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The International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958


In response to a request from the International Council of Scientific Unions, the National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, in February 1953, formed a United States National Committee to develop a program of geophysical observations to be carried out by the United States during the International Geophysical Year 1957–58.

This United States National Committee, assisted by various working groups, prepared tentative proposals for submission to the Special Committee for the International Geophysical Year, which has been appointed by the International Council of Scientific Unions. These proposals, together with those prepared by national committees of other nations, were carefully studied at the first meeting of the Special Committee held at Brussels, June 30th to July 3rd. At this first meeting Dr. Sydney Chapman was elected President; Lloyd V. Barker, Vice-President; and Marcel Nicolet, General Secretary.

One of the tasks of the United States National Committee is to inform the scientific and general public of its purposes and plans, and it is hoped that during the long period of preparation and during the actual one and a half years of the program, factual and interesting accounts will provide the necessary background for a better understanding of the undertaking.

It is obvious that it will not be possible to cover all aspects of the vast field of geophysical studies during the IGY. The dates selected were designed to coincide with the expected period of maximum solar activity, and the eleven working groups at the Brussels meeting dealt with the following subjects: i) meteorology, ii) latitude and longitude determinations, in) geomagnetism, iv) the ionosphere, v) aurorae and airglow, vi) solar activity, vii) cosmic rays, viii) glaciology, ix) oceanography, x) the selection and announcement of world days for specially intensive observations during the IGY, and xi) publication.

The United States National Committee for the IGY held its third meeting on November 5th and 6th in Washington, D. C., at the new headquarters of the National Science Foundation. Joseph Kaplan, professor of physics at the University of California and Chairman of the Committee, presided. Among the reports presented was one by A. Lincoln Washburn, Chairman of the Arctic Regional Committee and one of the American Alpine Club’s outstanding authorities on Arctic research. After a discussion period the National Committee appointed a coordinating group to develop and draft the scientific program to be carried out by the United States. Members of this group were designated as reporters on specific portions of the program as follows: World Days, Alan Shapley, National Bureau of Standards; Meteorology, H. Wexler, U. S. Weather Bureau; Magnetism, E. B. Roberts, U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey; Aurorae and Airglow, C. T. Elvey, University of Alaska; Cosmic Rays, Serge A. Korff, New York University; Polar Activity, Seth B. Nicholson, Mt. Wilson Observatory; Ionosphere, H. G. Booker, Cornell University; Longitude and Latitude, G. M. Clemence, U. S. Naval Observatory; Glaciology, William O. Field, American Geographical Society; Oceanography, E. H. Smith, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Rockets, J. A. Van Allen, Princeton University; and Publications, Executive Secretary of the United States National Committee.

Of particular interest to members of the American Alpine Club will be the glaciological and cosmic ray programs, for William O. Field, Dr. Serge A. Korff, and Dr. Terris Moore, President of the University of Alaska, with the assistance of the Office of Naval Research, the Office of the Quartermaster General, the U. S. Air Force, and the Regents of the University of Alaska, established the Mount Wrangell Observatory for cosmic ray and other affiliated scientific studies on the summit of Mount Wrangell, Alaska.

Christine L. Orcutt