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Researchers spend year at ends of Earth

By Marsha Walton
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(CNN) -- During International Polar Year, scientists from more than 60 countries are working at the far ends of the Earth, looking for clues about climate change, weather forecasting, even cures for diseases.

This is the fourth time scientists have cooperated on such a research mission. Earlier studies took place in 1882-83, 1932-33, and 1957-58.

"We are in a completely different place than 50 years ago. There are amazing new technologies," said David Carlson, Professor of Oceanography at Oregon State University in Corvallis. He is serving as director of the International Polar Year International Program Office.

Carlson said researchers can talk to each other, share photos, video and data nearly instantaneously -- they won't have to wait months for scientific papers to be published.

"We want to make the process of the science as immediate and accessible as possible," Carlson said.

What's also different about this endeavor, said Carlson, is the human dimension. Along with glaciologists, astronomers and geophysicists, there are anthropologists, sociologists, physicians and linguists gathering the perspectives of indigenous people in the polar regions.

Carlson says it takes a tremendous amount of work to get scientists, their governments, and funding together for such a big undertaking. For the current polar study, there's the additional urgency of monitoring polar changes tied to climate change.

The International Council for Science and the World Meteorological Organization are co-sponsors of the International Polar Year, which began March 1.

The communication and interactivity also is allowing students and anyone else interested to monitor the research.

"Public interest helps a lot," said Carlson. "The public looks at polar environments as exotic and attractive and visually stunning. That's a very powerful combination," he said.

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham are exploring new possibilities for cancer treatment in Antarctica.



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