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OPP Office Advisory Committee

XVII Meeting of the Advisory Committee for the Office of Polar Programs (OPP)

November 6-7, 2000 • Arlington, VA

Members Present

Mary Albert, Chair, Physical Glaciology, U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, Hanover, NH
Patricia Longley Cochran, Social Sciences, Alaska Native Science Commission,
Anchorage, AK
John Carlstrom, Astronomy, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Jody Deming, Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Dave Hoffman, Atmospheric Chemistry, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, CO
Amanda Lynch, Atmospheric Sciences, CIRES, Boulder, CO
Douglas MacAyeal, Glaciology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Stephanie Pfirman, Environmental Sciences, Barnard College, New York, NY
Michael Prentice, Geology, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH
John Priscu, Ecology, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT
Ellen Mosley-Thompson, Geography, Byrd Polar Research Center, Columbus, OH

The fall meeting of the Office of Polar Programs Advisory Committee (OAC) was held at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Virginia on November 6-7, 2000.

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Monday, November 6, 2000

Welcome and Introductions

Dr. Mary Albert called the meeting to order at 8:30 a.m. The minutes from the May 2000 meeting were approved.

Dr. Albert commented that two important topics at this meeting are the OAC’s GPRA report and input for the RISE (Reinvestment in Science and Engineering) document. Dr. Albert requested that each OAC member who leads a discussion should provide her with a short paragraph highlighting the session.

Dr. Karl Erb provided a brief update on the NSF 2001 budget, including the prominence of the major initiatives in the Budget: Biocomplexity in the Environment (BE), Information Technology Research (ITR), and Nanotechnology. A new initiative being developed within NSF is the Mathematics Science Initiative, which could have ties to polar research, particularly in climate modeling activities. The major initiatives and other crosscutting activities are taking on increasing importance within NSF.

Dr. Erb noted that in the upcoming years, there will be an increasing focus on international science that will likely call for a substantial budget increase for supporting international science activities and changes in the way activities are implemented. Polar Programs could benefit from this emphasis. He suggested this may be a topic for an upcoming advisory committee meeting.

Dr. Erb introduced the new staff: Robin Muench, Assistant Program Director (IPA) for Arctic System Science, and Dr. Fae Korsmo, Program Director for Arctic Social Sciences.

NSF Revised Strategic Plan

Maryellen Cameron provided an update on the NSF revised Strategic Plan for 2001-2006. The outcome goals are still an investment in People, Ideas, and Tools. The revision is a result of discussions with Congressional staff and OMB.

Arctic Update

Dr. Pyle discussed recent Arctic activities, including

  • ARCSS/LAII — making remarkable process. Showed importance of winter processes.
  • SHEBA Phase 3 — Data incorporated into models.
  • Long Term Observations —The LTO competition was completed. Work has been done on aerosondes, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), North Pole Environmental Observatory and a Bering Strait Environmental Observatory.
  • Svalbard Workshop — The subject of this workshop was collaboration between the US and Norway in Arctic research.
  • Summit winter-over resumed for the next two winters. Danish, Swiss, and other European Community programs are incorporated into observatory.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy is going into science trials, and the Milken Family Foundation Award was given to one of the teachers that participated on a Healycruise.
  • A Human Dimensions of Global Change in the Arctic (HARC) Sea Ice Workshop was held on case studies of sea ice on the North Slope.

Dr. Pyle provided an update on science planning activities in the Arctic Sciences Section, including:

  • SBI (Shelf-Basins Interaction Program)
  • ASOF (Arctic/Subarctic Ocean Fluxes)
  • SEARCH (Study of Environmental Arctic Change) is working toward a FY2003 initiative under IARPC which would include BE incubator awards and interagency and international coordination
  • Svalbard lab: multinational (five countries participating)

In response to questions raised during discussion, Dr. Pyle noted that microbial studies are not excluded in the Arctic environmental observatories; that Arctic research can be done outside of Svalbard, but there are cost benefits of using Svalbard; and that NSF/OPP is open to collaborative arrangements with any Arctic countries.

Dr. Cochran discussed several ongoing projects with the Alaska Native Science Commission, including the Children and Youth Initiative (with Canada), a Survey of Living Conditions in the Arctic (working with Arctic nations) which will be disseminated in 2001, and a contaminants projects with Canada. An Alaskan contaminates program will be led by the Arctic Native Science Commission. The POPS treaty will be looked at again — the group is trying to encourage the US to have more of a leadership role. The entire Traditional Knowledge Program database is now complete with all regions of Alaska included over the last five years (

Simon Stephenson provided an update on Arctic science support infrastructure and logistics long-range planning. VECO is the new Arctic logistics contractor, and the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC) is responsible for providing science support in Barrow. A working group has been established to prioritize the needs at Barrow.

Antarctic Science

Dr. Peacock discussed recent research highlights, including International Trans-Antarctic Scientific Expedition; Antarctic Pack Ice Seals; Cape Roberts Drilling Project; Microbes at the South Pole; and Astrophysics at the South Pole.

Activities underway include:

  • Lake Vostok survey
  • DASI (Degree Angular Scale Interferometer)
  • Southern Ocean GLOBEC: researching the impact of global change on the ecosystems in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Iceberg B-15 that broke off the Ross iceberg shelf. What’s the impact on sea level? What’s the future of the iceberg itself?

Future potential projects/proposals:

  • ICE CUBE (expansion of AMANDA)
  • Lake Vostok
  • Telescopes at the South Pole – there is interest in installing larger telescopes.
  • Ross Island Meteorological Experiment
  • EVALANTA – Evolution in Antarctica (SCAR program)
  • Pine Island Bay
  • Victoria Land Transect

Dr. Peacock acknowledged that it might take a decade to accomplish all of the future projects and that the science projects are dependent on logistics capabilities.

Antarctic Logistics

Mr. Erick Chiang, Head, Polar Research Support Section and Mr. Brian Stone, Antarctic Research Support Manager, discussed Antarctic logistics and science support, including the performance of the new Antarctic support contractor. OPP hosted a transportation seminar in June to address the issue of increasing the number of LC-130 flights and/or reducing the demand for flights by instituting other transportation or conservation measures.

Brian Stone provided a presentation on the 10-year projection for the ten-year out-year requirements for LC-130 support. The projection is to progressively increase the deep-field flights. Researchers also desire a deep field helicopter-supported field camps about every 3 years. The challenge is forecasting requirements without having proposals in hand.

The OAC commented that it was helpful to see the elements of the planning process.

Committee of Visitors (COV) Report

Amanda Lynch summarized the discussions of the COV that met July 25-27, 2000. The following issues were addressed in the report:

Process: Integrity and Efficiency of OPP Management

  1. Effectiveness of use of merit review procedures: Program is very effective in all aspects of the merit review procedure. The major recommendation is to have clear instructions to the PI to know if it is a panel, mail or combination review.
  2. Use of new merit review criteria: Program was in transition state for 1997-1999 but few panel summaries specifically addressed Criterion 2 and interpretation is ambiguous. Recommendations were to highlight both criteria in a more specific way, request specifically that Criterion 2 is documented, and help principal investigators link up with EHR program managers.
  3. Reviewer Selection: Program is very effective in handling reviewer selection for balanced review. Recommendations were to address balance with respect to other types of factors (type of institution, geography, etc.) But, demographic information on reviewers is not collected.
  4. Resulting portfolio of awards: The resulting portfolio is excellent. There is less success in integration of research and education and increased participation for underrepresented groups. The COV supported increasing proposal size and duration.

Outcomes (GPRA Goals)

  1. Goal 1Scientific Discoveries. The COV thought OPP does very well in this area and rated OPP successful.
  2. Goal 2Connections between discoveries and their use in service to society. OPP is generally successful, but there is room for improvement. Recommendations: better documentation and support of knowledge transfer, comprehensive data policy, consolidation of NSF media outreach resources, and promotion of linkages to global programs.
  3. Goal 3Diverse, globally oriented workforce of scientists and engineers. Successful in several areas. OPP is less successful in increasing the participation of underrepresented groups in the scientific workforce.
  4. Goal 4Improved achievement in mathematics and science skills needed by all Americans. There was insufficient data to evaluate this goal, but information suggests that OPP is more active in this area than realized. The COV recommended better documentation of OPP-EHR linkages and more publicity of OPP’s activities at teachers’ associations meetings.

The top five COV items for discussion included:

  1. Criterion #2 ambiguity
  2. Strategies to address under-representation
  3. Promotion of bipolar research beyond polar instrumentation
  4. Increase in grant size and duration — balance with number of grants.
  5. Staffing issues, including the ability of program manager travel to field sites and meetings given the S&E allocation, the high proposal pressure and broadness of fields covered by ANS, and logistics and outreach resources balance between Antarctic and Arctic programs.

OAC members encouraged NSF to make clear the importance of increasing participation of underrepresented groups. Dr. Pfirman recommended the OAC establish a joint task group with OPP staff to work together to develop examples and best practices for criterion 2. The OAC moved to accept the COV report. The OAC agreed to recommend the establishment of the task force.

Biocomplexity and the Environment Initiative

Marge Cavanaugh provided a summary of activities with the Biocomplexity in the Environment (BE) initiative and the BE portfolio. NSF established the Environmental Research and Education (ERE) Advisory Committee. Funding for the Environmental Portfolio is $798M for FY2001 with $136M for the BE initiative and $662M for the core funding.

BE has NSF-wide thematic areas and focused interdisciplinary areas. The thematic areas proposed for FY2002 include:

  • Dynamics of Coupled Human and Natural Systems
  • Coupled Biogeochemical Cycles
  • Genome-Enabled Environmental Sciences and Engineering
  • Instrumentation Development for Environmental Activities
  • Advanced Modeling

Examples of Focused Interdisciplinary Areas Proposed for FY2002:

  • Construction of the National Ecological Observatory network (NEON)
  • Sub-glacial lake processes
  • Ecology of the deep subsurface

Reinvestment Initiative in Science and Engineering (RISE)

Dr. Albert requested input on how NSF should proceed with the RISE initiative. The RISE document was developed by the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences. Each advisory committee has been asked to provide additional input so that the document reflects all areas of NSF.

Several specifically polar issues are:

  • Antarctic ozone hole
  • Well-being of the population — Poles as an early warning system for change.
  • Good stewardship of our environment is dependent on scientific knowledge.
  • Convey the excitement of the Polar Regions.
  • Rapid climate change

There was general agreement that the environment is the key strategic point for OPP. Polar regions are relatively unexplored with potential for discoveries and research that can help to assess the quality and the environmental health of the planet. Dr. Albert agreed to draft a paragraph on context related to polar regions. In the section on People, it was suggested the document address a much broader community. Dr. Cochran agreed to write a few sentences to be included for this section. The Ideas section of the document lays out success stories from the past and exciting opportunities for the future. Dr. Pfirman and Dr. Priscu agreed to write a few sentences with input from other members. For the section on Tools, the OAC thought a number of polar facilities could be added.

Education and Outreach

Dr. Fae Korsmo presented the ongoing education and outreach activities in OPP. Dr. Erb has set up a K-12 task force to track funding in K-12 projects and to explore ways to increase activities. The OAC discussed how much responsibility should rest with the PI and how much rests with the institution and mentioned that for many investigators, outreach is part of their jobs. However, it was expressed that when the institution is involved in the outreach effort, there is a greater chance of success. The OAC advocated NSF putting more pressure on the institutions to actively encourage outreach efforts.

Annual GPRA Performance Report

Dr. Amanda Lynch reviewed the GPRA task: Assess OPP performance relevant to outcome goals for FY 2000. The Committee needs to provide the actual performance rating for each of the goals and an assessment of implementation of the two new merit review criteria.

Goal 1

OPP is rated successful. Examples of research provided included: Evidence that the cosmos is "flat," Native knowledge and Climate Change, Snowball earth, Evidence of microscopic life at South Pole, Arctic Ocean Sea Ice Cover and the First Circumpolar Survey of Antarctic Pack Ice Seals Begins. The group continued to raise issues that seemed to "stand out."

Goal 2

OPP is rated successful. Global Change, Sea Ice Discovery, Native Knowledge and Climate Change. The group scanned to various documents to identify issues that fell under this category as examples.

Goal 3

OPP is rated successful with regard to the experience of world-class practices and modern technologies, the incorporation of international points of reference, and recognition by external groups. OPP has made commendable progress towards increasing the participation of underrepresented groups. However, while OPP has statistics on principal investigators, they don’t have information on student participants who are from underrepresented groups.

Goal 4

OPP is rated successful. A handout was distributed showing activities with the Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate. This was the first time the group gave a rating to OPP in this area.

Discussions with Deputy Director

Dr. Bordogna, Deputy Director, NSF, discussed the NSF FY01 Budget and the successful balance between initiatives and core disciplines. Dr. Bordogna reviewed the four NSF initiatives and the SBE initiative on the horizon. Dr. Bordogna also discussed GPRA and the possibility that requirements could change with a new administration. NSF received a grade of A on their Financial Statement and an award for the accountability report. But on the Performance Report for 1999, NSF got a C — tied for number 5 out of 24 agencies graded.

In discussing NSF’s merit review criteria, Dr. Bordogna said NSF has to ensure that every proposal has a review that considers both criteria and the connections between the two. NSF is working to emphasize to the science community how important both criteria are in the review process.

The meeting was adjourned at 5:30 p.m.

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Tuesday, November 7, 2000

The meeting was reconvened at 8:30 a.m. Discussion continued on the issue of developing good examples of activities that meet merit review criterion 2. The objective is to develop a short document to provide guidance either in the proposal solicitation or to reviewers or in a “Dear Colleague” letter. Dr. Pfirman will lead a task force on this issue, and Dr. Priscu, Dr. Albert, and Dr. Carlstrom also volunteered to be on the task force. Dr. Erb will identify OPP staff to participate as well.

GPRA Continued Discussion

Goal 3

In meeting this goal, OPP has made progress in representation from underrepresented groups but there is still work to go. The document is missing some activities such as the support to the Arctic Science Commission and the support they provide to the native community. Lack of data is a real problem in evaluating the success towards this goal though there is a sense that there has been significant improvement in all areas except in the number of awards to underrepresented groups.

OPP Instrumentation Program

Dr. Peacock noted that it was the recommendation of the OAC that resulted in the instrumentation program solicitation. Mr.. Stephenson said a total of 54 proposals were received. 11 projects (13 proposals) were funded and the Antarctic Glaciology program will fund one. The awards will all be standard grants with $6M funded over two years. The limit was $500K per year. The 11 projects represent a number of disciplines: astrophysics, glaciology, oceanography, terrestrial hydrology, biology, upper atmosphere physics, and meteorology.

The OAC discussed whether the dollar limit in the instrumentation program was appropriate or was too low. Some felt the size was too limiting. The group talked about increased efforts for the next round to bring in other partners/federal agencies to help fund this program (ONR, NASA, etc.)

Transportation Seminar

Dr. Prentice attended the transportation seminar held by OPP last June. He felt that many avenues to reducing the load on LC-130 hours and avenues for increasing the LC-130 hours were explored. The workshop resulted in a significant list of options, pros and cons and costs. There was a totally independent contractor there that critiqued the proposals made. He noted that OPP is continuing to assess its options.

Discussion with Director of Office of Legislative and Public Affairs

Dr. Erb introduced Mr. Curt Suplee, the new Director of the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs. Mr. Suplee felt Polar Regions attracts an enormous amount of attention from the American public but he pointed out that much of the public is not prepared to understand research beyond the penguin and polar bear images. He urged the OAC to consider how to give the press all the "equipment" they need to understand the research. Dr. MacAyeal noted that scientists should be very selective in who they do interviews with, as scientists are often ill-equipped on a personal basis to handle the media and the public. Mr. Suplee suggested that principal investigators contact NSF prior to interviews, and NSF can help provide information to reporters to set the background. Dr. Erb also pointed out that University press offices often have good relationships with NSF’s press office.

Specific Issues Raised by the Committee of Visitors

The OAC focused on three issues raised by the COV:

Grant Size/Duration

Dr. Erb noted that NSF has been emphasizing that the average award size for an NIH grantee is significantly higher than for NSF grantees. Dr. Colwell has found that the issue of increasing NSF award size resonates well on the Hill. NSF is making the argument that NSF grantees often have to have 3-4 grants in place to support their research and to ensure graduate participation, and, therefore, principal investigators are spending a disproportionate amount of time writing proposals rather than doing research. The COV agreed that grant size should increase, but not at the expense of the proposal success rate.

Bipolar Opportunities

The COV cited the Polar Instrumentation solicitation as a good example of how to address bipolar opportunities. Several areas of research which could be bipolar include Biocomplexity (polar genomics, marine environments); database linkages; contaminants; living in extreme environments; sea-ice extent/structures; and microbiology

There was general consensus among OAC members that bipolar activities should be encouraged. The current perception is that investigators should submit two proposal if they want to do bipolar research. The OAC will provide suggestions of ways in which OPP can better handle bipolar activities.

Implementing Review Criterion #2

The OAC talked about how to interpret and implement use of Review criterion #2. The Task Force that would be established by the OAC would provide good examples of activities that address criterion #2 concerns. The OAC urged caution on prescribing fixed allocations of merit for particular components in the criterion.

The OAC commented on OPP’s letter to reviewers and suggested a statement that says, "OPP finds Criterion #2 important and takes it seriously." Dr. Erb said that the letter to reviewers would be revised to emphasize the importance of criterion #2. The OAC also felt that Program Managers and others should verbally promote the criterion as the letter may not be enough.

Math Initiative

Bob Eisenstein, Assistant Director, Directorate for Mathematics and Physical Sciences (MPS), discussed the proposed NSF-wide Math Initiative. The initiative would focus on fundamental mathematical and statistical sciences, connections to other sciences, and engineering and mathematical sciences education.

Connections to other sciences would include managing and analyzing large data sets; managing and modeling uncertainty; and modeling complex interacting nonlinear systems. These are the areas that would likely be of the most interest to polar scientists.

Discussion with Director of NSF

Dr. Rita Colwell shared with the OAC her perspective on the budget situation and what NSF can expect in the next several months. NSF just completed a budget cycle with the largest increase in the history of NSF. Support for NSF has historically been bipartisan, and NSF hopes the progression to a doubling of the budget will continue. Initiatives coupled with a strong argument for strengthening the core disciplines has been effective in this budget.

Dr. Albert thanked Dr. Colwell for her efforts and impressive success with Congress.

GPRA Wrap-Up

Dr. Lynch agreed to draft the GPRA report and route it to the OAC by email for comments.

The OAC felt the COV did an excellent job. The OAC agrees with the intent of establishing more integration of Antarctic programs, along the lines of ARCSS. The OAC thought that at the next COV there could be an advantage to having Arctic logistics reviewed with Antarctic logistics or having science and logistics reviewed together.

Scientific Misconduct: Office of Inspector General Working Groups on Implementation of Policy

Christina Boesz, Inspector General, and Anita Eisenstat, Assistant General Council, reviewed the inspector general responsibilities under the Inspector General Act and pointed out that misconduct in research has become a highlighted issue. Research Misconduct is defined as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results. OSTP will issue a new policy. The primary change will be in the definition which will include plagiarism associated with the confidential peer review process. NSF’s process is already consistent with the policy. Only about four cases per year are adjudicated. This is an indication that peer reviewers and grantees are acting in a very responsible manner. Dr. Jackson and Dr. MacAyeal both have written comments on this issue. Dr. Albert requested that the comments be provided by e-mail to the group and the OAC may want to capture the concerns in the letter to the Director. If a consensus cannot be formed, then perhaps a letter from several individuals to the Director should be drafted.


Craig Robinson provided a brief description of FastLane and the plans for improvements in the next year. Priorities include system reliability (redundancy), quality control, paperless external submissions, submissions other than PDF formats, simple and easy to use, and integration with internal NSF systems.

Other Business

The OAC talked about ways to increase the number of students going into polar research since there is not a degree program in Polar Science. Possibilities discussed were having a special session on polar research in conjunction with other scientific meetings (e.g., AGU) or having meetings with graduate students. Dr. Erb noted that OPP would work on this.

Remarks by Outgoing OAC Members

Dr. Albert and Dr. Erb thanked outgoing members — Dr. Pfirman, Dr. Prentice, and Dr. Cochran — for serving on the OAC. Dr. Pfirman noted she enjoyed working with the OAC and respects the work that is being done by OPP. Dr. Prentice added that he is impressed with the commitment OPP has to the community and to the OAC meetings. Dr. Cochran said she appreciated OPP’s receptiveness and the opportunity to influence OPP’s activities.

The meeting was adjourned at 2:50 p.m.

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See Agenda for this meeting.

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