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Office of Polar Programs Advisory Committee Report on GPRA

A.  The Role of OPP in the Support of Research and Education

The Office of Polar Programs is unique within the Foundation in that it supports a broad range of scientific research with a specific geographic focus.  The Arctic and the Antarctic are premier natural laboratories with extreme environments and geographically unique processes that enable research not feasible elsewhere.  The polar regions also have special significance for studies of the environment and for understanding processes related to global change and its possible effects.  Polar regions are impacted by events originating at lower latitudes in disproportionate ways and provide early signals of changes that may propagate worldwide.  The unique structure of OPP encourages multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research and interagency activities.

OPP supports research and education, ranging from single investigator projects to large multi-investigator, multi-institutional, and sometimes international programs.  OPP encourages research partnerships that include links between university-based scientists and researchers supported by other agencies, as well as community-based partnerships between university-trained scientists and Arctic residents.  Further, OPP promotes the inclusion of education in regular research projects, as well as in special programs that take advantage of unique opportunities in the polar regions; e.g., Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic (TEA).

OPP plays a unique national role in it management of all U.S. activities in the Antarctic as a single, integrated program.  The U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) implements national policy to maintain Antarctica as an area of international cooperation reserved for peaceful purposes, to preserve and pursue unique opportunities for scientific research to understand Antarctica and its role in global environmental systems, to protect the relatively pristine environment and it associated ecosystems, and to assure the conservation and sustainable management of the living resources in the surrounding oceans.  Funding for the USAP includes both research and the science support directly linked to research projects, as well as broader operations and logistics infrastructure that make it possible to conduct science on the remote and otherwise uninhabited continent.

NSF is one of twelve federal agencies supporting Arctic research and logistics.  OPP provides interagency leadership for research planning as directed by the Arctic Research Policy Act of 1984.  OPP also supports university research, increasingly partnered with Arctic residents, to increase our knowledge of the region, to improve understanding of Arctic phenomena, and to enhance stewardship of natural resources.  Funding in the Arctic includes research and operational support for work conducted in that remote region.

B.  Approach and Sources of Information Used

OPP staff distributed supporting material relevant to GPRA in advance of the November Advisory Committee (OAC) meeting.  This material included the extensively documented OPP GPRA Report for FY 2001, the FY 2001 Report of the OPP Committee of Visitors, and specific material requested by the OAC.  The latter included breakdown information and data on the changing involvement of currently under-represented groups and on the application of Merit Review Criteria.  From this extensive material, a draft report was prepared and discussed at the OAC meeting.  OPP also provided additional information at the meeting in response to OAC questions.  During the meeting, the performance of OPP relative to each outcome goals was discussed, assessed and voted on by the OAC, reaching consensus in each case.  A draft of this assessment report was distributed to OAC members for review by email following the meeting.  This assessment thus represents the majority view of the committee members present at the meeting and the general consensus confirmed in each case via email after the meeting.

C.  Assessment of Overall Performance of OPP

Development of "a diverse, internationally competitive and globally-engaged workforce of scientists, engineers, and well-prepared citizens."

People Indicator 1

"Improved mathematics, science, and technology skills for U.S. students at the K-12 level and for citizens of all ages, so that they can be competitive in a technological society"

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful

OPP supported several activities the results of which directly improve the science skills of K-12 students.  One outstanding example is the program for Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic (TEA).  The TEA program promotes integration of research and education by allowing K-12 teachers to join a research team in Antarctica or the Arctic.  The teachers post daily electronic journals for their students and develop teaching materials for classroom use.  Fifteen teachers participated in the program in the year 2001.  OPP also supported a program for K-12 Teacher Training in Arctic Science.  A partnership between the University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute and the Port Aransas Independent School District provided training for K-12 teachers on Arctic science, including topics such as climate, sea ice, ozone depletion, and human adaptations (OPP-9815808).

People Indicator 2

"A science and technology and instructional workforce that reflects America’s diversity"

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful

OPP has directed Raytheon Polar Services Corporation, the new contractor for managing Antarctic support, to increase the diversity of women and minorities in the workforce.  Minority employees overall increased in 2001 over the previous year (from 4% to 6.18%).  The percent of female employees did not increase, but the percent of full-time female employees increased and exceeded the set goals.

OPP supported a workshop to acquaint potential new investigators with the U.S. Antarctic Program, including research and educational activities, the process for submission of proposals, and operational support in the Antarctic.  The workshop was attended by 75 investigators, 39% of whom were women.  This resulted in new proposal submissions later (June 1, 2001) from the workshop participants.

Another notable activity is highlighted for this report.  For the last 12 years the Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctic (CARA – OPP-8920223) has run a successful science immersion program for inner city students of Chicago.  The program is a multi-year personal commitment to minority middle and high school students that focuses on science, math, engineering & technology (SMET) skills and careers.  Longitudinal data reveal that more than 90% of the participants go on to college while in contrast only 60% of their peers graduate from high school.

OPP has supported additional activities that engage under-represented students and members of indigenous northern communities.  For example, in 2001 students participated in Arctic DNA research in conjunction with the Center for Academic and Research Excellence (CARE).  Students are trained in scientific techniques and participate in research projects.  For example, reliable techniques were developed for extracting and amplifying DNA from ancient samples preserved in the permafrost of the Arctic.  As a result, over 100,000 samples of vertebrates housed in the American Museum of Natural History can now undergo genetic analysis (OPP-9817937).  This year OPP also codified a new Cooperative Agreement with the Alaska Native Science Commission, continued research support and community outreach via the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, continued community support of the Little Diomede Environmental Observatory, and established a long-term program with the Calista Elders Council (OPP-0003072; OPP-9906692; OPP-9818837; OPP-9910319; OPP-9909945).

People Indicator 3

"Globally engaged science and engineering professionals who are among the best in the world"

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful

In an effort to broaden international funding of a year-round research program at Summit, Greenland, a German microwave radar study was added to the Swiss boundary layer meteorology program and the on-going U.S. study of atmosphere-ice transfer processes at the Environmental Observatory, the site of the Greenland Ice Sheet Project-2 core drilling.  In 2001 OPP organized, provided resources for and participated in a number of workshops to facilitate collaboration with international colleagues.  These workshops ensure that the US scientific community is globally engaged and among the best in the world.  During the past year, OPP contributed to over twenty workshops such as "Life in Ancient Ice" and an interdisciplinary workshop and field course in Alaska for graduate students to promote connections among graduate students across the entire circumpolar north and between scholars and indigenous communities.

The U.S. component of the International Tundra Experiment (ITEX) utilized a manipulation experiment on the tundra of the Alaska North Slope to examine the effects on tundra composition from a 2 to 4 degree C change in temperature as predicted from global warming models.  The results show that a short-term response of the plant community structure to warming is not maintained over a longer time period, possibly in response to lack of sufficient nutrient availability to support increased plant production.  These results are critical to understanding predicted changes in plant production on the North Slope in response to global warming.  Clearly, a long-term northward migration of plant species from warmer southern locations in response to warming must be accompanied by other fundamental long-term changes in nutrient or water availability or uptake.

People Indicator 4

"A public that is provided access to the benefits of science and engineering research and education"

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful

OPP Principal Investigators (PIs) routinely make their science accessible to the general public in a variety of ways.  Recent examples include PIs who met in the field with delegates from the U.S. Department of the Interior, state and federal congressional staff, the NSF liaison to Congress, and numerous local governmental officials to provide a special briefing on Arctic contaminants and their relevance to Arctic communities (OPP-9979689; OPP-9979695).  Other PIs (OPP-9817937) shared their DNA results on the evolution of Alaskan Brown Bears and Gray Wolves that were featured as part of the first show of the recent television series EVOLUTION produced by WGBH and Clear Blue Skies Productions.  Virtually every OPP-supported project includes some effort at community outreach and hence it is the view of the OAC that OPP is very successful in this regard.

Two workshops brought together Native experts on sea-ice conditions that have affected whale hunting in the Arctic and scientists with their instrumental data, anthropological records, and sea-ice models.  The symposia revealed a wealth of knowledge from both the scientific approach and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) that, when utilized together, enhances understanding of the impacts of environmental change on subsistence and cultural hunting practices (OPP-9807051; OPP-9908682).

The OAC commends OPP for its continuous efforts to broaden community and public access to the benefits of scientific research.  Several activities supported in 2001 were aimed directly at documenting traditional indigenous knowledge, cultural heritage, craft and subsistence practices for its sharing with and modern use by polar residents (OPP-9806760; OPP-9615086; OPP-9909945; OPP-0095154; OPP-9906740).  Scientific knowledge collected by researchers and shared with communities will increase their awareness of modern economic, occupational, and social challenges (OPP-0096985; OPP-0095120; OPP-9912004; OPP-0071082), advance their ability to support public and educational initiatives, and improve potential responses in case of natural catastrophes and/or social losses (OPP-0082405; OPP-0094826).

People Goals

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful

OPP activities address several of the Areas of Emphasis identified by the GPRA for 2001. Under K-12 systemic activities, we consider such programs as the inner cities schools program and the schoolyard LTER to be excellent examples of a focus on this area of emphasis.  Under Enhancing Instructional Workforce (Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education), OPP supports Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) by co-funding one GK-12 award (OPP-9979741).  Under Broadening Participation (Tribal Colleges), OPP helped coordinate and encourage grants by the HER tribal college program to two Alaska Native groups (College of Rural Alaska and Ilisagvik College).  Other areas of emphasis were funded by other Divisions of NSF and therefore are not applicable to the OPP activities.

Enabling "discovery across the frontier of science and engineering, connected to learning, innovation, and service to society"

Ideas Indicator 1

"A robust and growing fundamental knowledge base that enhances progress in all science and engineering areas including the science of learning"

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful

OPP supports a broad range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary research activities in both polar regions. The OAC was very impressed with the wide range of cutting edge scientific investigations supported by OPP.  Only a few representative examples are highlighted herein but these range in spatial scale from exploration of the history of the universe to the genetic composition of bacteria.

Measurements of minute variations in the cosmic microwave background measured with instruments at the South Pole Station have determined the geometry and major constituents of the universe. Ordinary matter only accounts for 4.5% of the universe; dark matter makes up 30% of the universe and a new form of matter that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate makes up the remainder of the mass of the universe (OPP-9980654).

The Cape Roberts Project (CRP) is a major international (more than 50 people from seven countries) drilling program that collected more than 1700 m of sediment core that is providing a record of environmental changes extending back more than 30 million years (OPP-9527481; 9527013; 9527075; OPP-9527329; OPP-9317979; OPP-9527394; OPP-9527008; OPP-9420062; OPP-9418429; OPP-9419770; OPP-9422893; OPP-9526889; OPP-9527070; OPP-9420475).  These cores reveal periods of high frequency instabilities in the Antarctic climate during the Miocene (e.g., 24 million years ago).  A detailed record of environmental changes extending back this far has not been available previously; the new discoveries from the cores are expected to make significant contributions to many areas of Antarctic geosciences.  Another key focal point has been a suite of investigations of the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), a potential contributor to rising sea levels.  Results from glaciological modeling and glacial geologic research have highlighted a rapid retreat of the WAIS grounding line in the Ross Sea since the end the last glacial stage.  Glacial geologists have developed a history of grounding line retreat for the WAIS in the Ross Sea.  Results concerning the retreat of the WAIS have been of widespread interest, particularly for those who are studying past and present changes in sea level, ocean circulation, and atmospheric circulation (OPP-9615347).

In the Arctic, another study has recognized the rapid decade-long thinning of the Arctic sea-ice cover that has critical impacts on regional climate systems (OPP-9806296; OPP-9634513).  The SHEBA (Surface Heat Balance) project has identified the role that clouds, among other variables, play in controlling melting rates of sea ice (OPP-9703127).  OPP supports numerous biologically oriented investigations.  One study that has captured significant scientific attention, as well as public interest, is the confirmation of viable microorganisms throughout the 4-km long ice column overlying Lake Vostok, Antarctica, which has implications for the presence of life in the lake itself (OPP-0088047).  OPP supports a diversity of ecological investigations including Arctic bird adaptations (OPP-9911333), arctic tree growth and needle retention (OPP-9978143), establishing the metabolic rates of cold-adapted organisms (OPP-9420803), feedbacks between vegetation and climate change (OPP-0084345), and the phylogenetic composition of polar bacteria (OPP-9809971).

Ideas Indicator 2

"Discoveries that advance the frontiers of science, engineering and technology"

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful

Conducting research in the polar regions offers numerous technological and scientific challenges.  OPP provides a number of Small Grants for Exploratory Research (SGER) that support small-scale, high risk exploratory research that often results in cutting-edge science.  A few examples of 2001 SGER awards include a study of hemoglobin gelation and fish adaptation to cold water (OPP-0118372), use of satellite imagery to census Emperor penguin colonies (OPP-0001450), and development of new sampling and measurement methods and tools to be deployed under the Arctic Ocean ice cap on the Gakkel Ridge (OPP-9911795).  The latter will feed directly into future research using the recently available new icebreaker for research, the USCGC Healy, that has opened opportunities to explore The Gakkel Ridge, a prime target for sampling and one that has been inaccessible for years due to the perennial Arctic ice cover.  Researchers on a recent voyage sampled basalts, peridotites, and related rocks along a 600-km track for geochemical study, made estimates of crustal and lithospheric thickness for generating quantitative models of oceanic crust formation under ultra-slow spreading conditions, and conducted a hydrothermal survey using a MAPR device, which measured the temperature, pressure and optical properties of seawater (OPP-9911795; OPP-0000389; OPP-9912162; OPP-9912156).

Another group of researchers has estimated that the productivity of Earth's biosphere during the last ice age was 15-25% less than today and that ocean productivity was 70-160% of present.   Knowing the fertility of the ocean will help characterize the nature of the ice-age biosphere and thus contribute to our understanding of its role in climate change.  The latter is fundamental because the biosphere, as is increasingly recognized, introduces climate feedbacks that play a major role in glacial/interglacial climate change (OPP-9814634).  Looking skyward, measurements completed this year have provided the most complete characterization of polar stratospheric clouds yet obtained.  Polar stratospheric clouds are critical players in the destruction of stratospheric ozone, particularly in the polar regions.  The new measurements will test our understanding of the formation of polar stratospheric clouds, by comparing these measurements with microphysical models (OPP-9707520).

Another investigation focused on the effects of impurities (sulfuric and nitric acid) on the flow of polycrystalline ice and may help to understand how microbial life survives in glacial ice (OPP-9980379).  Such survival is not only of contemporary significance but may also take on an even more interesting dimension, if the emerging "snowball earth" hypothesis sustains rigorous testing (OPP-9817244).  If indeed the Earth experienced ‘total’ glaciation up to 4 times between 750 and 580 million years ago, the implications of a fully ice-covered Earth to the persistence and evolution of life are potentially immense.

Ideas Indicator 3

"Partnerships connecting discovery to innovation, learning and societal advancement"

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful

OPP has developed an interagency implementation Plan for the Study of Environmental Arctic Change Program (SEARCH) that has received approval from the agency principals at the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) (OPP-0076298).  The development of the SEARCH plan is expected to attract resources necessary to put the plan into action.  Also a number of OPP-sponsored investigations are examining the relationship between climate variability and critical human resources.  As revealed by geologic and early Norse record, large incursions of sea ice into the North Atlantic nearly a thousand years ago affected ocean currents and ocean productivity that, in turn, affected fisheries.  Likewise, 20th century climate variability affects our fisheries and the dynamic relationship between fishing practices and climate change has resulted in increased resource use and dwindling supplies.

In many communities across Alaska, residents are already aware of the impacts of climate change in their region, including rising temperatures, thawing permafrost, increased frequency of catastrophic storms, and retreating sea ice.  They have made certain appropriate adaptations to these impacts, but remain uncertain on strategies to adapt to the impacts of extreme events, such as storms, flooding, and coastal erosion.  OPP funded investigators from the University of Colorado, NCAR and the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation who are working in partnership with local government officials, native elders and other interested residents to understand, support, and enhance the local decision-making process in the face of increasing climate, ice, and weather variability (OPP-0100120).

In Antarctica, a recently recovered ice core from SIPLE Dome reveals a record of rapid climate change that appears to be correlated strongly with northern hemisphere changes.  These data strongly suggest global links in the climate system.  This interdisciplinary effort involved glaciologists, geochemists, geophysicists and atmospheric scientists (OPP-9526979).  NSF/OPP and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have partnered for many years at South Pole Station in the study of temporal variations in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane and in ozone-destroying CFCs, providing some of the most important environmental records in existence.  These data are crucial for assessments of the state of the climate system, such as the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2001 Report, that provide information for policy-makers.  Recent construction of the Atmospheric Research Observatory at South Pole has resulted in an up-to-date facility allowing new and expanded research related to atmospheric constituents that affect climate and the ozone layer.

Ideas Indicator 4

"Research and education processes that are synergistic"

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful

The OAC was impressed with OPP’s decision to offer in 2001 its third "Biology Training Course in Antarctica."  This past year they offered an international graduate-level training course entitled "Integrative Biology and Adaptation of Antarctic Marine Organisms."  Taught in Antarctica for one month during the austral summer, the participants consisted of 22 participants from six countries (18 graduate students and 4 postdoctoral researchers).  The goals for the course were to introduce students to the diversity of organisms in Antarctica, to study the unique aspects of biology that permit life in such an extreme environment, and to give students firsthand experience in dealing with the unique problems inherent to Antarctic field sampling.  The research emphasis of the course was on experimental Antarctic biology that allowed a number of aspects of evolution, physiology and ecology to be considered.  These included investigations on bacteria, algae, invertebrates and fish that addressed molecular phylogeny, ultraviolet radiation effects, energy metabolism and biochemical adaptations to cold temperature. The course attracted an extremely competitive group of young scientists, introduced new researchers to Antarctica, and provided participants the opportunity to use the most modern research methods to study mechanisms that are unique to polar biology.  A number of course participants attended the 2001 SCAR Biology Symposium in Amsterdam to present results from course projects. The course also fostered collaborations between participants that will further influence their future research activities.

This year, OPP supported students from over thirty universities through the REU program.  OPP encourages undergraduate students from under-represented groups to participate in these scientific research projects.  In addition, OPP supported two REU sites.  One is administered by Augustana College on the Matanuska Glacier, a large valley glacier in south central Alaska (OPP-9802446).  The other is coordinated by The City University of New York in collaboration with the Archaeological Institute of Iceland, Edinburgh University, Stirling University, and the University of Oslo.  It involves an interdisciplinary, international field school on human settlement and environmental impact in Northern Iceland at a site that is one of the most important Viking-age settlements in the North Atlantic region (OPP-9912332).

Ideas Goals

1)  Appropriate balance of high risk, multidisciplinary or innovative research across all NSF programs

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful

The OAC noted that the mix of research activities OPP sponsors cuts across the spectrum from high risk to high innovation.  In supporting research that is considered on the "cutting edge," OPP makes investments that require taking risks.  For example, some of the research projects funded by OPP require that investigators engage in activities with some inherent risk of danger.  Such risks are unavoidable when the research requires field activities in polar regions where weather and field conditions are unpredictable and the ever-present cold adds a layer of difficulty to all tasks.  The cold and extreme conditions also make the operation of instruments very challenging.  Examples of field locations with an element of risk include Summit, Greenland; North Pole Environmental Observatory; South Pole; and remote Antarctic field camps.  Any over-the-side operations from an icebreaker also come with ice-specific risks.

Here we briefly highlight only a few OPP-funded projects considered as high risk.  The Cape Roberts Project, previously mentioned (Ideas-Goals-2), used the seasonal sea ice as a platform for the drilling set up that collected over 1700 meters of sediment core extending back to Oligocene deposits.  During the project, the drilling ice platform became unstable, resulting in termination of the drilling that year and extension of  the project another year.  This situation was totally unforeseen and unpreventable.  The collection of sediments in the Arctic Ocean along a 500-km transect across the Gakkel Ridge using the USCGC Healy was also risky in terms of capturing the seafloor materials in relatively undisturbed state and bringing them to the surface.  Research projects such as these have an inherently high risk of failure.  Certainly, scientific controversy surrounds the quest to determine the presence or absence of biological signatures in Antarctic meteorites.  An OPP project, MarsRock, has developed a chemical method for fingerprinting prior biological activity in meteorites using the isotopic composition of iron (Fe) and thus stimulated new research in the area cutting across geochemistry and biology (OPP-9713968).  Finally, OPP has sponsored the development of autonomous vehicles (AUVs) designed to explore and collect samples from underneath Arctic sea ice or Antarctic ice shelves.  This clearly risky investment is considered well worth the cost since no other sampling options exist for these features; the potential for scientific discovery is thus great.

NSF supports small-scale, high risk exploratory work through the SGER program.  Over the years OPP has sponsored many cutting-edge projects in this way.  This year two examples are the use high-resolution satellite imagery to census Emperor penguin colonies (OPP-0001450) and the development of new sampling and measurement methods and tools to explore under the Arctic Ocean ice cap in the Gakkel Ridge region (OPP-9911795).

2)  Investments in NSF’s Three Initiatives

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful in those areas with activities

Information Technology Research (ITR)

OPP supported one ITR award for the development and deployment of intelligent radar sensors for measuring key glaciological parameters.  Radar instrumentation will consist of a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) that can operate in bistatic or monostatic mode.  A tracked vehicle and an automated snowmobile will be used to test and demonstrate the utility of an intelligent radar in glaciological investigations.  This project involves innovative research in intelligent systems, sounding radars and ice-sheet modeling.  In addition it has a very strong public outreach and education program that includes near-real-time image broadcasts via the world wide web (OPP-0122520).

Nanoscale Science and Engineering

N/A (nothing to report in this category)

Biocomplexity in the Environment

OPP contributed $1.41 million to the Biocomplexity in the Environment initiative in FY 2001 and made two awards in the FY 2001 competition.  Researchers on the project entitled "Microbes and Biomolecules in Glacial Ice" will construct a biospectrologger to study microorganisms and biomolecules in situ within an ice borehole in Antarctica (OPP-0119988).  This approach will make it possible for scientists to search for living bacteria within the liquid veins of polar ice.  OPP also sponsored a Workshop entitled "Human Dimensions of the Arctic System" (OPP-0119798). The Arctic offers a unique opportunity to study (1) the close linkages between people and their environment, (2) the great variability in both human and natural systems, and (3) the impacts of global change.  The Workshop will bring together researchers, graduate students, junior faculty and indigenous groups to study the dynamics of coupled natural and human systems.  Finally, the OAC noted that OPP supports a wide range of research related to BE, but funded outside the formal BE competition.

3)  Investments in NSF's High Priority Non-Initiative Fundamental Research

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful in those areas with activities

Mathematical Sciences Research

N/A (nothing to report in this category)

Although not currently involved in this activity, OPP out-year planning will likely include activities associated with this area – specifically, climate and glaciological modeling for polar research.

Functional Genomics

OPP supports research in functional genomics.  One example is a project investigating the role of antifreeze glycopeptides, antifreeze proteins involved in freezing avoidance of Antarctic fishes (OPP-9909841).  It is anticipated that the results will lead to major advances in the molecular biology and evolution of antifreeze systems and will be applicable to a wide range of disciplines.  Researchers on another project, also focused on Antarctic fishes, seek to determine at the molecular level those adaptations that enhance the assembly and movement of microtubules and the expression of related genes (OPP- 0089451).  In the broadest sense, this research program should advance the molecular understanding of the survival of cold-blooded organisms.  Our final example is a phylogenetic study of Antarctic microorganisms to understand the unique adaptations that are required for survival (OPP-0085435). The application of DNA microarray technology to studies of life in extreme environments offers an outstanding opportunity for identifying new genes for biotechnological use.  Discovering specific adaptations to extreme environments by detecting genes that are uniquely expressed in the natural environment is an ultimate goal of this research.

Cognitive Neuroscience

N/A (nothing to report in this category)

"Providing broadly accessible, state-of-the-art information-bases and shared research and education tools"

Tools Indicator 1

"Shared-use platforms, facilities, instruments and databases that enable discovery and enhance the productivity and effectiveness of the science and engineering workforce"

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful

OPP supports a very broad range of scientific investigations in both the Arctic and the Antarctic.  The remote nature of these environments results in logistical operations that can be quite expensive.  Further, the equipment to support these activities is often not ‘off the shelf’ but must be designed and constructed with specifications that allow reliable and efficient operations under a variety of climate conditions.  The selected set of examples described below range from operation of remote stations on a year-round basis to a community climate model shared electronically by the science community.

To expand its scientific capability in ice-covered waters, OPP partnered with the U.S. Coast Guard to outfit the newly commissioned cutter, Healy, to support polar operations in areas covered by sea ice.  This was the culmination of 5 years of planning and cooperation with both the scientific community and the Coast Guard (primarily through the Arctic Icebreaker Coordinating Committee of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System).  Through these joint efforts the Healy was modified while under construction so that it could more effectively support science.  In fact, this was the first known use of science trials as part of a Navy ship-acceptance procedure.  The Healy is just completing the first year of operation (OCE-9988593).

OPP is responsible for managing and operating the three permanent U.S. stations in Antarctica (South Pole, McMurdo and Palmer).  These stations provide the necessary facilities for any U.S. scientist, including those from other federal agencies, to conduct research in Antarctica in widely divergent disciplines.  OPP also supports both permanent and seasonal stations in the Arctic.  In the past two years the Summit Station (Greenland) has operated year round to support winter observations with a particular emphasis on atmospheric chemistry.  The North Pole Environmental Observatory is now in place and other Arctic stations such as Barrow and Toolik Lake Field Stations are also available to support research in the northern polar region.

OPP supports a program (SOAR) to acquire aerogeophysical data over the ice sheets and to manage and analyze those data.  The data collected by SOAR provide an unprecedented view of the ice sheet and the underlying continental crust that allow crustal boundaries to be identified and geological controls of ice stream locations to be understood. This project employed and provided research experience to a range of personnel from high school seniors and college undergraduates through senior scientists.  The SOAR project was an excellent mechanism for training a large number of people in airborne remote sensing research, from data collection through interpretation of data (OPP-9911617).

OPP has made other investments in scientific infrastructure.  These include the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) that has been designed to work under ice-covered waters, particularly in the Arctic Ocean Basin.  An OPP PI is developing a cost-effective experimental platform that can access all portions of the Arctic Ocean Basin (OPP-9910290).  Strategically related efforts are supporting the development of robotic samplers for the atmosphere (aerosondes) at the University of Colorado (OPP-9910297) and an autonomous, under-ice ocean bottom seismometer (the APOGEE vehicle) at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (OPP-9910290; OPP-0001392).  OPP has also invested in a Multi-Sensor Core Logger (MSCL), mentioned in a previous section, that allows analysis of high-resolution mineralogical variations in marine sediment cores collected from four USAP cruises.  Other equipment investments include enhancements (either new or upgrade) to the analytical equipment for ice-core paleoclimate research (OPP-0096291).  Also in support of paleoclimatology and glaciology OPP has invested in the development of a number of new instruments including hot water ice-drilling equipment (OPP-9910838), enhancement to existing ice-coring equipment (OPP-0096291) and borehole video equipment (OPP-9910838).

OPP has supported a number of climate modeling efforts that contribute directly to the NCAR Community Climate System Model (CCSM), a key research tool for U.S. climate scientists.  The NCAR CCSM is organized around working groups comprised of NCAR and university scientists.  The Polar Working Group is one of the most active groups and is solely responsible for developing the sea-ice component of the CCSM.  This work has been supported by OPP awards to several PIs (e.g., OPP-0084287; OPP-0084275) and their contributions will impact studies of the entire global climate.

Tools Indicator 2

"Networking and connectivity that take full advantage of the internet and make science, mathematics, engineering and technology information available to all citizens"

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful

OPP supports the Antarctic Glaciological Data Center (AGDC) that provides management for the U.S. Antarctic Glaciological Program and related cryospheric science investigations (OPP-9814550).  The AGDC is implementing a web-based archival and distribution capability for well-documented physical and geochemical data derived from ice cores, ice surface elevations, ice thickness, and bedrock topography, snow accumulation data and 10-meter temperatures, ice velocity measurements from remote sensing imagery and field survey data.  This data center provides a mechanism to help the Antarctic Glaciology Program implement and enforce the OPP Data Policy.

OPP also supports and is improving the Antarctic Geologic Database, an on-line database for geologic specimens collected in Antarctica by members of the U.S. geologic community (OPP-9727155).  In addition, OPP is supporting the establishment of an Antarctic Rock Repository at Ohio State University (OPP-9910267) where the collections will be accessible to the scientific community.   OPP has simplified the internet gateway to the U.S. Antarctic Program to make information more accessible to both scientific participants and the public (

Additional more discipline-specific web sites make OPP-supported research products generally accessible.  Only a few of these are highlighted in this report.  One unusual site is the "iceberg web page" ( maintained by the Antarctic Meteorological Research Center (AMRC) at the University of Wisconsin (OPP-9908842) that averages nearly 8000 visits per month.  Interestingly, the iceberg site was accessed over one million times in March 2001, possibly reflecting the fact that the National Ice Center no longer tracks icebergs, making the AMRC site unique.  AMRC also maintains the automatic weather station program for the polar regions (OPP-0088058) that makes meteorological observations freely available via its web site (  Another web site allows the public to view the video footage attained as a camera is lowered down a borehole in the Antarctic ice sheet (

Tools Indicator 3

"Information and policy analyses that contribute to the effective use of science and engineering resources"

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful

OPP has made substantial contributions to bridging the efforts of scientists, policy makers and community leaders to address many issues of urgent concern to polar residents.  Of particular importance were special workshops and symposia focused on societal and economic impact of global climate change. Topics included ethical issues in documenting indigenous cultures (OPP-0130013).  Other efforts contributing to the effective use of science and engineering resources with regards to information and policy analyses include the exemplary leadership role that OPP plays in implementing the Antarctic Environmental Protocol.

OPP has been instrumental in the development of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) designed to assess the current knowledge of climate change impact with emphasis on the role of the Arctic.  Although this effort is international in scope, OPP has taken the lead role in supporting the U.S. scientists who serve as lead authors for six of the thirteen chapters.  The ACIA document is expected to provide assessments, including uncertainties, of future impacts on the Arctic environment, its people and their resources.  OPP staff have been very engaged in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process.  Some of the OPP staff contributed to the IPCC Working Group 2 Report and OPP representatives participated as part of the U.S. delegation in Geneva that negotiated final language for the Summary for Policymakers.

Tools Goals

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful in those areas with activities

1)  Investments in Major Research Equipment

OPP has two ongoing MRE projects of enormous significance to scientific and engineering research in the Antarctic region: 1) The South Pole Station Modernization; and 2) Polar Support Aircraft (LC-130) Upgrades.  Both projects represent essential investments in the health and vitality of on-continent and deep-field research in Antarctica.

2)  Continue Investments in

Terascale Computing

N/A (nothing to report in this category)



OPP has made an award to the University of Arizona to develop a state-of-the-art continuous flow analysis system that will be used for measuring concentrations of soluble chemicals and electrical conductivity in polar ice cores (OPP-0116674).  At the forefront of technology, this new instrumentation will increase the quality and production rate of ice-core records and thus the potential for better understanding of climate and atmospheric chemistry.

OPP has made an award to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (OPP-0116577) for development of an integrated instrument package for surveillance of volcanoes. The instrumentation developed will have wide application in both applied and basic earth science and has the potential to contribute significantly to societal goals of better predicting volcanic and seismic natural hazards.

D.  Summary and Recommendation for Improvement

The OAC concluded that OPP has performed at the successful level in the strategic outcomes related to PEOPLE.  The Office has supported targeted projects to improve mathematics, science, and technology skills for U.S. students at the K-12 level and for citizens, especially teachers, of all ages.  It has also supported workshops and hiring practices that have resulted in a science, technology and instructional workforce that increasingly reflects America’s diversity. The science and engineering professionals supported by OPP are among the best in the world and are often internationally engaged.  The public is continually provided with access to the benefits of science and engineering research through a variety of means, but especially through electronic communications, web sites and films.  OPP has also supported excellent examples of K-12 systemic activities and means to enhance the instructional workforce and broaden participation of various groups.  The OAC is aware of many training efforts supported by OPP that are not always quantified or quantifiable yet lie at the heart of creating and maintaining a diverse and world-class cadre of professional scientists and engineers. We suggest consideration of means to gather information on undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate training undertaken by OPP-supported PIs and on the participation of indigenous Arctic peoples in OPP-supported research and educational activities.

The OAC concluded that OPP has performed at the successful level in the strategic outcomes related to IDEAS.  OPP awards have led to important and "cutting edge" discoveries and new techniques and instruments that have far-reaching impact beyond the geographic specificity of the directorate.  Significant advances have been in virtually all basic disciplines, from astrophysics to biology, testifying to OPP’s broad impact on the fundamental knowledge base for all of science.  OPP has a particularly strong record in balancing the funding of high risk, innovative and interdisciplinary research and providing logistical support for success in the face of these risks.  It has also made important progress in research and educational partnerships and processes that are synergistic and linked to learning and societal advancement.  We see sufficient progress in investing in NSF’s three Initiatives and its high priority non-Initiative fundamental research areas.

The OAC concluded that OPP has performed at the successful level in the strategic outcomes related to TOOLS.  Shared-use platforms, facilities, instruments, and databases are inherent to much of the research supported by OPP.  Significant new developments occurred in this fiscal year, including the first and highly successful scientific use of the new icebreaker Healy, the latest steps in the upgrading of South Pole station, and creation of databases and websites that make exciting science and technology information available to all citizens.  OPP has also initiated and continued to play leadership roles in policy development and implementation concerning climate assessment in the Arctic and environmental stewardship in the Antarctic.

E.  Assessment of Merit Review Criteria Implementation

OAC Performance Rating:           Successful

Goal for Reviewers
"to address the elements of both generic review criteria"

The OAC finds that a greater proportion, and now majority, of OPP reviewers are addressing both criteria in their reviews.  In FY 1999, the proportion was 34%; in this year, it was significantly increased to 60%.  We commend OPP for its efforts to educate the reviewing community on the need to address both elements in the review process.

Goal for Program Officers
"to address the elements of both generic review criteria when making their award decisions"

A greater proportion, and now majority, of program officer decisions are made after addressing both review criteria.  In FY 1999, the proportion was 47%; in this year, it was significantly increased to 73%.  The OAC commends OPP program managers for this significant achievement.

F.  Contribution to NSF Goals

OPP continues to be in excellent position to contribute to larger NSF goals, as described in section C.  OPP has an excellent track record in supporting high risk, innovative and interdisciplinary research.  It is particularly strong in areas of climate and environmental change, both in terms of ongoing scientific discoveries and policy development and implementation.  Discoveries made in polar regions often uniquely identify events affecting the globe and the galaxy.  OPP is well-positioned and moving forward with plans to embrace new opportunities in genomic and other biological research that is distinctly interdisciplinary in nature.  Because OPP supports research on the "cutting edge," it necessarily takes risks with its investments.  These risks are heightened by the weather and field conditions in polar regions, which are extreme and hard to predict, thus making work by people and by instrumentation very challenging.  The OAC joins the Committee of Visitors in its report this year on the Polar Research Support Services of OPP in commending OPP for providing the national scientific community with an extraordinary infrastructure in support of polar-region activities, unsurpassed in its capacity to foster the kind of innovative, technologically modern investigations across disciplines that are documented herein.  OPP continues to take steps towards increased involvement of currently under-represented groups, and of indigenous Arctic peoples, through many of its funded research and teaching activities and logistical support operations.  Because the polar regions hold the fascination of the American public, the potential for polar science to interest and motivate learning and education at all levels, across a wide variety of scientific areas and technological approaches, is great.

G.  Sufficiency of Information/Data to Complete this Report

OPP provided the OAC with extensive documentation of activities and trends for completion of this report.  Staff efforts to provide this information in clear form were exemplary, as was their responsiveness to requests for additional data gathering made in the prior year.  In all cases, the information and data made available this year was sufficient to develop our assessments.  In some cases, we believe that degree of success may be underestimated.  We suggest continued attention to data gathering with regards to PEOPLE goals, especially as they relate to undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate training activities through regular research awards and to involvement of an increasingly diverse work force.