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About Polar Programs

Division Director:  Kelly K. Falkner

The Division of Polar Programs (POLAR) manages and initiates National Science Foundation funding for basic research and its operational support in the Arctic and the Antarctic. The funds are provided as NSF grants to institutions (mainly U.S. universities), whose scientists perform the research at the institutions or in a polar region, and as cooperative agreements or contracts to support organizations including contractors and the U.S. military.

POLAR supports individual investigators or research teams and U.S. participation in multinational projects. Projects can involve investigators from many disciplines and institutions over several years.

Organizationally, POLAR has two science sections- one for the Arctic and the Antarctic. A third section manages the logistics and support operations including field stations, camps, laboratories, ships, and airplanes.  Environmental, health and safety issues are handled by the Polar Environment, Health and Safety Section.

The United States is a leading nation in polar science, and research results have global significance. Because the polar regions intrigue the public, they provide opportunities for educational enrichment.

Polar regions are unique natural laboratories. A range of research can be undertaken only there or best there. POLAR considers supporting polar research in these areas:

  • Understanding Earth and its systems. Goals include achieving better understanding of polar regions' influence on and response to global heat distribution in the oceans and the atmosphere, adaptations of organisms to polar extremes, and the valuable records of past climates and atmospheric constituents in ice cores, polar ocean sediments, and other indicators.
  • Exploring the geographical frontier. Many fields of science are exploring the still unevenly understood polar frontiers. For example, the central Arctic Ocean and the Southern Ocean are the least studied oceans, especially during winter.
  • Performing science enabled by the polar setting. Polar conditions can enable research either not possible elsewhere or less effective elsewhere. Examples are the extremely dry atmosphere over the South Pole as a window for astrophysical study of the origins of the universe, arctic social sciences, and antarctic medical sciences.

Polar home page banner photo credit: Antarctic Landscape, NSF.


(Additional related links are available on Polar's Related Polar Links page.)

NSF Links

U.S. Antarctic Policy Links

Antarctic Treaty Policy Related Links

Arctic Policy Related Links

Division of Polar Programs Site Map