The International Geophysical Year of 1957-58

E. Linacre and B. Geerts


During the International Geophysical Year (IGY), between July 1957 and December 1958, teams from around the world made detailed measurements of the atmosphere, the oceans, the cryosphere, the Earth’s crust, and the cosmic environment. Satellites were launched, leading to the discovery of the Van Allen Radiation Belts in the magnetosphere. Soundings of the ocean floor contributed to the theory of plate tectonics.

This effort was unprecedented in terms of the 66 participating nations and the manpower involved. Numerous measuring stations were established in remote areas, in particular around Antarctica. Several variables have been monitored since the IGY, for instance the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration at Mauna Loa in Hawaii by Keeling, and the total amount of ozone above Halley Bay (at 76°S) by the British Antarctic Survey. These continuous records are our main piece of evidence for the well-known greenhouse gas increase and the development of the Antarctic ozone hole, respectively. The person to whom the idea, size and success of the IGY can be largely attributed is Sydney Chapman.