More than 60 nations launch the broadest scientific investigation yet of the Arctic and Antarctic on Thursday to chart polar regions on the front lines of global warming.

About 3,000 children will build snowmen in Oslo, top scientists will meet in Paris and researchers will gather on a polar research vessel in Cape Town h arbor in South Africa as part of ceremonies starting International Polar Year (IPY).

During the U.N.-backed year, about 50,000 people will be involved in 228 projects such as studying marine life in the Antarctic, mapping how winds carry pollutants to the Arctic, or examining the health of people, polar bears or penguins.

David Carlson, director of the IPY Programme Office, said the icy ends of the earth had been overlooked too long. “This part of the planet has its problems and it needs to get a higher level of attention,” he told Reuters.

Many scientists say that warming of the Arctic, where indigenous hunting cultures and animals are under threat from receding ice, may be a portent of damaging shifts elsewhere on the planet linked to global warming.

And a melt of ice sheets on Greenland or Antarctica in coming centuries would raise world sea levels, threatening cities from Tokyo to New York and low lying coral atolls in the Pacific.


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