International Polar Year 2012 Conference in Montreal

May 4, 2012 - The International Polar Year (IPY) 2012 From Knowledge to Action Conference was held in Montreal from April 22-27. This conference, together with the preceding workshop for polar educators, was clearly one of the most stimulating networking and learning experiences I have ever had. The IPY 2012 Conference brought together 3150 people from 45 countries and covered a wide range of topics.

Parallel to the IPY 2012 Conference, the International Polar Film Festival was held in Montreal, featuring 14 contributions from six countries, and, of course, the "Frozen Planet", produced by BBC in 2011. Another must on the agenda of most conference participants was a guided tour to the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker "CCGS Amundsen", yielding surprising insights to the challenges for the crew of Canada's only Arctic research vessel.

The IPY 2012 From Knowledge to Action Conference featured a wide variety of topics, ranging from Arctic indigenous cultures to Antarctic marine biodiversity. A panel talk by Mary Simon, president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, as well as Inuit dance groups and throat singers illustrated the human dimension of the Arctic, underlining the significance of traditional knowledge for Inuit communities and arctic science in general.

Clearly, the Arctic is undergoing rapid environmental changes, as indicated by a massive decrease of sea ice and significant thawing of permafrost, causing substantial impacts not only on marine and terrestrial ecosystems, but also on human populations in northern countries. Climate models focusing on frozen carbon in the Arctic predict a tipping point of thawing permafrost in the next two decades, resulting in accelerated global warming and an ice-free Arctic much earlier than predicted by former models.

A three days Polar Educator Workshop, organised by Students on Ice and hosted by the Biodôme of Montreal, was held prior to the IPY 2012 Conference. The workshop brought together 160 polar educators from 25 countries, providing a first-class opportunity to learn about the role of the Polar Regions in global systems and to develop teaching skills in polar science. The workshop was also a great platform to foster relationships with experienced polar educators, scientists, experts and circumpolar Arctic people and to better understand how indigenous knowledge from the circumpolar North contributes to the advancement of a sustainable Arctic and a sustainable planet.

"From Knowledge to Action" was the theme of the International Polar Year 2012 Conference in Montreal. As a direct result of the workshop and the conference, Polar Educators International was established by leading educators and scientists, providing a professional network for those who educate in, for, and about the Polar Regions.

The IPY 2012 From Knowledge to Action Conference gives us two very clear take home messages:

1) Human consumption of fossil fuels, the very origin of climate change, is causing an exponentially growing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere of our only planet.

2) Because of the thawing of permafrost in the Arctic and the melting of methane hydrates on the continental shelves, climate change will occur at a much faster pace than what former models suggested. The latest scientific models predict that the Arctic will be completely ice-free in the summer 2030 for the first time in human history.

Photos: Pierre Roussel, AOSB, Markus Eugster