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OPP Office Advisory Committee

XVIII Meeting of the Advisory Committee for the Office of Polar Programs (OPP)
May 3-4, 2001 • Arlington, VA

Members Present

Elaine Abraham, Education, Alaska Native Science Commission
Mary Albert, Physical Glaciology, U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, Hanover, NH
Sridhar Anandakrishnan, Geophysics and Physical Glaciology, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
Jody Deming, Chair, Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Dave Hofmann, Atmospheric Chemistry, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, CO
Douglas MacAyeal, Glaciology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Ellen Mosley-Thompson, Geography, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
John Priscu, Ecology, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT
Joan Stock, Geology and Geophysics, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA
Igor Krupnik, Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

Members Absent

John Carlstrom, Astronomy, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Amanda Lynch, Atmospheric Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO

OPP Senior Staff Present

Karl Erb, Director, Office of Polar Programs
Erick Chiang, Head, Polar Research and Support Section
Altie Metcalf, Budget and Planning Officer
Dennis Peacock, Head, Antarctic Sciences Section
Thomas Pyle, Head, Arctic Sciences Section

Thursday, May 3, 2001

Welcome and Introductions

Dr. Jody Deming, the incoming chair, called the meeting to order at 8:35 a.m. The minutes from the November 2000 meeting were approved. Dr. Deming requested that attendees introduce themselves, and then she provided an overview of the agenda.

Dr. Karl Erb reminded the committee of its oversight functions. Every three years, the committee charters a subcommittee (Committee of Visitors) to review OPP's activities.

Dr. Erb thanked the continuing members and the new members and briefed the committee on the following issues:

  • FY 2002 budget request for NSF including the status of OPP's FY 2002 request
  • Agency-Wide R&RA Initiatives and Priorities, i.e., Biocomplexity in the Environment (BE), Information Technology Research (ITR), Nanoscale Science and Engineering and Interdisciplinary Mathematics
  • OPP's FY 2002 Emphases:
    • The Interagency Arctic Research Program called the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH)
    • Using the Healy
    • Infrastructure upgrades at Toolik Field Station
    • Improvement of safety measures for field researchers in the Arctic
    • Antarctic subglacial lake characterization and study including Lake Vostok
    • Polar genomics
    • Improvements in communication capabilities and bandwidth for researchers in Antarctica
    • Improvements in on-continent transportation capability in Antarctica
  • The release of declassified Intelligence satellite images taken at SHEBA, McMurdo Dry Valleys, Barrow and several LTER's to the general public that will help OPP PIs conduct research in remote areas
  • Major Research Equipment - ICECUBE
  • South Pole construction update
  • Summarize the situation of recent Antarctic medevacs
  • Challenging problems with the heavy lift air transport
  • Personnel changes within OPP (vacancy announcement for Executive Officer)

Responding to questions from the committee Dr. Erb noted that when requesting satellite images, OPP needs to specify coordinates and present a strong scientific rationale for obtaining the images.

Dr. Erb also spoke about how adventure tourism impacts NSF activities in the Antarctic. When a national program puts tourists onto the continent, it is also responsible for getting them off the continent. In addition, any activity requires an environmental impact assessment approved by the country of origin. When the activities are originated in the U.S., an environmental impact assessment is reviewed by OPP. The committee added that NSF should have firm standards on rescues and should not be too generous. Dr. Erb replied that NSF only gets involved for humanitarian reasons, and seeks reimbursement for costs incurred. OPP will be initiating an analysis of the individual incidents, but executed by an external group.

Arctic Update

Dr. Tom Pyle gave a brief update on programs that are phasing down such as the scientific use of navy submarines (SCICEX) and Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic (SHEBA). Activities continuing or ramping up include Shelf Basin Interaction (SBI), and Long Term Observations and Environmental Observations (LTOs and EOs). He also informed the committee on the following program status: Summit (second winter-over); North Pole EO (new arrays); Little Diomede (building an observatory in Bering Strait); Aerosonde (Unmanned aircraft); Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV), SEARCH FY 2003 Planning; International Arctic Research Center (IARC) cooperative agreement; and the Arctic Native Science Commission (ANSC) cooperative agreement. The Arctic Section has made progress in international cooperation with various countries such as Norway, Germany, Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Sweden and with the European Union.

Dr. Erb asked the Committee if they thought members of the U.S. community were aware of the growing range of international opportunities and wondered if there was something more OPP should do to get the word out. Dr. Pyle explained that the announcements and agreements are placed in the Arctic Newsletter and on the Arctic Info (ARCUS), the web server and were also widely publicized at meetings.

Several questions emerged from the committee regarding SEARCH and whether it is focused solely on climate change. Dr. Pyle encouraged all to look at SEARCH's science plan on the web.

Dr. Hofmann stated that NOAA doesn't yet see how its mission fits into SEARCH. Drs. Pyle and Erb stated that each agency has to determine how it can serve its own purposes and advance the broader program at the same time. This is the challenge the working group faces.

Antarctic Update

Dr. Dennis Peacock updated the committee on the following activities for FY 2000/FY 2001:

  • High level biology course in McMurdo
  • New Investigators Workshop
  • Workshop on Synoptic Meteorology hosted by Ohio State University
  • Working with NCAR on a meteorology model to back up the work of OPP's contractor in the forecasting area
  • Committed—along with the Arctic Section—to being part of COSMIC—a joint program of the U.S. and Taiwan.

Dr. Erb reported that the New PI Workshop was directly responsive to the committee's discussion at the last meeting, and he thanked the committee for that suggestion. Dr. Peacock added that the committee's concerns helped OPP to realize the need to advertise more widely and to clarify with potential PIs the importance of Criterion 2. Dr. Deming commended Dr. Peacock for having the workshop.

Antarctic Research Support and Logistics Update

Mr. Dwight Fisher and Mr. Brian Stone briefed the committee on the following:

  • Communication Improvements at South Pole, McMurdo and Palmer Station.
  • Weather forecasting improvements
  • Weather satellite coverage in McMurdo
  • Station Facilities Update
    • Science Support Center in McMurdo
    • South Pole Safety and Environmental and Health Project
    • South Pole Station Modernization Project
    • Palmer Station Modernization
  • Cryogen Management Improvements
  • Basler Turbo-67 Aircraft
  • Pegasus Compacted Snow Runway Project

The committee took interest in the Basler and commented that the use of the aircraft could offer science opportunities that had not been possible for 10 years since the closing of Siple Station.

Merit Review

Dr. Albert briefed the new members on the working group implementation of Review Criterion 2 Summary of Recommendations. Dr. Erb indicated that other Directorates' Advisory Committees are faced with the same issues related to Criterion 2 as they look at GPRA. Mr. Guy Guthridge suggested that the proposal guide be modified to suggest activities that would constitute items that could be addressed in Criterion 2. What was also suggested was that PIs should note Criterion 2 activities in their proposals, project interim reports, and progress reports and that there should be a specific section in the proposal with the required format for Criterion 2. The committee discussed the draft Implementation of Review Criterion #2, and several revisions were suggested. Some members had concerns about the language used in the NSB-established criteria. Dr. Erb commented that only the National Science Board could change the specific wording of the criteria.. Dr. Erb also stated that he was prepared to change OPP's Reviewer Letter to include an attachment of this short version of Implementation of Review Criterion #2.

Discussions with Deputy Director

Dr. Joseph Bordogna, Deputy Director, NSF, commended the Advisory Committee on their work on implementation of Criterion 2. Their work has prompted interest in this issue by senior management at NSF and other advisory committees. He also clarified that the two criteria are not "scientific merit" and "social impact"—the are "intellectual merit" and "broader impacts."

Dr. Bordogna commented on the FY 2002 Budget Request and how it was prepared. NSF's FY 2002 request includes a 1.3% increase, or $56M. If NSF were to get more than the 1.3% increase, Congress would make the decision on what activities would be put back into the budget.

Dr. Bordogna also discussed NSF priorities. NSF has six initiatives, including mathematics and social sciences. Dr. Bordogna stressed that maintaining good connections between Congressional and OMB staff and NSF results in keeping Congressional staff excited about what NSF is doing. He suggested that the committee should invite their Congressional representatives to their universities' labs and to make sure they know there is NSF-funding research taking place. This type of connection almost always reflects positively on NSF.

Emerging Research Priorities: Views from the OPP Arctic and Antarctic Science Sections


Dr. Pyle summarized the Arctic emerging priorities as: increasing emphasis on social sciences, SEARCH, and use of the Healy, as well as upgrading Toolik infrastructure and improving safety in the Arctic.


Dr. Peacock said emerging Antarctic research priorities include ICECUBE, subglacial lakes, polar genomics, South Pole S&TC (CARA) transition, an extended season, synoptic meteorology (forecast,) and WAIS/WAISCORES. Activities phasing out are CARA, the AGOs, JGOFS, GLOBEC, Siple Coast Research and ITASE. Future activities include the Victoria Coast transect, polar biology, over-the-side ship based drilling for sedimentary records for paleoclimate, paleoceanography changes, Lake Vostok, Antarctic oceans and climate (Joint with Arctic Section) and Ross Island Observatory (NEON).

In response to questions asked by the committee on the impact on the science with ICECUBE, Mr. Erick Chiang replied that OPP had projected the dip in the science support and this coming season is one of the low points in that projection. OPP had hoped to be able to start ramping up the science support program back up to its pre-South Pole station levels beginning the season after this one coming (FY 2003).

NSF-Wide Research and Funding Opportunities

Interdisciplinary Math

Dr. Thomas Fogwell (Division of Mathematical Sciences, Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences) discussed the growing interest in interdisciplinary mathematics. Several reports on the state of mathematics found that the field was not as healthy as it should be. Certain objectives were formulated as a result of the reports, including sustaining an academic mathematical science community that is intellectually distinguished and relevant to society. Another is to sustain the U.S. mathematical sciences as a leading force in world mathematics. This effort should be interactive with other sciences and engineering. Dr. Fogwell described a recent workshop on Geosciences and Mathematics Cooperation as an example of a cooperative activity between Directorates.

The Division of Mathematical Sciences (DMS) is moving forward on a number of activities, including providing more interdisciplinary grants within the mathematical sciences and establishing partnerships between agencies and industries. The committee wondered whether there would be benefits of involving mathematicians in some of OPP-funded research. Dr. Fogwell advised the committee that they could find a list of awards on the DMS website that could assist OPP researchers in obtaining a DMS PI's name and abstract so that they could cross-pollinate a particular activity with that of a DMS PI.


Dr. Borg briefed the committee on the Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) program. OPP has not been a big player in the MRI competition this year with only three proposals. This is an NSF-wide program with a budget of $75M, emphasizing non-Ph.D. institutions, traditional minority colleges and universities. He also noted that this year's allocation is just under $25M for non-Ph.D.. The FY 2002 budget had not yet been determined, but Dr. Borg anticipated that the funding will be at the same level as this year.


Dr. Neal Swanberg briefed the committee on Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers (ADVANCE) program and its goal, which is to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic S&E careers, thereby contributing to the development of a more diverse S&E workforce. The ADVANCE budget expected this year $25M. The Committee commended this activity because it shows a sincere effort on the part of NSF to address some GPRA issues.


Dr. Jane Dionne briefed the committee on Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. The goal of IGERT is to enable the development of innovative, research-based graduate education and training activities that will produce a diverse group of new scientists and engineers, who are well prepared for a broad spectrum of career opportunities in industry, government and academe.

Dr. Erb added that OPP has a representative in each NSF initiative. OPP is always looking for mechanisms to get information on the initiatives out to the community and to make the Committee aware of the opportunities so that they too can spread the word.


Dr. Polly Penhale briefed the committee on the Biocomplexity in the Environment (BE) priority area. The BE competition is in its 3rd year and has four major areas:

  • Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human System (CNH);
  • Coupled Biogeochemical Cycles (CBC);
  • Genome-Enabled Environmental Science and Engineering (GEN-EN); and
  • Instrumentation Development for Environmental Activities (IDEA).

The OAC conveyed its concerns about the fact that there weren't many polar projects in the competition, but felt the reason might be that it was easier to get funds elsewhere than to get a complex group of individuals to prepare a major proposal for a 5 percent success rate. They felt the low success rate of BE proposals was a major detriment.


Dr. Peacock gave a brief overview of the Information Technology Research (ITR) program, the purpose of which is to augment the knowledge base in IT, encourage long-term innovative fundamental research on IT and its social, economic and workforce implications.

The committee voiced its concerns about the low level of participation and success of OPP researchers in these programs. They thought dissemination of information on these special programs by e-mail may not be enough and that maybe some proactive outreach through large meetings could be more successful in getting the information out to the PIs. Dr. Erb responded that OPP researchers tend not to attend computer science meetings and he asked the committee to notify OPP if there are opportunities for OPP Program Managers to discuss these competitions at meetings of researchers.

The committee appreciated receiving the information the crosscutting activities and suggested that OPP have a link from its web page to these activities.

Reports on NSF Environmental Research and Education Advisory Committee Meetings

Drs. Albert and John Priscu gave a briefing on the new NSF Environmental Research and Education Advisory Committee. The ERE/AC has subgroups for different areas. Dr. Stephanie Pfirman is on the subgroup for Strategic Planning for Environmental Research and Education and Dr. Priscu serves on the subgroup for Environmental Education Diversity Communication. The third subgroup is Strategic Planning for Environmental Infrastructure. The task is to produce a document that structured on the NSF strategic goals: people, ideas and tools. Drs. Albert and Priscu will draft a document on best practices for incorporating education and outreach activities in the science activities.

The meeting adjourned at 6:00 pm.

Friday, May 4, 2001

The meeting was reconvened at 8:30 a.m. Discussions began with a briefing from Dr. Chris Elfring and Ms. Sue Roberts, from the National Academy of Sciences Polar Research Board.

Polar Research Board Polar Biology Workshop

This one-day exploratory workshop was held to brainstorm on the frontiers in polar biology. The PRB is developing a proposal to suggest the Academy's assistance. The proposal would be to examine frontiers in polar biology; examine opportunities and challenges of cutting biology in polar regions; assess potential new discoveries; provide guidance about future research directions; identify key areas for exploration; facilitate interaction among biological scientist; identify impediments; and comment on education, and infrastructure and logistical needs. Ms. Elfring asked the Committee for comments on whether or not these issues could benefit from the Academy process. She questioned if the proposed statement of work needed revisions or clarifications to ensure the ultimate usefulness to the science community.

Ms. Roberts mentioned some of the science issues that were brought forth at the workshop, including cold adaptations in polar organisms, physiological responses to life at low temperatures, genomics of polar organisms, biodiversity and evolution and planetary microbiology. Ms. Elfring requested that the Committee provide feedback on the proposed activities.

Dr. Erb noted that the purpose of a discussion on polar biology is to generate discussion about polar biology and to bring ideas on what research activities OPP should be focusing on to the table. What OPP was looking for in this discussion is a sense of whether or not this is a fertile area for possible expansion.

The OAC wondered whether or not an assessment will be done of the investments generated by LExEn and if there were any thoughts about advancing LExEn investments to the next level. Dr. Erb noted that LExEn played a key role in initiating research in areas that weren't on the radar screen 5-10 years ago. The Committee agreed that there are new exciting areas for which OPP is uniquely positioned. Those who are interested in providing comments should send them by e-mail to Dr. Albert.

Antarctic Science Support and Logistics Planning

Mr. Chiang briefed the committee on the science support planning process, which requires a more careful planning because the resources that OPP has are more constrained than 10-15 years ago. The Electronic Support Planner maintains a database of requirements so that OPP could project 65-70 percent of needs for the follow-on season. PRSS would like to get the science input on adjusting the practice of project out-briefs. The committee believes Raytheon's website for the Electronic Support Planner provides a tremendous service to the people who are doing field research in Antarctica. The committee suggested that someone should be commended for making this change because it is the best they've ever seen.

Mr. Chiang said the support area with which he is experiencing the most difficulty is increasing remote field access due to the impact of the South Pole Modernization. In order to increase access to the field, there is a need to increase LC-130 capabilities, use the Basler DC-3 and Twin Otters, and to build up a traverse capability to support science in West Antarctica and other parts of the continent. A traverse capability could also be used for the logistics chain from McMurdo to South Pole. The replacement of the USAP snowmobile fleet would also enhance mobility to projects in the field.

The Committee asked whether a cost benefit analysis had been done comparing the traverse (tractor train) versus using the Twin Otters to move people for ITASE or other deep field projects. Mr. Stone answered and said that no cost benefit study had been done, but that a surface traverse offers much greater productivity due to avoiding weather problems. ITASE has been so productive because it relied on very little air support.

Dr. Erb added that OPP is challenging the Air Force to staff up to the levels that they had essentially committed to. Dr. Albert suggests that we should provide an incentive to the dedicated and really highly talented 109th pilots because anything we can do to retain and fill that base is good for the program. Dr. Erb agreed and noted that providing differential salary would probably require Congressional action.

Mr. Chiang also mentioned that PRSS is looking into renewable energy to reduce fuel consumption—specifically wind generators which would be more cost effective and could be used at South Pole. He noted that PRSS is trying to change fundamentally the way transportation is carried out on the continent.

Arctic Science Support and Logistics Planning: Safety

Dr. Pyle briefed the committee on safety in the Arctic. OPP has based much of its planning on safety and logistics on the community recommendations contained in the ARCUS report Logistics Recommendation for an Improved US Arctic Research Capability. One of the five recommendations is to protect the health and safety of the people doing research in the Arctic. The report included specific recommendations—skill and survival courses, better telecommunications, bank accounts in Russian, travel and health insurance. The Arctic Section is reviewing whether there are organizations or individuals that can provide certain types of training, focusing on field skills, medical training, and communication with the local people. Specialized courses could include boating. The Arctic Section is trying to address some of the community concerns about Arctic safety—covering the bases but providing flexibility to individual researchers.

In response to questions from the committee, Dr. Pyle noted that OPP involves the indigenous people to assist in training and safety and utilizes Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC) to provide field help on a regular base. OPP has been talking to BASC about providing some of the survival courses in the future. Dr. Pyle also noted that PIs encountering problems such as incidents, accidents and harassment by other countries are encouraged to contact OPP or VECO. One of the members also suggested that the PI should report incidents to the State Department and recommended that OPP start a database to include reports from other government agencies and international agencies that encounters problems such as incidents, accidents and harassment. The committee also suggested that OPP encourage the PIs to report the problems for the purpose of our own evaluation of how to work with these issues. Dr. Pyle responded that this type of information is often included in the PI's Progress Report and/or is summarized in the Annual Report and is reported to the State Department so that it is brought to the attention of the Interagency Arctic Policy Committee.

Dr. Albert congratulated Dr. Pyle on his Logistics program and highly praised the Arctic Section for everything going smoothly.

Reinvestment Initiative in Science and Education (RISE)

Dr. Erb introduced Mr. Curt Suplee, Director of OLPA, who discussed the RISE document. Dr. Albert was the lead for coordinating all of the NSF Advisory Chairs' input for the RISE document. She summarized that RISE started out as an MPS document that was expanded into an NSF-wide document to convey to the average American the result of NSF support for science and the future potential of that support. Mr. Suplee expressed that NSF hopes that everybody, including schoolteachers, would take advantage of this RISE document. NSF's principal audience is Congress, the press, and the public attentive to science developments—a subset of the general public. The Committee mentioned that they would be interested in seeing what other Directorates are doing.

Wrap-up Discussion: Future Research Priorities

Dr. Erb responded to questions from the Committee on OPP providing logistical support if LExEn were to become an initiative for NASA. He noted the USAP planning process and suggested that NASA discuss their plans with OPP in advance. OPP can not provide last minute support for work in Antarctica.

Dr. Deming wondered whether Drs. Peacock and Pyle had thought about accommodating the new direction in polar genomics in future plans. Dr. Peacock replied that the new investigator workshop was used as an avenue to get new blood into the system that might steer it towards polar genomics and other new areas. Dr. Pyle commented that genomics would have application within Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH).

Dr. Albert discussed ideas about how the Army could be better engaged in the SEARCH planning process. Dr. Dave Hoffman provided insights about the pessimistic situation at NOAA, and Dr. Igor Krupnick made a comment about the importance of including people and health issues. Dr. Deming requested specific advice or suggestions from the Committee on SEARCH as it has been envisioned. These suggestions could be forwarded to Dr. Colwell.

Planning for Polar Research Support Section Committee of Visitors

Dr. Erb briefed the OAC on the Committee of Visitors (COV) and its responsibilities. A COV meets at least every three years on each NSF program and reviews two areas: evaluate performance against Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) goals and to evaluate "program" management. The last COV completed was for the two OPP science sections. The next COV will be for the Polar Research Support Section. At least one member of the OAC must be on the COV. Drs. Hofmann and Anandakrishnan volunteered to serve as OAC representatives on the COV. Dr. Deming and Dr. Erb will consult and identify a chair for and charge to the COV subcommittee.

Ms. Altie Metcalf gave an overview of the GPRA. She also touched upon the 2001 Performance Plan and the goals for strategic outcomes.

In response to various questions concerning the oversight and evaluation of the contractor, Dr. Erb stated that the COV looks at OPP's oversight of Raytheon Polar Support and the previous contractor. Mr. Chiang noted that there is also a Performance Evaluation Committee that is made up from members of PRSS and the Antarctic Sciences Section. Mr. Chiang added that the Performance Evaluation Report is required annually from the contractor and is made available to the COV.

The meeting adjourned at 2:35 p.m.

See Agenda for this meeting.

Last Updated

April, 2002

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