Email Print Share

OPP Office Advisory Committee

XXXIV Meeting of the Advisory Committee for the Office of Polar Programs

May 4 - 5, 2009 Arlington, VA

Members Present: 

Andrea Lloyd (Chair), Biology, Middlebury College
Mark Engebretson, Physics, Augsburg College
Gretchen Hofmann, Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology, University of California,
Santa Barbara
Marika Holland, Oceanography, National Center for Atmospheric Research
John Kovac, Physics, Mathematics & Astronomy, California Institute of Technology
Marigold Linton (CEOSE Representative), University of Kansas
H. Donald Ratliff, Supply Chain & Logistics, Georgia Institute of Technology
Jeff Severinghaus, Geosciences, University of California, San Diego (via videoconference)
Kevin Speer, Oceanography, Florida State University
Terry Wilson, Geological Sciences, The Ohio State UniversityEric Saltzman, Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine

OPP Senior Staff Present: 

Karl Erb, Director
Mike Van Woert, Executive Officer
Sue LaFratta, Senior Advisor/Policy, Analysis & Operations
Scott Borg, Director, Division of Antarctic Sciences
Mike Montopoli, Head, Office of Polar Environment, Health and Safety
Simon Stephenson, Director, Division of Arctic Sciences
Brian Stone, Director (Acting), Division of Antarctic Infrastructure & Logistics


The Spring meeting of the Office of Polar Programs (OPP) Advisory Committee (AC) was held at the National Science Foundation (NSF) on May 4-5, 2009.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Drs. Karl Erb and Andrea Lloyd opened the meeting by welcoming everyone and thanking them for their participation.  Introductions were made, followed by approval of the minutes from the Fall meeting.

OPP Director’s Report

Erb provided the AC with updates on significant activities since the Fall meeting, including Congressional action on the FY 2009 Budget Request, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and an overview of the FY 2010 budget. Potential international agreements were discussed, as were summaries from recent joint sessions of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties and the Arctic Council, and an Arctic Council scoping study on Maximizing the Legacy of International Polar Year in the Arctic.  A National Security Presidential Directive/Homeland Security Presidential Directive on U.S. Arctic Region Policy was introduced.  The AC discussed the implications of the new policy statement for international collaborations and the potential for improved access to some parts of the Arctic.  A member, noting that OPP had been looking at changing the way it does business when the cost of fuel appeared to be increasing significantly, asked whether OPP was continuing the effort.  Erb assured the AC that OPP was continuing its efforts to reduce fuel consumption, increase energy efficiency and conservation, and increase reliance on alternative and renewable energy sources.

International Polar Year Efforts, Looking Forward

Scott Borg described ongoing International Polar Year (IPY) activities and invited AC input on whether new instrumentation, modeling, special tools, or facilities are needed.  An AC member commented that Antarctic Sciences paved the way by developing the Antarctic Integrated & System Science program, but that there is uncertainty over the tools that are required.  Erb suggested that including a discussion of what is needed, including logistics, in the strategic planning discussion scheduled for later in the meeting would be helpful. The committee continued its discussion, touching on the importance of considering past strategic planning activities, such as prior workshops, in addition to positioning the program to respond to new directions.  The AC discussed plans to build on progress made during IPY. Martin Jeffries briefed the AC on a recent Arctic Council meeting that focused on building on the legacy of IPY with the development of a Sustained Arctic Observing Network.

Dan Lubin gave a presentation on the OPP Data Policy, highlighting the features of a strong data policy and describing some concerns, such as how to evaluate data management plans and monitoring compliance with data management plans.  Erb reinforced that a strong data policy must address not only availability but also storage and recovery.  Noting that data is available only to varying degrees in circum-Arctic countries, Lloyd asked whether there had been discussion on the need for data sharing at the international level.  Simon Stephenson indicated that this issue is getting attention in post-IPY discussions at the Arctic Council and in other bodies. 

It was suggested that real-time data sharing might be limited by communications capabilities at, for example, the Antarctic stations, in the deep field, and on the research vessels.  Since this is the case, there needs to be some flexibility in requirements to share data in real-time or near real-time.  Erb noted that OPP is currently taking steps at these locations to limit access for non-scientific use and that the AC may want to include this issue in their strategic planning discussion.  Borg reiterated that the community is very concerned about data policy, and that UNAVCO – a repository for archived GPS data and data products – is considering a data policy that mirrors OPPs, calling for the immediate release of data. 

The AC agreed that robust data-sharing and archiving policies were a key component of the IPY legacy. The AC felt that OPP already has a good track record of encouraging robust data management practices, and encouraged OPP to act as a leader within NSF and in international efforts to stimulate more widespread support for (and enforcement of) data-sharing and archiving policies, such as requiring Principal Investigators (PIs) to include the results of past data management activities in their proposals. 

American Reinvestment & Recovery Act

The AC and OPP engaged in a general discussion regarding how funding made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be used.  The bulk of the funding will be used for proposals that have already been reviewed and received Outstanding or Very Good ratings but that could not be funded within the regular appropriation.  Some awards will also be made for Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction, Academic Research Infrastructure, and Major Research Instrumentation grants. Support for young investigators, through additional funds to the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) and Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) programs, will be also be provided, and NSF will emphasize high risk/high reward research. 

Planning for Committees of Visitors

Mike Van Woert provided an overview of the Committee of Visitors (COV) process at NSF, discussing the structure of the NSF Strategic Plan and examples of the material that COVs review in order to determine performance, such as proposal jackets and Research Highlights.  Erb went on to explain that the COV is a subcommittee of the AC, the process for submitting the report to the AC and to OPP, and the process OPP follows within NSF for responding to COV reports.  The AC and OPP went on to discuss various issues associated with planning for the upcoming meetings, such as identifying COV members, the need for joint sessions of the Antarctic Sciences and the Antarctic Infrastructure & Logistics COVs to assess how well the two divisions coordinated to meet science needs, revisions to the standard template to address the unique aspects of logistics activities, the number of proposal jackets to review, and how to select those jackets.

Meeting with NSF Director and Deputy Director

Following introductions, the Director, Arden Bement, and the Deputy Director, Cora Marrett, thanked the AC for their service.  The Director advised the AC on the parameters associated with the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funding, such as strict accountability and performance measures as well as workload issues.  He also discussed the benefits of the funding and the promise of a doubled budget for NSF by 2013, providing the flexibility to do more science. Bement noted that NSF is faring well under the new Administration because it has anticipated the Administration’s issue, such as education, climate change, and energy.  He noted that NSF’s role is to support basic research and as programs mature, to take those resources and put them back at the beginning of the frontier. Another NSF responsibility is to continue to invest in major facilities and logistics support for basic research.  

Marrett commented on the AC’s IPY agenda topics, noting the impacts of climate change, the emphasis on education and outreach, and the important role played by OPP in developing international partnerships.  Marrett also commented on the strategic planning topics, noting that it will be interesting to see how NSF’s goals are implemented by various parts of the Foundation and that work by the ACs would inform NSF as it begins to review its own strategic plan. 

A wide-ranging discussion followed, touching on how the science priorities of the Obama administration affect NSF, IPY follow-up activities, and the challenges of 'greening' science logistics.

McMurdo Station Resupply; Southern Ocean Ice-Strengthened Research Platforms:  Future Challenges

George Blaisdell presented information on the ship-based resupply of McMurdo Station, including effective resupply in terms of sea ice conditions.  Resupply is easiest if done when only limited or minimum ice is present and when the ice is at its weakest.  These conditions do not generally occur before January 15.  By February 5, six of the past seven years the icebreakers have been able to get to McMurdo Sound without encountering ice.    

Alex Isern provided the AC with an update on the status of OPP’s two research vessels, the Nathaniel B. Palmer and the Laurence M. Gould, including the Request for Proposals (RFP) for a ship to replace the Gould when its charter expires in 2010 and the need to plan for when the Palmer’s charter expires in 2012.  OPP, with the community, will need to decide whether to renew the charter or issue a new RFP.   

Isern noted that the community is interested in improvements such as greater power, more icebreaking capability, an automated underwater vehicle deployment and recovery station, and a quiet hull design.  It will also be necessary to review the community’s requirements, which were developed several years ago.  Related to both vessels is the need to increase collaboration between the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) community and the polar vessels.  The polar vessels are already in the UNOLS scheduling system, and it would be more cost effective and efficient to share a common tech pool and equipment. Erb noted that a day rate for the ships would need to be established.  Brian Stone added that the vessels are not underutilized, and seem to be efficiently utilized, but OPP is looking to make more efficient use of the vessels for science and logistics.  For example, the Gould may have been used for logistics because it was available rather than first determining resupply requirements and then scheduling the vessel accordingly.

OPP Clean Energy Initiatives in Alaska, Greenland and Antarctica

Erb introduced the session by explaining that this activity stems from the report of the AC subcommittee on resupply, chaired by Jim Swift and Sridhar Anandakrishnan.  He added that the information would be useful as input to the strategic planning activity that the AC will engage in.

Following a presentation by Blaisdell on Antarctic and Pat Haggerty on Arctic initiatives, an AC member suggested that OPP benchmark its carbon footprint in order to have a basis for comparison in the out-years.  Blaisdell described activities such as increased use of a surface traverse to deliver cargo and fuel to South Pole and other in-land sites, testing of a more efficient propeller for the LC-130s that is being conducted by the Department of Defense, making more efficient use of the waste heat generated by the power plant at McMurdo Station, a proof of concept Wind Turbine Farm done in partnership with the New Zealand Antarctic Programme, and plans to introduce solar energy at South Pole.  It is expected that within three to four years, more than one million gallons of fuel will be saved annually. Similar projects, on a smaller scale, are in progress for Arctic activities that have the potential to save over 100,000 gallons of fuel per year.  Erb added that OPP is drafting a Memorandum of Agreement with the Department of Energy that would, among other things, feature South Pole and Summit Stations as showcase platforms. 

 Strategic Planning

Erb introduced the session by explaining that the White House is encouraging a review of the U.S. Antarctic Program.  Approximately ten years have passed since the last major review of the U.S. Antarctic Program.  The geopolitical issues in addition to scientific interest will make the review a broader activity than the strategic planning activity that the AC will engage in.  Nonetheless, this presents an opportunity for the committee to develop high level goals that will align with NSF’s strategic goals.  Thus, there is a need for a high level plan that will point to where OPP should be paying attention in the next several years.  Lloyd added that developing the high level goals to guide specific prioritization will be beneficial.    

OPP and the AC engaged in a discussion of how the strategic plan would be used – for internal OPP use or for external audiences; the pros and cons of using an external, professional organization to help with development of the plan; and the level of detail that should be included. 

Erb gave some examples of questions and issues to be addressed, some of which had come up in the course of the AC meeting:

  • Should we continue to emphasize interdisciplinary science?
  • Should we intensify efforts to get involved in education activities?
  • Bandwidth
  • Energy usage and focus on renewables

As part of a discussion of Antarctic logistics, the AC discussed steps OPP might take to reduce the vulnerability of polar research to fluctuating oil prices.  The AC agreed that it would be helpful to estimate the current energy and/or carbon footprint of polar operations, to be available as a benchmark against which progress could be measured.

The AC agreed that Antarctic logistics issues were part of the larger strategic planning process, and discussed how best to provide input to OPP to guide future investments and to insure that OPP activities are consistent with NSF-wide strategic goals.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

January 2009 U.S. Arctic Policy Statement

Following a review of highlights from the Policy Statement, Erb provided the committee with context and background.  He explained that Presidential Directives are important tools for establishing policy, and that the previous U.S. Arctic Policy Statement predated climate change and 9/11.  The updated Policy promotes regular meetings of councils and research heads, which should greatly benefit the type of international cooperation that is required.  Within the U.S. government, the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee, IARPC, chaired by the NSF Director, is a venue that brings together the heads of other agencies such as NOAA, NASA, and DOE.  IARPC was responsible for organizing the approach of U.S. agencies to SEARCH (Study of Environmental ARctic CHange), and was also responsible for organizing the interagency aspects of IPY.  IARPC is now working to articulate what was done during IPY. 

An AC member asked about the degree to which OPP has promoted development of observing systems and whether OPP has made a long-term commitment to their continuation.  Erb answered that the goal had been to enable the SEARCH program to have the data needed to deliver on its goals, and IPY provided an opportunity to enhance this effort.  OPP’s interest is in providing data, however, and not to provide observing in perpetuity.  When questions are answered, OPP will poll other agencies to see if they have an interest in continuing the activity.  One of the things OPP will be discussing in a meeting with Greenland and Danish colleagues is a link developed last year that has NASA sending its scientific data from weather monitoring to the World Meteorological Organization.  Part of the idea of the Arctic Observing Network (AON) is to link the operational observing with the scientific observing community worldwide where it makes sense to link. 

Arctic Council and Antarctic Treaty Meetings:  IPY Follow-up and Other Issues

Martin Jeffries reported on development of a Sustained AON – SAON – a key issue discussed by the Arctic Council.  There have been a series of large international meetings (Canada, Sweden, Helsinki) involving many scientists to scope out how to develop, manage, and coordinate activities.  Martin Jeffries is the OPP representative to the Initiating Group, whose goal is to make a recommendation to the Arctic Council. One goal that is relevant and of interest concerns free and open access to data, subject to national policy.  Another recommendation is to create an AON Forum that would be a means for the SAON Initiating Group to continue the IPY process of having workshops, bringing together various countries and communities to continue the work of finding better ways to coordinate and integrate the many observing activities underway and to be developed throughout the Arctic. 

It was noted that some are expressing interest in doing a new Arctic Impact Assessment.  With the funding phase of IPY just finishing and the research phase just beginning, and with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) planning a new study, it may be premature to take effort away from doing the research in order to assess the impacts of climate change. 

There was also talk at the Antarctic Treaty Meeting about doing an Antarctic Assessment.  One member mentioned that SWIPA (Snow-Water-Ice-Permafrost Assessment), also done under the auspices of the Arctic Council, is an Arctic assessment project already in progress, with different countries taking responsibilities for parts.  Another member indicated that an oceans assessment is also underway.  Lloyd suggested that with all the ongoing assessments, it makes sense to wait for the outcomes and to then assess the gaps. The ongoing assessments are due such that they will feed nicely into the next IPCC assessment.

NSF Climate Change Research Initiative

The AC was briefed by Drs. Tim Killeen (Directorate for Geosciences), Jim Collins (Directorate for Biological Sciences) and David Lightfoot (Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences) about an NSF Climate Change Research Initiative that is being developed by the three directorates and OPP. Details of the program, including budget and research priorities, are being finalized, but the hope is that a solicitation will be forthcoming within the next year. The AC expressed support for the program, and had a wide-ranging discussion of the opportunities for and challenges of doing integrated, interdisciplinary climate change science.  The AC was invited to provide suggestions to NSF for inclusion in the solicitation.

Strategic Planning

Turning again to Strategic Planning, Lloyd asked members what the AC is qualified to do and what kind of strategic planning assistance it could provide.  In the ensuing discussion, suggestions were made to express priorities in terms of overarching visions; to start with existing workshop reports and other material and use them as examples without endorsement of one over another; and to lead with science and from that define the infrastructure.  Members suggested reviewing other visioning documents as a source of information for what OPP should be working on.  Another source of information would be OPP constituents and OPP itself.  The AC thought it could tell OPP, for example, that investment in tools would have a major pay-off without making specific implementation recommendations.  Erb added that OPP would be interested in an AC discussion of how OPP linking with other directorates would benefit polar research and vice versa.  Currently the most prominent linkage is between research and education.

The AC passed a motion to form a subcommittee to develop an OPP strategic plan in the form of a vision document at a high/broad level with case studies, linked to NSF’s strategic goals.  As a first step, a template of scope, with a roadmap indicating sources of information, will be developed for discussion with OPP at the Fall meeting.  The AC subcommittee will be chaired by Eric Saltzman, with members Gretchen Hofmann, Jeff Severinghaus and Kevin Speer.  OPP will identify a staff member to assist the subcommittee.

April Summit Station Search and Rescue Investigation

Van Woert described an incident at Summit Station, Greenland, involving two contractor personnel.  While working at the skiway, weather conditions deteriorated and they were unable to find their way back to the station.  One individual made his way back to the Station in the morning, while a search was undertaken for the second, who was found and returned to the station later on the same day.  Several international organizations were involved in the Search and Rescue effort. OPP Safety Officer Jim Karcher is leading the inquiry, making sure we identify immediate lessons learned and have all the facts.  OPP is looking at actions taken by the individuals, by the support contractor and by OPP, and will bring in an external group to review the response and assist with developing a plan with procedures and guidelines.  Erb added that OPP considers itself responsible for the safety and welfare of personnel working on its projects – contractors, grantees, etc. – at both poles.  In the Antarctic there are very well developed procedures and processes.  There are detailed procedures in the Arctic as well and while there is no reason to believe there are any shortcomings, it is necessary to determine what happened, what we did, and what we need to do.  The AC asked for an update at its Fall meeting.

NSF’s Broader Impacts Review Criterion

The AC discussed the Broader Impacts merit review criteria. These were identified by both 2003 and 2006 COV reports as being a point of difficulty in the review process. In the discussion that followed, it was clear that PIs are getting better, over time, at coming up with innovative, meaningful broader impacts, and that panels are taking the broader impacts criterion seriously. The AC agreed that most PI confusion is about the scope of the broader impacts criteria – in particular about knowing how much is enough. OPP program directors reiterated that NSF decided deliberately not to weight the relative importance of the two merit review criteria, specifically because the importance of each will vary among proposals.  The AC agreed that the value placed on the broader impacts review criterion by institutions plays a critical role in determining the degree to which PIs feel motivated to devote significant time and resources to broader impacts.  The AC was reminded that NSF provides representative "broader impacts" activities on its website.

Transformative Research

The AC ended the meeting with a discussion of Transformational Research. Neil Swanberg started the discussion with a definition: transformative research encompasses ideas, discoveries, and/or tools that radically change practice or lead to new (and perhaps unexpected) paradigms. The AC discussed the challenges of identifying transformative research. OPP will set aside a separate pool of funds to encourage "high risk/high payoff" projects. The AC discussed the multitude of ways in which a proposal could be perceived as being "high risk" – because the ideas are untested, for example, or because the PI or methods are untested. Program Directors commented that the former (high risk ideas) tend to review quite well, whereas the latter (high risk methods or PI) are more problematic in the review process. The AC discussed the need to track transformative research, and to identify how potentially transformative research fares during standard solicitations and review panels.


There being no additional items for discussion, Lloyd summarized points brought out during the meeting for follow-up by OPP.  The AC will include these points in a letter to Erb:

  • consider requiring proposers to include past data management activities in their proposals;
  • develop a benchmark of the carbon footprint in Antarctica;
  • dedicate a group to continuous logistics improvement/innovation.


Acronyms used throughout this meeting:

Acronym Title
AC Advisory Committee
COV Committee of Visitors
IPY International Polar Year
NSF National Science Foundation
OPP Office of Polar Programs
PI Principal Investigator