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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Acting Deputy Director
Scientific Ice Expeditions (SCICEX) Meeting

October 7, 1998

Thank you. I'm very pleased to be able to give NSF's ringing endorsement for this productive partnership with the Navy and ONR in the SCICEX program.

SCICEX has been a shining example of "dual use" of military assets. In tandem with national security objectives, it has given us access to the Arctic Ocean for research and education. This region's scientific secrets have remained locked away in ice long after our other oceans were being opened to exploration. Although smallest of the world's oceans, the Arctic still holds more than its share of mysteries, and the SCICEX submarines are helping us to plumb these depths.

Let me take a moment to underscore the importance NSF places on Arctic research. As my friends in the Arctic science field often remind me, the region is crucial to deciphering global change. We know that its snow, ice, and biota are sensitive bellwethers of the past and future. The permafrost, the ice, the lakes and the sea -- all harbor histories of climate. And of course, many think that the Arctic exerts a strong influence on global climate. Tracing climate change, oceanic circulation, transport of contaminants -- the Arctic Ocean is at the heart of these global questions.

Over the past few years, NSF has augmented its leadership role in Arctic science across the disciplines, and we expect to do much more in this critical region.

The scientific harvest being reaped by SCICEX has helped to make this progress happen. The submarines give us access to permanently ice-covered areas. They provide a stable and quiet platform for research. They let us gather data continually. We can sample the physical and chemical characteristics of the water while the ship is underway.

While icebreakers offer us a lot, they simply cannot provide the same kind of stable and super-quiet platform for research, and furnish the same clarity of acoustic data. In fact, the SCICEX data provides the U.S.'s primary time series -- a series of scientific snapshots -- of the Arctic Ocean.

As my Arctic science colleagues have explained to me, SCICEX has found dramatic changes in temperature, ocean currents, and how water coming in from the Pacific and Atlantic moves around the Arctic Ocean. And we have indicators that the sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean is thinning.

This all adds up, I am told, to an emerging picture of how the Arctic Ocean circulation works.

SCICEX has also opened up new vistas for us in geology and geophysics. This is the realm where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge continues up into the Arctic. With the submarines as platforms, we've been able to inaugurate the first use of modern mapping methods in the Arctic Ocean. The submarine data, I am told, could transform our understanding of the structure and history of the Arctic Ocean basin.

All of this fantastic science is happening at a bargain price, thanks to our partnership with the Navy. In essence, we're getting a logistics capability in the Arctic Ocean that we could never afford otherwise.

This unique partnership between the federal science and engineering agencies, the Navy, and the research community stands now at a new threshold. Of course, that's why we're here: not just to take stock of where we are but to consider what might come next.

As the Sturgeon class of submarines is exhausted for scientific use, we certainly want to explore new possibilities. On NSF's part, we are interested in new classes of subs that might become available for science.

Even with our new Arctic research vessel, the Healy, coming on line, the submarines offer unique and complementary capabilities for science. At the same time, we know the Navy is being asked to carry out more submarine missions with fewer vessels.

Let's keep talking in the interest of fashioning a mutually beneficial solution. If we're fortunate to continue this partnership using other ice-capable submarines, we know that annual cruises may no longer be possible. We actually see that as another kind of opportunity.

More time between cruises -- something that may fit well with the Navy's requirements -- could give us the opportunity to digest the data already gathered and hence target science on a future cruise in a more refined way. A cushion of time between cruises also gives a chance to develop and test new scientific instrumentation in a way researchers haven't been able to do with the current schedule.

In any case, as we continue discussing the future of submarine-based science, you should remain assured of NSF's strong support for Arctic research. We enthusiastically endorse this productive partnership, in keeping with the Navy's mission responsibilities.

Our consistent support over the past few years shows, I think, how much we value this type of program. Now that we've learned to coordinate the science more efficiently and how vital it is to have a plan with priorities, let's look at what we may be able to do next -- together.

Thank you.


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