Crew Earth Observations - International Polar Year (CEO-IPY) - 11.22.16

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Crew Earth Observations - International Polar Year (CEO-IPY) supports an international collaboration of scientists studying the Earth’s Polar Regions from 2007 to 2009. Space station crew members photograph polar phenomena including icebergs, auroras and mesospheric clouds in response to daily correspondence from the scientists on the ground.
Science Results for Everyone
International Polar Year 2007-2009 marked the fourth time that scientists worldwide observed and explored the Earth's Polar Regions, this time with a focus on global climate change. Participation by the ISS Crew Earth Observations - International Polar Year, or CEO-IPY, documented the fate of large tabular icebergs that broke off from Antarctic ice shelves. Researchers used this imagery to model breakup of the Antarctic ice shelf, as reported in the Journal of Glaciology.  CEO-IPY sequences of polar mesospheric clouds and imagery of auroras were discussed in the European Optical Meeting in 2007. Some data are available to the public via NASA’s Earth Observatory website (

The following content was provided by Donald Roy Pettit, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Donald Roy Pettit, Ph.D., Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States

Cynthia A. Evans, Ph.D., Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States

Information Pending

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD)

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
September 2006 - April 2009

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Crew Earth Observations have been ongoing since 1961and more than 250,000 images have been taken during the first six years of ISS operations.

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • The International Polar Year 2007-2009 will provide a snapshot of the Polar Regions that will be used as a benchmark for detecting change in the areas.

  • Observations, through digital still photography and video, from the International Space Station through the Crew Earth Observation program will be used with data gathered from satellites and ground observations to understand the current status of the Polar Regions.

  • ISS, as a platform for observations will contribute data that has not been available in the past and will set the precedent for future international scientific collaborations for Earth observations.

International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2009 is the fourth time in the past 125 years that scientists worldwide combined efforts in observation and exploration of the Earth's Polar Regions. A prime focus of the this IPY is global climate change, and the role of the polar regions in understanding climate change. The International Space Station is participating in the 2007-2009 IPY using the Crew Earth Observation (CEO) program.

ISS provides a human observational platform to observe high latitude features, including sea ice, icebergs, plankton blooms, and atmospheric phenomena such as aurora and Polar Mesospheric Clouds (PMC). PMC (also known as noctilucent clouds) are thin clouds that are found in the mesosphere. They are the highest known clouds with altitudes around 53 miles (85 km) and are visible only at night when illuminated by sunlight below the horizon. The ISS platform provides excellent observation opportunities for upper atmospheric features because the crew members can observe the upper atmosphere to latitudes as high as 70 -80°, and their observations are not obscured by clouds.

ISS crewmembers use digital still photography and videos to capture targets that are cataloged and assimilated into the CEO database. The targets are selected on their relevance to the IPY studies, and are made available to researchers via the CEO website at Additional imaging from satellites and ground observation stations will be compared to the data collected by the ISS.

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Space Applications
Observations that are made from Earth's orbit create the model for planetary exploration observations on future long-duration missions.

Earth Applications
Data collected by CEO-IPY will be used by an international collaboration of scientists to determine how the Polar Regions have changed over the past 125 years and might help to explain atmospheric phenomena such as Polar Mesospheric Clouds. The blueprint that the data creates will be used to determine the changes in the Polar Regions in the future. The data gathered will also be used as an educational tool for teachers and students world wide.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols
Crewmembers will receive targets through the Crew Observations program that were coordinated by the IPY researchers. Digital photography and video will be taken by the ISS crews. Images will be downlinked to CEO personnel who will catalog and make the images available to the IPY researchers.
The IPY will begin in March 2007. The crewmembers will receive uplinked coordinates for the targets of interest from the CEO program. When the ISS passes over a specific target, the crewmembers will use digital photography and video to capture the target. These images and video will be downlinked to Johnson Space Center for cataloging and distribution.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

To date, ISS crewmembers have successfully documented the break-up of large tabular icebergs that have calved from the Antarctic ice shelves and drifted northward into the South Atlantic Ocean. Researchers from the National Snow and Ice Data Center have used the imagery from the International Space Station to examine surface features, including ice margins, cracks, and surface melt water ponds to better understand the mechanisms and timing of iceberg breakup. Large Tabular Icebergs can be used to model breakups of the Antarctic ice shelf (Scambos et al. 2005; 2008).

Several sequences of polar mesospheric clouds have been observed and documented by the ISS crews, and imagery of auroras from the ISS and Shuttle were collected simultaneously with data from ground stations and meteorological satellites. The integration of these images and data were discussed in the European Optical Meeting in 2007 (Sandahl et al. 2007).

Some of the data have been published and served to the public via NASA’s Earth Observatory website ( (Evans et al. 2009)

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Results Publications

    Scambos T, Ross R, Bauer R, Yemolin Y, Skvarca P, Long D, Bohlander J, Haran T.  Calving and ice-shelf break-up processes investigated by proxy: Antarctic tabular iceberg evolution during northward drift. Journal of Glaciology. 2008; 54(187): 579-591.

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Ground Based Results Publications

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

    Glasser NF, Scambos T.  A structural glaciological analysis of the 2002 Larsen B ice-shelf collapse. Journal of Glaciology. 2008; 54(184): 3-16.

    Evans CA, Pettit DR.  International Space Station Supports International Polar Year. Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union. 2007; 88(15): 171.

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Related Websites

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image Polar Mesospheric Clouds above Kustavi, Finland. Image Credit Pekka Parvianen.
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image Mosaic of images of auroral activities taking place over the north pole from the DMSP (Defense Meteorological Satellite Program). At the time these images were acquired, STS-116 Shuttle astronaut Christer Fuglesang was visitng the ISS and taking corresponding high-resolution color photographs of auroras.
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image NASA Image: ISS006E28967 - This image shows the Aurora Austrailis taken during Expedition Six.
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image NASA Image: ISS015E10125 - Iceberg A22A in the South Atlantic Ocean broke off Antarctica in 2002. It was photographed on May 30, 2007 one third of the distance from South America to Cape Town, South Africa. It is one of the largest icebergs to drift as far north as 50 degrees south latitude. Dimensions in early June were 49.9 by 23.4 kilometers, an area of 622 square kilometers, or seven times the area of Manhattan Island.
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image NASA Image ISS015-E-10122: Shows the regional view of Iceberg A22A, also known as 'Amigosberg', and a much more detailed image of ice breakup along the margin (white box and inset). The images were taken as part of the ISS support of the International Polar Year, initiated by astronaut Don Pettit, and implemented through the Crew Earth Observations payload.
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