The committee met 14-15 November 2011 at the National Science Foundation, room 1235, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia 22230, to provide guidance, recommendations, and oversight on how OPP can serve science, promote education, increase workforce diversity, and set priorities. The meeting, chartered under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, was, like prior ones, open to the public. Members represent the range of polar science and the diversity of scientists and institutions, and they welcome communications from the research community regarding NSF’s polar programs. They normally serve 3 years and meet twice a year.
Participants – committee members, NSF staff, and visitors – introduced themselves. Kelly Kenison Falkner, Deputy Director, Office of Polar Programs, described members’ conflict-of-interest responsibilities and stated that the meeting is public in accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
The committee (on the second morning of this meeting) approved the minutes of its May 2011 meeting.
Readers of these notes may wish to refer to other resources, including slide sets used by speakers, which appear on the OAC web site.
OPP Director’s report
Karl A. Erb welcomed the new chair, Cecilia Bitz.
He said the NSF Director, Subra Suresh, is promoting innovation, communication, and international partnerships under an intellectual framework, OneNSF, that strives to integrate organizations and disciplines guided by six principles: support fundamental research in every discipline, address multidisciplinary challenges, spark innovation and opportunity, create networks and infrastructure, improve organizational efficiency, and catalyze talent. Some initiatives:
- Integrated NSF Support Promoting Interdisciplinary Research and Education (INSPIRE), intended to stimulate high-risk, high-reward research proposals.
- Innovation Corps Program (I-Corps) to help already-NSF-funded researchers accelerate innovation and attract third-party funds that would help transition technology into further use.
- Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI) to motivate collaboration toward scientific discovery among scientists and educators around the globe.
- Shifting advisory committee meetings to once a year at NSF and once a year by telecom.
- Experimental use of alternative merit review approaches at NSF, especially to encourage giving higher marks to deserving innovative proposals.
- An NSF-convened workshop with G-20 counterparts in May 2012 to develop a common merit review system that would promote international research collaboration.
A new (follow-on) research support contract is in place in the Arctic Research Program, and a successor Antarctic support contractor to Raytheon Polar Services Company is to be announced shortly. In December we will brief the National Science Board regarding these contracts.
Phase 1 of the review of direction over the next 15 years or so in the U.S. Antarctic Program has moved forward with the NRC’s prepublication issuance of Future Science Opportunities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Phase 2, a Blue Ribbon Panel evaluation of how to implement the science recommendations, includes two members from the NRC committee and has begun with a meeting at NSF on 3-4 November. Wrap up is expected in March-April 2012.
Planning for a next-generation Polar Research Vessel moved forward at a meeting in May 2011, and a UNOLS science requirements refresh report is expected in January 2012.
The Swedish icebreaker Oden, which opened the sea ice channel into McMurdo over the last 3 years, is not able to deploy this year. Vladimir Ignatyuk, owned by Murmansk Shipping Company, will do the work instead; the potentially 3-year contract should cover the task until USCGC Polar Star returns to service in October 2013.
We are installing tanks at McMurdo to hold a 2-year supply of fuel; they currently can hold a 1.8-year supply.
The Administration’s budget request for NSF for fiscal 2012 (which began 1 October) would increase the OPP budget by 5.8 percent compared to 2010; it seems unlikely to be appropriated in full.
OPP hired three new staff since the last meeting and is recruiting for four program manager positions, which we have a good chance of filling in the next month or two. Thomas E. Pyle, who was the first head of OPP’s Arctic Science Division and who had a huge impact in shaping it, died 28 May 2011.
OneNSF innovations: CREATIV and INSPIRE (see slides on the web site)
Clifford J. Gabriel, Acting Director, Office of Integrative Activities, NSF, discussed NSF innovations intended to encourage the community and NSF program officers in developing and supporting innovative research. A pilot solicitation, CREATIV, is to make awards in all research areas starting in 2012 (up to $1-million each for 5 years) and is intended to support high-risk, high-reward projects. Interested persons must get a program officer’s approval before proposing, and collaborative projects aren’t allowed. INSPIRE, the OneNSF flagship, is intended to ramp up over 5 years to $120-million a year.
Q. Will review panels be able to recognize creative ideas? A. We are empowering the program officers and hope they will be able to introduce creative approaches.
Q. Are only experienced investigators encouraged? A. Yes. We also are evaluating the potential for bias between large and small institutions.
Q. Especially since review will be internal NSF only, how will you assess if a project actually is transformative? A. That’s part of the evaluation, and it’s why we say “potentially” transformative.
Q. Will a revised announcement be issued for year 2? A. Yes.
OneNSF innovations: I-Corps (see slides on the web site)
Kesh H. Narayanan, Deputy Assistant Director, Directorate for Engineering, discussed the Innovation Corps Program (I-Corps), which grants funds to help take results of academic research into a commercial undertaking. Substantial societal resources now go toward discovery (typically at universities) and toward commercialization (typically by industry), but the development phase in between can be a “valley of death” in terms of availability of resources, and only some 10 percent of apparently promising discoveries get to commercialization. I-Corps grants are small ($50,000), awarded nimbly after internal review of 5-page proposals received from investigators who have had NSF awards within the last 5 years, and intended to get ideas across the valley of death. The engagement of effective mentors has been found to be a critical factor in success.
Conversation with NSF Director and Deputy
Subra Suresh, Director (by telephone), and Cora B. Marrett, Deputy Director (in person), discussed issues with the committee. Subra Suresh noted that he had visited Greenland earlier in the year and was at the moment en route to U.S. Antarctic Program field locations.
Q. The CREATIV and I-Corps programs appear promising, but with internal review only seem set up to favor established investigators. A. Important points. We can introduce external review if it appears needed, and an oversight panel is watching the process and its results. Half the money for the awards comes from the Director’s office, half from the programs, and programmatically we think we will be able to adjust over time to attract the most promising investigators.
Q. In I-Corps we heard that graduate students rather than the established investigators tend to be the ones to take up the commercialization quest and leave academia. A. NSF decided that human capital development is the top priority, so in 2010 we doubled the graduate fellowships and will hold to that whatever the budget. The I-Corps idea is not to draw students away, but to cultivate the ideas. My experience is that the most innovative ones are the ones who continue to publish in Science and Nature, and some of the most successful students are still in academia.
Q. I-Corps seems to favor societal impact more than broader participation. A. We know what pools are not being developed, and we must pay attention to the changing National demographic. Ideas are needed, and NSF may convene a meeting of advisory committee chairs because the topic comes up repeatedly.
OneNSF international (see slides on the web site)
Karl Erb introduced the topic and the speaker, noting that OPP is highly collaborative both in polar-specific multilateral agreements and in bilateral understandings such as a new memorandum of understanding with Russia for Antarctic science.
Machi F. Dilworth, Director, Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE), pointed out that international activities are assigned to NSF in directives ranging from the original 1950 establishing Act to the agency’s strategic plan for 2011-2016. International projects and programs are supported throughout NSF, often in response to scientist-led initiatives but frequently also under large multinational programs such as GEO’s Integrated Ocean Drilling Project.
Given the breadth and depth of these undertakings, OISE focuses on two parts of the NSF vision — discovery and learning — by developing international programs that are innovative, catalytic, and responsive to broad NSF interests. The portfolio has three approaches: supporting planning visits and workshops expected to lead to international collaborative projects, providing international research opportunities for U.S. students and early-career scientists and engineers, and funding international partnerships with larger, longer-term awards in which research and education build on institutional strengths to create lasting international linkages. The slides show examples; PIRE (Partnerships for International Research and Education) has robust polar content.
Julie M. Palais, Glaciology Program Manager, OPP, gave a presentation (see slides on the web site) on a $4.4-million, 5-year PIRE project called International Collaboration and Education in Ice Core Science (ICEICS), which involves eight U.S. institutions plus six institutions in five other countries. The project is developing analytical and modeling tools to inform studies of past climate change and train the next generation of U.S. ice core scientists. One new tool is a continuous melter that speeds sampling of core and increases the detail of the measurements. A 2011 workshop at Scripps Institution of Oceanography was well attended by students and international collaborators; the next international meeting, in October 2012, will be in France.
Other OISE initiatives include:
- Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER), unveiled in July 2011, enhances links between NSF-funded scientists and their developing country collaborators. USAID supports the other country’s scientists ($7-million in 2011). Of 79 eligible countries, Indonesia, Lebanon, and the Philippines are active so far; the next deadline is 30 November 2011.
- Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI) fosters interactions among STEM researchers and educators to accelerate scientific advances. It can be multilateral, and it combines both virtual and real interactions. SAVI is not a standalone program; funded investigators submit proposals to it.
- A Global Summit on Merit Review, 14-15 May 2012, will convene heads of research councils from G-20 and OECD countries to endorse a statement of principles and convene an inaugural meeting of the Global Research Council.
The presentation concluded with three questions that OISE and its collaborators ask: Is NSF on the right track? What else should NSF do? How do we measure success?
Q. Will you tell us more about PEER? A. Broad areas such as sustainability and food security are of interest, and the collaborators should show capacity building. Same-science-new-region and same-region-different-science are both OK if they meet the other criteria. A domestic-only group does not qualify, but an existing group with an existing NSF grant can find an international partner to be eligible.
Q. What are some models for SAVI? A. Two NSF and four Indian institutions form one SAVI; NSF and India money glue them together. A U.S. and a Finn group collaborate on wireless communications, and even before the SAVI they were considered a virtual group. Nine U.S. investigators studying physics of living systems collaborated with others in the U.K and Europe on a workshop to which people came from all over; they call it a SAVI even though they have no NSF SAVI money; new groups say, “We want to join this SAVI.” The project leverages the SAVI principles.
Q. Will the summit on merit review assess creativity? A. These are high level talks aimed at knowing where we have and don’t have the same standards. The summit will let the questions come up, but it won’t target specific answers as of now.
Q. IceCube seems a SAVI already. Other countries want to join, so can we call IceCube a SAVI? A. Yes, but you have to show the value added.
Q. Is there a perceived problem internationally with merit review? For example, do others include broader impacts? A. We are moving toward a set of principles: that is what I mean by high level.
Q. What do young researchers get out of going abroad? A. Some new laser technologies in France are the best. The broad principle may be that resources are all over the world, and we want to go there. Each partnership has deep money invested in the other country; it’s not unusual in the second or third year for the other institution to see the potential and come up with even more.
Emerging Beaufort and Chukchi activity
Brendan P. Kelly, Deputy Division Director, Arctic Sciences Division, OPP, discussed a partnership of research agencies and industry to coordinate research in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Current partners are NSF, the North Pacific Research Board, the Bureau of Ocean Environmental Management, Shell Oil, and ConocoPhillips. NOAA and ONR are interested.
In the first phase, NPRB and NSF are administering a 1-year competition—using industry funds—to review existing information. A second phase, with funding from all partners, is to do a more in-depth survey and to analyze gaps.
Challenges include differences in the partners’ scope, timelines, and cultures. An NSTC subcommittee, the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC) – chaired by NSF – is developing the partnership. Several recent reports informing the research plan include a Strategic Action Plan on Changing Conditions in the Arctic.
Q. Regarding stressed fisheries in the Bering Sea and the Yukon River, should we be wary going in with industry? A. The fisheries council has agreed not to open the fishery in the northern Bering and Chukchi seas pending receipt of more information. The region is understudied and changing rapidly.
Q. What kind of data sharing is taking place? A. It is broad, including weather observations by industry.
Q. With the strong national priority for government-supported data to be available, is there an issue here? A. Shell and Conoco Phillips have agreed to no hold on data. (There may be categories of exception?).
Q. What is the timeframe for phase 2? A. NPRB will release an RFP following the review and gap analysis.
Q. Are other nations involved? A. That’s not part of the plan. The potential is for international collaboration through the Arctic Council, and the IARPC will discuss this at the next principals meeting.
Q. Canada likely is moving forward, also, and cost-sharing and collaboration could be issues. A. Point well taken.
Public awareness of polar science (see slides on the web site)
Dr. Erb introduced the speaker, noting that public awareness has an important new meaning because of a concern that NSF-funded education does not have success metrics.
Anna Kerttula de Echave, Arctic Social Sciences Program Director, OPP, and Robert Bell, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, NSF, described the General Social Survey (the largest survey after the U.S. Census — basic research on National trends in attitudes, behaviors, and attributes) and a polar module within it conducted in 2006 and 2010 (before and after IPY) to measure attitudes and science literacy regarding the Arctic and the Antarctic. Scores improved in some areas of science understanding, and IPY was potentially a cause.
The lengthy discussion focused on trends in minority participation in polar learning and polar science, IPY influence on the continuation of student involvement in polar science, and aspects of the surveys.
NRC future of Antarctic science report (see slides on the web site)
David H. Bromwich, Ohio State University, and Robin E. Bell, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, presented, by telephone, a review of the new NRC report, Future Science Opportunities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. The document is phase one of a two-phase review of the U.S. Antarctic Program over the next 10 to 20 years. The report recommends that the United States should:
- Lead the development of a large-scale, interdisciplinary observing network and support a new generation of robust earth system models
- Continue to support a wide variety of basic research in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean to yield a new generation of discoveries
- Design and implement improved mechanisms for international collaboration
- Exploit the host of emerging technologies, including cyberinfrastructure and novel and robust sensors
- Coordinate an integrated polar educational program
- Continue strong logistical support for Antarctic science
Q. Can you clarify the report’s concern about balancing safety enforcement and research needs? A. The sense is that rules are being enforced beyond the reasonable level. The members of the committee who recently visited Antarctica as a group felt strongly about this point.
Q. This is an important topic. What is the benchmark? A. The group collected no data on this subject. Impressions came from projects ranging in size from the rebuilding of South Pole Station to tents.
Q. How do you prioritize what data will be most valuable in the observing network? A. We did not try to design the network; perhaps the Blue Ribbon Panel (phase 2) will want to fill out the building of such a system, but the sense of our group was that access is the key.
Q. Access includes satellite access, although it is clear that a range of observing instruments is necessary. A. This will be a huge undertaking that needs careful thought long-term. We avoided detailed discussion beyond the summary (appendix E) of data needed from atmosphere, ocean, ice, and biota.
Q. The exploration component, for example measuring the three dimensions of the ice, is really a discovery area. The future work will have to be done using new technologies such as rapid drilling that would yield core in 5 days as opposed to 5 years. A. Chapter 3 discusses this concept.
OPP vision document
The committee continued to work on this topic, the goal being an OPP vision of perhaps 20 pages that is consistent with the NSF vision and strategic plan and that complements visions other NSF units have published. Subgroups worked on the wording of the vision itself and on seven challenge areas planned to be included. Chairs of each subgroup will send material to the OAC chair in December.
Measuring post-field-deployment customer satisfaction
Outbriefs. Jeff Severinghaus suggested the outbrief interviews at the end of a field project should be between the investigator and NSF rather than the contractor: an investigator, whose party requires good relations with the contractor, may not fully discuss difficult issues.
Brian Stone, Director, Division of Antarctic Infrastructure and Logistics, agreed and said a pilot is coming this year. A goal is more direct NSF insight into investigators’ concerns. Investigators won’t be hostage to the on-Ice interview before going home.
Renee Crain, Research Support and Logistics Manager, OPP, said Arctic investigators have outbriefs with contractor personnel. The contractor will test using a third party instead and will set up an anonymous avenue. Investigators can contact OPP program managers, and if Ms. Crain hears a project had a rough season she calls the investigator.
In the Arctic, logistics and science dollars are in the same pot. Transparent costing is a good thing so NSF can plan better. There is, of course, a dollar limit to the logistics contract.
Preseason planning. Preseason planning should start before the investigator finishes writing a proposal. The Antarctic program does new-investigator workshops. The Association of Polar Early Career Scientists does some of this, including career development webinars. Customer satisfaction requires managing expectations so people understand constraints up front.
Critical success factors in advance are important, and the RSP (research support plan) helps with this somewhat. But the investigator should speak to the contractor about logistics before going in the field. These factors have to come up early in the planning. The concept will be apparent also for construction and maintenance in the new Antarctic support contract.
PolarIce (online planning software) was thought a candidate for improvement by having a contractor employee interview the investigator rather than having the investigator fill out the ORW (operational requirements worksheet). The resultant field plan would be more realistic. OPP is pushing more science through the system now and does not have surplus capability, so it’s harder than before to change plans at the last moment.
Some researchers do their own Arctic logistics, and OPP receives no feedback from them because they are outside its system.
A staff member will help field researchers do their own risk management — could be made into online training. Experienced investigators can advise new ones on how logistics work, and most program managers put new investigators in touch with experienced ones.
Science helping logistics. Could science help logistics planning? For example, El Nino seems to lead to more snow in West Antarctica. We might load projects onto what look like good years. This idea may not be a panacea, even though it can be right in a statistical sense. Nevertheless, you can predict just by looking at the past, which we did for Pine Island Glacier and Pegasus ice runway.
Science/support mix. There’s no set model for what a science party does itself versus to what extent the contractor is tasked to help. IceCube took on a good deal of operations, with success. A summer field science party ran its entire field work, even the cooking; it worked. Planners should think outside the default model. Another example: a project needing a mountaineer just a few days can be provided one; if needed the whole season the investigator might better hire the mountaineer directly.
Proposal budgets. Some investigators want their proposal budgets to look small. Arctic awards get operations money according to what works; reviewers see the total cost, but they usually look at science quality and leave OPP to worry about the money. Investigators and reviewers need to back away from sticker shock. The overall budget has limits, of course, and more money to one investigator can mean less to another.
Promoting innovation: merit review exercises (see slides on the web site)
Stephen Meacham, NSF Office of Integrative Activities, and Candace O. Major, GEO Ocean Sciences Division — co-chairs of NSF’s Merit Review Working Group — discussed (see slides) a current reexamination of NSF’s merit review process (not criteria).
The process is under pressure. In the last decade the annual number of proposals received has risen from under 40,000 to nearly 60,000. The number of proposals received per investigator has risen from 2.0 to 2.3 per award. The number of reviews per proposal has dropped nearly 40 percent.
The goal of the reexamination is to protect the high reputation of NSF’s merit review process while reducing pressure on individuals and stimulating submission and full consideration of high-risk, potentially game–changing ideas. Approaches might be to enable proposers to respond to reviews before the NSF decision, to return uncompetitive proposals after only limited review (of the 20 percent of proposals with no review rates higher than Good, only 1 percent get funded), and to use Wiki, virtual panels, or more preliminary proposals.
During discussion the committee acknowledged that the present traditional method is not sustainable, and it showed receptivity to experimentation and change. Training of reviewers in new methods such as virtual panels was seen as important – not just technical details, but commonsense suggestions such as closing one’s office door and ignoring incoming e-mails during a virtual panel.
Karl Erb, referring to the OneNSF conceptual framework, said that the Director of NSF is initiating activity to improve communication within the agency and with stakeholders outside, perhaps by using technology more effectively or by engaging a leading outside company to devise improvements. The goal is clear, consistent messages, in and out of NSF, that engage all the Foundation’s constituencies. Guiding principles for good communication might be thought of as FACTS: be forthright, appropriate, considerate, timely, and savvy.
Role of the OAC as a community conduit
Simon Stephenson, Director, Division of Arctic Sciences, OPP, pointed out that OPP conducts Town Hall sessions regarding the Arctic and Antarctic programs at the Fall AGU meetings. The sessions typically cover current developments and future directions. He offered that OPP and the community might benefit from hearing suggestions from the OAC about what to cover, and that OAC members who are attending the AGU meeting anyway could consider participating in the sessions.
Discussion included what other society meetings (AAS? GSA? AMS? SACNAS?) might benefit from such sessions or from an OAC presence, the increased exposure OAC members (and the OAC itself) would get in the community, the potential downside of introducing another layer between OPP management and the community, and the potential upside of OAC members getting franker (i.e., more useful) comments than OPP staff might receive directly.
OPP provides storyboards and handouts for sessions at society meetings such as AGU.
A new member said he had not known of the OAC’s existence until he was on it. Another noted that member e-mail addresses are public, on the OAC web site, but “I’ve never received one.” A former OAC member said she developed an e-mail list and sent out a note before each meeting: “The response was not overwhelming.”
The committee agreed that the community should be more aware of the OAC and its role as a conduit between NSF and individual scientists and educators. On the other hand, one member said the things she’s wanted to know were unlikely to be things an OAC member would be expected to know, such as details of the budget and of program solicitations.
Direct communication between the OAC and the community (most likely using existing listservs) was thought a good idea. A web page forum or a Wiki site was stated to be another possible vehicle. An initial mass e-mail could include a reference to the notes of the OAC’s most recent meeting. OPP could set up an e-mail alias for the OAC.
A member said, “We have to do the experiment.”
Simon Stephenson said OPP would take a first crack at listing topics that the OAC e-mail might cover; the NSF merit review evaluation now under way could be one.
The committee agreed that discussion of what members learned at a Town Hall could be scheduled for the next OAC meeting, and what members learned from the community could shape the agendas of future OAC meetings.
Karl Erb noted that members are asked to serve on the OAC as representatives of the community as a whole.
Items for committee reports; action items
- For future discussion: expectations in the research community for the level of support provided. Examples: the Nathaniel B. Palmer and UNOLS ships provide different levels of service and support: which is the appropriate level for the USAP? The rebuilt South Pole Station improves the working and living standards for residents. Are some just as happy and productive staying in tents? Budget pressures make this discussion important.
- Members responsible for portions of the OPP vision document are to turn in their material to the chair by 15 December.
- OPP will draft a list of items that the OAC may wish to consider for inclusion in its e-mail to the community.
- OAC members are encouraged to follow up as they choose on items of further interest by contacting a presenter of any of the above topics or an OPP staff member.