submitted in 1928 to an international conference of directors of meteorological services at Copenhagen. Part of one of the resolutions, possibly the most important, follows:

…magnetic, auroral and meteorological observations at a network of stations in the Arctic and Antarctic would materially advance present knowledge and understanding (of these phenomena) not only within polar regions but in general…This increased knowledge will be of practical application to problems connected with terrestrial magnetism, marine and aerial navigation, wireless telegraphy and weather forecasting.

The Conference suggested that observations should be undertaken for one calendar year, and proposed that it should be in 1932-1933, the fiftieth anniversary of the First International Polar Year.

- Balfour Currie, The Second International Polar Year 1932-33:
Canadian Participation


"And we should also look at the external 'drivers' that brought this about. Why was a young, scientifically unsophisticated, country like Canada interested in taking part in the Second Polar Year? …Not scientific curiosity, but avarice. The government of the day was becoming aware that gold was not the only wealth to be found in the arctic …The major impediments to… investment were difficult transportation and difficult communications. The airplane was starting to overcome the transportation problem but radio and, where wires could be strung, telegraph and telephone all suffered from this mysterious malady associated with the aurora."

- Peter Forsyth, "How Did We Get Here From There?" 1987

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