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OPP Office Advisory Committee

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

November 15 - 16 , 2004 • Arlington, VA

Members Present

Joshua Schimel, Chair, Ecology-Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara
Sridhar Anandakrishnan, Past Chair, Department of Geosciences & EMS Environment Institute, Pennsylvania State University
Brian Bershad, Computer Sciences, University of Washington
Julie Brigham-Grette, Geosciences, University of Massachusetts
Beverly Hartline, Heritage University
James Hollibaugh, Marine Biology, University of Georgia
Deanna Paniataaq-Kingston, Anthropology, Oregon State University
Thomas McGovern, Archaeology, Hunter College of City of New York
Marilyn Raphael, Geography, University of California, Los Angeles
Peter Schlosser, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University
Paul Shepson, Purdue University
James Swift, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California—San Diego

Members Absent

Martin Jeffries, Glaciology, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Paul Mayewski, Glaciology, Climate Change, Glaciochemistry, University of Maine
John Ruhl, Case Western Reserve University

OPP Senior Staff Present

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

The fall meeting of the Office of Polar Programs Advisory Committee (OAC) was held at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Arlington, Virginia, on November 15 and 16, 2004.

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Monday, November 15, 2004

Welcome and Introductions

Dr. Joshua Schimel called the meeting to order at 8:30 a.m. The minutes from the May 10-11, 2004, meeting were approved. Committee members and the Office of Polar Programs’ (OPP) senior staff introduced themselves. Dr. Schimel noted that there were three main topics to be covered during this meeting: the Committee of Visitors’ (COV) report, International Polar Year (IPY), and icebreaker issues. He also pointed out that this meeting agenda was intended to provide short presentations followed by discussion.

Office of Polar Program Director’s Report

Dr. Karl Erb welcomed the committee and discussed recent OPP staff changes. Dr. Kathleen Flint, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Fellow, and Johanna Ojeda, a student at Marymount University have joined the staff. Dr. Robert Wharton, OPP’s Executive Officer, and Ms. Lenese Stephens, former student have left OPP. Dr. Wharton has moved on to Idaho State University, and Ms. Stephens has graduated from college after being with OPP for four years.

Dr. Erb also announced the creation of a fourth section in OPP that will have responsibility for environmental, health and safety issues associated with OPP-sponsored activity in polar regions. The Head of the Section will be recruited at the Senior Executive Service level, will report to the OPP Director, and may be a physician. Dr. Polly Penhale has accepted appointment as OPP Environmental Officer and will join the new Section. A recruitment will begin shortly for the position of Antarctic Biology and Medicine Program Officer.

Dr. Erb briefed the committee on the status of the NSF budget and noted that the Administration’s guidance to NSF associated with the FY-05 request was to plan for essentially flat or declining budgets for the next five years.

Dr. Erb then outlined the agenda and noted that two important issues on which OPP sought the Committee’s advice are how to plan for International Polar Year and how to meet the need for icebreaker assistance in Antarctica in future years. He also described the important role played by the Committees of Visitors (COVs) that are convened to review each NSF programs every three years. The COVs are subcommittees of the Office Advisory Committee. Dr. Diana Wall chaired the COV review of PRSS Section activity for the period 2000-2003 and Dr’s. Anandakrishnan and Hollibaugh served as the Advisory Committee’s members on the COV. Dr. Erb commended the COV for its thorough work and noted that the Committee’s discussion of the report and the interim response from PRSS would be valuable input to OPP’s future planning.

IPY: International and National Planning Activity Since the Spring OAC Meeting — Dr. Robin Bell

Dr. Robin Bell, Vice Chair of the International Council for Science (ICSU), International Polar Year Committee, updated the committee on the status of IPY planning activities at the international level, mentioning presentations and discussions at SCAR and COMNAP and the Agency workshop at the Academy in July. The expectation is that ICSU Executive Committee will approve the ICSU IPY science plan in December. “Expressions of Intent” are due to the IPY Joint Committee on January 14, 2005; these will be reviewed by the joint committee in late February or March. The IPY International Secretariat is to be housed within the British Antarctic Society, with a second office in Geneva, Switzerland, to serve WMO interests. An international search is now underway to recruit the Executive Secretary of the ICSU Secretariat.

Dr. Erb added that Arden Bement, Director of NSF, had hosted a meeting of agency representatives at NSF during the summer and that Senator McCain had sponsored a Senate resolution in support of IPY. Critical questions needing discussion and resolution are how to engage the science community, how to ensure that various studies are integrated, and how can NSF and the U.S. best assert leadership? There is unlikely to be extra money to support IPY activity in the U. S.

The committee briefly discussed potential deadlines for proposal submission, as well as proposal processing and it was noted that ICSU would serve as a coordinating body rather than as a grant approval entity. Other topics raised and discussed further in later sessions included ideas and plans from other countries; building new infrastructures as part of IPY; joining projects led by other countries when U.S. scientists have strong interests in doing so, data accessibility and management; and how to filter and integrate large and small initiatives.

NSF staff emphasized that proposals to NSF must be judged in terms of the standard NSF merit review criteria (intellectual merit and broader impacts) but that for IPY these will be supplemented by criteria derived from the ICSU and NAS/NRC IPY guidelines. It was also noted that timing is critical due to logistics planning and that feedback to ICSU was very important.

The committee decided to draft a letter to ICSU and PRB commenting on IPY planning and many of the issues raised in the discussion. The committee also pointed out that a “plain text” information document for scientists should be drafted so all in the community understand IPY activities.

Emerging Arctic International Polar Year Flagship Activity

Dr. Tom Pyle presented information on Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH) as a possible flagship IPY activity, and suggested that SEARCH could provide a starting point for science projects connected to the International Polar Year. He also noted activities currently in the planning stages that would be consistent with SEARCH: International Study of Arctic Change (ISAC) and the Indigenous Knowledge Observing Network (IKON). Dr. Pyle mentioned three issues associated with IPY planning: Should IPY have a special announcement or be rolled into the regular program announcement; should Observations play a large role in IPY plans, and should the annual deadline date for Arctic proposals be moved to a better date? The committee discussed the sensitivity involved in sharing indigenous knowledge as it is incorporated with modern science and new technology; the difficulty of integrating scientific and engineering efforts to develop instruments and networks needed for Arctic science; and the need to find a balance between deploying instruments and involving everyone from varying perspectives who should be involved.

Dr. Joann Roskoski, Executive Officer, Directorate for Biological Sciences, noted that there would be a workshop in Seattle bringing together National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) scientists with engineers from several different backgrounds to brainstorm on the development of sensor networks. The committee suggested that Arctic indigenous people be invited.

Emerging Antarctic International Polar Year Flagship Activity

Dr. Scott Borg discussed West Antarctic IceSheet Stability as a possible Antarctic flagship activity. Dr. Erb mentioned that ice sheet dynamics will be studied cooperatively with NASA and will also likely address the Greenland ice sheet. The work would include a West Antarctica Ice Core project. New and related studies could also be undertaken in East Antarctica. The committee discussed other options for IPY including exploration of subglacial lakes, but it was generally agreed that preparations for entering the lakes without contaminating them could probably not be completed by 2007-2008.

Discussion with the Director

Dr. Arden Bement, Director of the National Science Foundation, joined the meeting and discussed NSF’s constrained budget outlook for FY05 and the timing for FY06 budget preparations. Dr. Bement mentioned that priorities for NSF in FY05 and FY06 are broadening participation; maintaining funding rates; providing support for tools/infrastructure, including autonomous undersea vehicles, and sensor/sensor arrays; and focusing on organizational excellence and the technical tools NSF needs to build on productivity.

The committee noted two concerns for OPP and NSF: the icebreaker issue and International Polar Year activities. Dr. Bement pointed out that NSF with the Academy are joining to provide leadership for IPY, that IPY is not just a 2-year exercise – leaving a lasting legacy in the form of tools and discoveries will be important.

On the icebreaker issue Dr. Bement commented that it is important to have options for more fuel storage capacity, as well as alternate ways to deliver fuel and cargo. He also noted that this issue is getting attention at high levels within OSTP, the White House, and OMB. He said he would appreciate the committee’s recommendations on this issue.

The committee and Dr. Bement discussed changing science priorities and how funding allocation decisions are made as well as the future of strategic initiatives at NSF and the fact that they eventually become part of NSF’s core funding.

Dr. Schimel thanked Dr. Bement for meeting with the Advisory Committee.

Working Lunch with a Discussion on IPY Proposal Solicitations

There was a working lunch discussion on developing an NSF IPY proposal solicitation led by Dr. Marie Bundy, Dr. Dennis Conlon, and Mr. Brian Stone. The committee discussed whether there should be pre-proposals, a separate solicitation for education and outreach (rather than expecting proposers to include E&O in proposals), the importance of several focus areas, how many solicitations should be released, and the timing of soliciting for flagship activities. An IPY solicitation for several projects that will require considerable advance planning to arrange logistics and infrastructure will be issued by OPP in late summer, 2005. One part of this discussed by staff and the Committee would address a circum-Arctic observation network under SEARCH and its international counterpart, ISAC. Another would address the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Stability and Dynamics question and would include a new ice core project to obtain paloeclimate data with high temporal resolution. The Committee reacted favourably to these suggestions.

Proposals for IPY activity will also be considered under the regular OPP Arctic and Antarctic Program solicitations. A major concern, however, is how to focus the solicitations so that success rates remain reasonable. Some parts of NSF have seen success rates fall below 6%, a level that clearly fails to justify the effort proposers devoted to preparing the proposals

Emerging IPY “Thrust”
Polar Biology: Life in the Cold and Dark

Drs. Joann Roskoski, Marie Bundy, and Neil Swanberg discussed a third major potential IPY area of interest related to biological sciences: Life in the Cold and Dark. This activity is important because it is the where the knowledge gap is the greatest in the climate change picture, understanding life at extremes helps understand limits, it is bi-polar, and there is public interest. Additionally, the community is ready for an activity in this area. This area could include genomic response, physiological adaptation, species diversity, and ecosystem dynamics. The Committee reacted favorably to this plan. Further Committee comments on IPY planning are included in the attached summary letter from Committee Chair Schimel.

Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA)

Dr. Robert Corell, Chairman, Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, and Senior Fellow, American Meteorological Society discussed the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report with the committee. The summary document is available and the full ACIA report will be available to the public shortly. It was noted that many ACIA authors also participated in the SEARCH planning effort and that it was necessary to ensure the highest priority research topics are being addressed. Dr. Corell noted the need for research to follow up on the important observations made in the report and the Committee discussed this question in some detail, concluding that SEARCH together with its international counterpart, ISAC, would best fill that need. The Committee recommended that the SEARCH science team continue its dialog with the ACIA lead authors to insure that this would be effective.

Options for Future Re-supply of McMurdo and South Pole Station

Dr. Erb began the discussion by noting that this problem and potential solutions have both short- and long-term aspects. The fundamental problem is that the two polar class icebreakers in the Coast Guard fleet are nearing the end of their design lifetimes and have been inadequately maintained. Their reliability is suspect and in fact only one will be in service and able to assist breaking the channel to McMurdo Station this coming season. Success with only one icebreaker in play could be problematic. OPP is currently researching whether vessels are available for charter that would be capable of assisting. There are numerous long-term options that would render resupply independent of these ships-- perhaps5-7 years from now -- including airlift of fuel or cargo; increasing fuel storage capacity in McMurdo to cover multiple years; moving cargo to McMurdo from the ice edge through a variety of methods; and even contracting for a build-to-lease icebreaker or icebreaking resupply vessel.

The committee wondered if other options might be considered, such as moving McMurdo Station. Dr. Erb noted OPP was only beginning to identify and grapple with the various options, and that moving McMurdo was not off the table.

Committee of Visitors Report and Response

Dr. James Hollibaugh, who served as the Committee’s liaison to the Committee of Visitors along with Dr. Anandakrishnan briefed the Committee on the COVs report on the Polar Research Support Section (PRSS). A particular focus of the COV was how PRSS could better support science.

The COV recognized the good work done by PRSS, but made a number of recommendations concerning planning for the needs of future research projects. There is a perceived disconnect between science and logistics – perhaps reflecting a need to get more certainty into estimates for support of new projects. There was also a concern that new scientific opportunities might be over-constrained by traditional logistics arrangements and patterns. The committee and OPP staff discussed whether a Grand Challenges Workshop (Recommendation 1) could help alleviate this situation or whether the input already derived from workshop reports was adequate and the solutions instead involved increased interaction between PRSS and the Antarctic Sciences section. The issue is really how to better meet the challenges posed by the science community.

The committee discussed Recommendation 2.1 (“Separate items in the PRSS budget that directly support science versus those that do not. The ratio between these parts of the budget should be documented and justified.”) This approach could be useful for outyear planning, and the first step is to identify what and how much is required for keeping the stations running (base operations and maintenance) in order to support science. The committee noted that it could be difficult differentiating between O&M and science support since the stations exist in large part to support science. One concept would be to identify what can be reallocated each year without crippling the current and planned infrastructure and operational modes.

The committee discussed Recommendation 2.3, “Make multi-year plans for IT acquisition and upgrades, and plan investment accordingly rather than pursuing an incremental 'patch and upgrade' approach.” There was general agreement that PRSS should develop an IT plan covering the next 4-5 years, but the committee questioned whether this was possible given how fast technology changes. It would be important to find the right level of detail to specify in developing a conceptual plan.

The committee concluded the COV discussion by thanking the Committee of Visitors for its report, diligence, and hard work. The OAC approved the COV report and invited additional future discussion on the report.

The meeting adjourned for the day at 5:30 p.m.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The meeting reconvened at 8:30 a.m.

IPY Logistics

Mr. Brian Stone discussed IPY logistics and described three types of resources: “a la carte,” which requires short lead time, such as helicopters and twin otters; long lead time requirements such as a new helicopter, drill system, new major field camp; and constrained resources, such as LC-130 flight time. There was a discussion on the impact of the International Polar Year activities on logistics and whether pre-positioning logistics was an option. Will the IPY solicitation provide time for allocation (or reallocation) of major resources? Dr. Erb made the point that much as in the science programs, some future capacity should be reserved for new projects. NSF’s science grants programs avoided committing over 2/3 of their future funding as a matter of policy. However, OPP did commit logistics assets to specific regions – in the Arctic and in Antarctica – for which proposers could compete through the normal peer review proves. Members of the committee noted that the OAC should take a position now on the U.S. IPY flagship program that can have a logistics commitment and that they should be SEARCH and WAIS. These are already on the table, ready to go, and there is likely not enough time now to design a major new program with major logistics requirements. Dr. Erb noted that by the next OAC meeting in April-May 2005, the committee will be able to see the submissions to ICSU, but it is important for NSF to signal now the direction it is headed to give the U. S. community and scientists in other countries time to get involved in the NSF proposed activities.

The idea of establishing a subcommittee to review and report to the Advisory Committee when it convenes this spring was discussed.

Outreach and Education

Ms. Renee Crain, Dr. Anna Kerttula, Mr. Guy Guthridge and Mr. Peter West provided a review of the status of the polar postdoctoral fellowship program and recent panel, and a conversation on the key outreach/education goals for the International Polar Year.

There were 20 applicants to the postdoctoral fellowship program with science disciplines well represented and a good gender mix. However, only one applicant self-identified as Hispanic, and there was agreement that OPP needs to do a better job of attracting under-represented applicants. There will be 5 and possibly 6 awards. This is a 27% success rate for the program.

Suggestions were made by the Advisory Committee on how to expand the base of applicants including ideas such as advertising at minority conventions, sending out tailored notices to the Arctic community, and for members of the Committee to inform people within their sphere of influence. Options for applicants to travel and minority travel grants were talked about.

The conversation moved forward to consider the background information, ideas and recommendations for the outreach and education goals for IPY. The discussions covered media technology, collaborations, the database of teachers sent to the Poles, gathering the education and outreach perspective of the British Antarctic Survey as the headquarters for IPY and an organization known for its public outreach. Grassroots efforts with schools, adding polar science to the National Standard tests and entering into a contract with outreach professionals were also discussed. Dr. Erb noted the efforts of the NSF Office of Legislative and Public Affairs to develop a start of the art web site to assist in outreach

Polar Ocean Research Platforms and the NAS/NRC Study of the U.S. Coast Guard Role

Chris Elfring gave a presentation on an upcoming study by the Polar Research Board to assess the U.S. Coast Guard polar icebreaker roles and future needs. There will be two phases of the report with the Phase I Interim Report, expected September 30, 2005, focusing on demand analysis, missions and stakeholder needs, and time-dependent issues. The Phase II Final Report will be completed by June 2006. PRB is trying design the study to meet two different needs – analyzing the Coast Guard roles and analyzing the future science needs for the icebreakers. The committee agreed that they should provide advice on the needs of the science community by letter to OPP, who could pass the information on to the PRB.

Proposal Success Rates

Ms. Altie Metcalf gave a report on the data of Office of Polar Program’s proposal success rates.

OPP’s percentage of 40% is significantly higher than NSF’s overall success rate of 24% for FY 2004. The committee discussed with OPP staff the complexities of analyzing proposal success rates and their use as a management tool.

USAP Advisory User Groups

Brian Stone gave an overview of the USAP Advisory User Groups. These are unpaid advisory committees that provide advice to OPP’s current contractor, Raytheon, and include a user group for each Antarctic station and one for the vessels. The committee discussed whether there were systemic issues that would be dealt with better than station by station, and how to improve interaction both among the user groups and between the user groups and the science community. South Pole and McMurdo user groups already have some ad hoc (and open) meetings on station to address the latter issue. Other issues discussed were whether the user groups should have a strategic vs. a tactical focus and whether there was merit in having the user group chairs meet and work together. The committee asked whether representatives of the user groups could be invited to an OAC meeting, and were informed that this was indeed possible. The Committee also requested that the most recent user group reports be provided in the OAC briefing books. This should include Arctic reports of this nature as well, such as reports from the Toolik users’ group. The committee also asked whether OPP could synthesize the reports for the OAC. Issues OPP should consider are standardizing the user group charters and considering whether having static chairs and members provide the best advice.

Other Business

Dr. Erb noted that the OPP response would be prepared b. before the next meeting. It was reiterated that the Committee of Visitors (COV) recommendations and responses from the Office of Polar Programs should be revisited during the Spring 2005 meeting. It was suggested that panel members from the COV could be invited to the meeting if needed. The committee also noted it would be good to revisit the recommendations and responses in several years, before the next COV.

Dr. Erb extended an official farewell and expression of gratitude to the following OAC members who are rotating off the committee at the end of 2004:

  • Dr. Julie Brigham-Grette
  • Dr. Peter Schlosser
  • Dr. Sridhar Anandakrishnan
  • Dr. Paul Mayewski
  • Dr. Martin Jeffries

Members were then encouraged to send in calendar availability information to Ms. Altie Metcalf in order to establish the dates for the spring meeting. A suggestion was made to confirm the dates of the Arctic Science (Summit) Week. Those dates are March 31 through April 4.

Dr. Erb thanked Dr. Schimel for conducting a very productive meeting.

The meeting was officially adjourned at 3:00 p.m.

See Agenda for this meeting.

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May 2005

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