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The International Geophysical Year

The Trans Antarctic Expedition
Expedition South

The International Geophysical Year was between 1957 and 1958. It was a time when scientists from around the world worked together on science projects in areas such as Antarctica.

The International Geophysical Year (IGY) was a year when scientists from around the world were encouraged to work together on science projects.

This science work took place between July 1957 and December 1958.

Sixty-seven countries took part in the IGY activities, including New Zealand.

Most of the work was done in the Arctic and around the equator, but special attention was given to the Antarctic. 

What was studied?

Ice depths in Antarctica were studied and new estimates of the earth's total amount of ice were found, improving our understanding of weather and glaciers.

New Zealand scientists worked on: 

  • plate movement and geology
  • magnetic fields
  • sea level recordings 
  • study of the atmosphere and weather
  • collecting data on aurora and sunspot activity
  • fish traps and tide gauges were set up on the sea ice and monitored.

Five scientists were also part of the TAE expedition where they worked on surveys and studied glaciers.

The IGY was very successful. At the time the IGY was the largest and most important world-wide science effort ever completed. 

The IGY led to an international agreement known as the Antarctic Treaty. Under this treaty Antarctica has been set aside as a protected region to be used only for science. 

Why scientists are interested in Antarctica

  • Antarctica is mostly unchanged by people so it is the perfect place to study the natural world. 
  • Antarctica has a major effect on world oceans and weather patterns. 
  • Antarctica can help scientists to better understand the possible effects of climate change.

Ready for a quiz?

The International Geophysical Year quiz

Audio Māori keywords: 

Can you find out more about the Antarctic Treaty and how it works to protect Antarctica?

This was the official emblem used to promote the International Geophysical Year. Image: Public Domain.

This article appeared in the New York Times to publicise some of the work that the US did to launch their satellite programme. This was done as part of the IGY. Image: New York Times.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide measurements began at the South Pole during the IGY and show the steady increase over the last fifty years. Why do you think this information is important? Image: NOAA.

The Trans Antarctic Expedition
Expedition South