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Vision statements relevant to the U.S. Antarctic Program

This note characterizes a few vision documents relevant to the U.S. Antarctic Program:

  • First, two that seem to provide lessons from the past. 
  • Then, one done in 2005, and
  • finally others more directly relevant to the present-day U.S. Antarctic Program.


Problems of Polar Research, 1928
Isaiah Bowman1 wrote the one-page foreword of the book Problems of Polar Research,2 containing 30 separately written papers many of whose authors remain familiar to polar scientists today.3

  • Vision.  “The emphasis is on neither past achievements nor heroic adventure but on the major problems remaining to be solved by further field study, where and by what means those problems may best be attacked, and what manner of cooperation between the sciences most concerned may yield the largest harvest of results.”
  • Objective. “The [American Geographical] Society [publisher] hopes that increasing support for well-qualified expeditions may be an additional result of the publication of this comprehensive group of distinguished papers.” 
  • Level.  “A world conference on objectives in polar research seems eminently desirable, and to supply an equivalent the present book has been undertaken.”
  • Questions authors asked themselves.  “fresh examination of the outstanding problems that inspire modern polar exploration.”
  • Chapters.  Meteorology, magnetism and electricity, exploration and research, oceanography, climate, geology, ice, plant life, zoogeography, exploration by aircraft, navigation.  479 pages.
  • Outcome.  Richard E. Byrd made two Antarctic expeditions funded mainly by U.S. corporations – one during the booming late 1920s and the other during the most forlorn years of the Great Depression – and changed forever America’s relationship with Antarctica.

Individual papers present visions of their own.  That of Byrd’s paper, “Polar exploration by aircraft” (p. 381-394):  “May not aircraft bring back a new idea of some of the more rugged of the Arctic and Antarctic areas? . . .  As it develops and we learn more and more about flying in the Arctic, the scientific data that can be brought back by aircraft will be less and less limited.”

Antarctic Research: Elements of a Coordinated Program, 1949
The National Academy of Sciences (Bowman again, this time chairing a Special Committee appointed by the President, NAS, consisting of 11 scientists from universities and Federal agencies) issued Antarctic Research: Elements of a Coordinated Program in response to a request from the Department of State.

  • Vision. “While it is inspired mainly by scientific interest, the report provides indications of the high practical values that Antarctic research will yield.  Some of these values (notably, better weather forecasting) can be realized only through the cooperative endeavor of a group of countries. . . .  Some parts of the program require sustained observations in series for several decades.” 
  • Objective. “Every square mile of unexplored territory must be assumed to have potential value at some time in the future, if not now. . . .  For the first time in history the mapping of polar territory is technically feasible at reasonable cost and within a reasonable time. . . .  International cooperation in advancing scientific work in the Antarctic can be planned and assigned to research teams on a more rational basis, part by part, if the whole topographic assemblage is available.” 
  • Level.  “This report is in no sense a catalog of all problems of scientific interest and value upon which work might be done in the Antarctic.”  The Department of State “wishes advice on the possibilities and importance of scientific research in the Antarctic as a basis for later consideration of the question of coordination of such research, possibly on an international scale.”
  • Chapters.  The map of Antarctica, electricity and magnetism, meteorology, psycho-physiological adaptation, ice and snow, biology, tides and currents, seismology and vulcanology, geodesy, and geology.  20 pages.
  • Outcome.  The State Department had been working toward an Antarctic Treaty.  In 1954 the Academy reprinted this book for the U.S. National Committee for the IGY.  The Treaty was signed shortly after the IGY.

2020 Vision for the National Science Foundation, 2005 
The National Science Board issued this book in response to a Congressional suggestion.  The published 1-page vision statement is entirely worth reading; here’s a shorter version:

  • Vision.  “The Board’s vision for the future is informed by a sense of our Nation, our knowledge of the trajectory of global science and engineering research, and our confidence in a promising future. History suggests that a nation that relinquishes the torch of science puts its future prosperity at risk. The Board envisions a prosperous America that is powered by innovations flowing from the latest transformative scientific ideas with a workforce among the most scientifically and technically competent on the planet. The United States has the science and technology base from which to realize this vision. America’s strength in fundamental research, coupled with consistent investments in science and technology over the past half-century, has attracted the best and brightest from around the world. These investments have brought us to the dawn of a new era of explosive progress in science and engineering. This new era is made possible by an unprecedented and continually increasing ability to observe the physical world, to simulate both natural and man-made systems in ways never before imagined, to efficiently store and analyze vast amounts of data, and to communicate information globally.”
  • Objective.  “Given the constrained funding environment, it is even more critical that the National Science Board develop a long-term vision for NSF. In other words, we need a strategy that outlines how we can get the biggest bang for our buck through programs and activities supported by NSF. This does not mean how NSF will alter its grant size and duration.  This means articulating a vision for the future of science and technology, including the next bold cutting-edge areas of research. We also need a plan on how NSF will lead the research community in meeting these new bold challenges. The Board is ideally suited for this responsibility and I believe strongly that it is a core activity of the Board’s mission.  One of the specific areas that the Board should examine is the future of our Nation’s math and science education.”  Chairman Christopher “Kit” Bond, Senate Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Hearing, February 17, 2005.
  • Level.  “Beyond a focus on NSF, the Board believes that this document can also serve as a valuable compass for setting the course of science and engineering research and science education in our Nation.”
  • Chapters.  Preamble, NSF mission, 2020 vision, strategic priorities, history, fiscal realities, near-term goals, enabling strategies, conclusions.  10 pages.
  • Outcome.  This very well written document is referenced as a footnote on page 5 of NSF’s Strategic Plan FY 2006-2011, which aligns its first three goals (discovery, learning, research infrastructure) with the Board’s 2020 strategic priorities and adds a fourth (stewardship) that is internally focused.

Investing in America’s Future: Strategic Plan FY 2006-2011, 2006
This is NSF’s how-to document complementing the Board’s 2020 vision (above); the text is specific and prescriptive; sidebars describe NSF-funded achievements and the specifics of running the agency.  The Board document by contrast is conceptual, intellectually linear (no sidebars other than text callouts), sparingly illustrated, a quick inspirational read. 

  • Vision.  “Advancing discovery, innovation and education beyond the frontiers of current knowledge, and empowering future generations in science and engineering” through strategic outcome goals of discovery, learning, research infrastructure, and stewardship.
  • Objective.  “Today, the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) has provided new vision for sustaining our nation’s competitive edge through innovation, exploration, and ingenuity.  The NSF Strategic Plan addresses this changing landscape and new vision, and will ensure our continued leadership in this new era.”
  • Level.  “The Strategic Plan guides Directorate planning, the annual performance budget, and individual performance plans that link directly to NSF’s mission, vision, goals and objectives. Implementation of this plan is the responsibility of the Assistant Directors, Office Heads, and internal groups responsible for planning and performance. Individual performance appraisals will measure staff accountability. Annual metrics that track our progress will appear in the budget.”
  • Chapters.  Introduction (strategic planning in a changing landscape), mission and core values, vision and goals, investment priorities, translating the plan into action, expert evaluations and assessments.  19 pages.
  • Outcome.  In its first 3 years, the strategic plan as a public and an intragovernment document might be considered to have helped call attention to the agency’s accomplishments and capabilities and thus led to initiatives (such as the International Polar Year) and to additional funding by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

GeoVision Report, 2009
The NSF Advisory Committee for Geosciences issued this report to update its NSF Geosciences Beyond 2000.

  • Vision.  “Fostering a sustainable future through a better understanding of our complex and changing planet.”
  • Objective.  “To understand more deeply the planet and its interactions will require the geosciences to take an increasingly holistic approach, exploring knowledge coming from all scientific and engineering disciplines. Concurrently, it is critical that the geosciences and all sciences support and nurture educational opportunities at every level and across the socio-economic spectrum. Only by doing so will we ensure a diverse and multi-talented future workforce that can meet increasingly complex scientific challenges. . . .  Indeed, the fundamental research envisioned here will transform the geosciences and will lead it to play a more visible and public role in society.”
  • Level.  “We are pleased to share the GEO Vision and recommendations advocated in this plan and look forward to working with GEO in turning this vision into solid research to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead.”
  • Chapters.  Foreword, GEO vision, challenges for the geosciences, geosciences at a crossroad, meeting the challenges, conclusions and recommendations.  39 pages.
  • Outcome.  At its November 2009 meeting, the NSF Polar Advisory Committee considered both content and format of this document as it discussed strategic planning for polar programs.

UNOLS Fleet Improvement Plan, 2009
Like the U.S. Antarctic Program, the academic research fleet is a capital-intensive collection of specialized machinery and personnel adapted to the extent feasible from standard industrial capabilities.  The planning process is institutionally mature, public, and well documented.  As in the Antarctic, fleet (research-support) design responds as much as feasible to scientific need.  But time between plan and reality can be decades.  Initial planning for a replacement South Pole Station occurred in the 1980s; the new station was dedicated in 2008.  The first design for an Alaska Region Research Vessel to replace R/V Alpha Helix was completed in 1980; NSF awarded construction funds in 2009.  Once a ship (or Antarctic facility) is built, researchers tend to adapt science proposals to existing operational capabilities. 

  • Vision (1).  “A substantial, well-coordinated, multi-agency fleet replacement plan is needed to maintain United States leadership in sea-going capabilities in the coming decades. Almost all the fundamental discoveries in ocean science have come from direct observation of the sea with increasingly sophisticated research and drilling vessels that can support advanced scientific teams. Maintaining a modern, well-equipped research fleet is the most basic requirement for a healthy and vigorous research program in the ocean sciences. The research fleet must include a range of capabilities including highly specialized vessels, such as sophisticated drill ships and their associated tools, which allow sampling deep below the seafloor. The anticipated mix of research demands large vessels capable of mounting interdisciplinary studies both near to and far from land and supporting remotely operated vehicles and submersibles as well as versatile small- and intermediate-sized ships for studying the coastal ocean.”
  • Vision (2).  “The oceans play a critical role in our society, regardless of where we live. The oceans are inextricably linked with the atmosphere and land. The ocean transports and stores heat and water that helps to regulate the Earth’s climate and weather. The marine ecosystem also plays an important role in our climate, as well as providing a source of food. However, the dynamics of the oceans, their ecosystems and chemistry are poorly understood. Two recent studies, America's Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change, by the Pew Oceans Commission, and An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century, by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, have documented, in great detail, the importance of understanding biological, chemical, geological, and physical processes acting in the ocean. Both commissions called for a coordinated and effective national ocean policy and that this policy should be based on unbiased, credible, and up-to-date scientific information. The commissions recommended a significant increase of the oceanographic research budget. Also, the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy recommended renewal of the UNOLS fleet.”
  • Objective.  The plan evaluates today’s fleet, future science directions, and fleet capacity projections. It does not advocate for direct replacement of ships in the current fleet. Instead, it projects science needs while recognizing the challenges of escalating costs, budgetary constraints, and an aging fleet. U.S. ocean science research and education programs benefit from broad access to modern, capable, efficient research vessels, aircraft, submersibles, and other major shared-use facilities. Timely implementation of the recommendations will ensure continued access to vessels to support open ocean and coastal science important to the Nation over the next 20-30 years.
  • Level.  While the text and illustrations are informative and accessible to the interested public, the document seems targeted to the research community and decision makers.  The UNOLS Fleet Improvement Committee, made up of 13 scientists at universities, plus six other contributors, wrote the report.
  • Chapters.  Executive summary, introduction, future science, 2008 facility composition and utilization, future utilization and capacity trends, findings and recommendations, references, history of the UNOLS fleet, science mission requirements.  99 pages.
  • Outcome.  The 2009 report updates one done in 1995.  It is the latest in a continuing process of evaluation and projection that appears to have optimized availability of operational support for ocean science.  That said, by 2025 under the current scenario the Nation will have a significantly reduced capacity to support global-ranging programs that require large, general-purpose Global class ships. Only 3,270 ship days will be available in 2025, as compared with over 4,300 ship days in 2008. The UNOLS fleet increasingly will be unable to meet science user demands, especially during peak periods in spring and summer. Flexibility in fleet scheduling that allows for multiship operations and for science expeditions in remote areas will be lost.

Strategy of the Arctic Center 2020, 2009

  • Vision.  The University of Lapland Arctic Center, Rovaniemi, Finland, envisions becoming Finland’s leading center of excellence for the Arctic. The Arctic Center will become a leading European expert on sustainable development, global change, and minority and environmental law. The Arctic Center will establish itself as the main research institute for social and environmental impact assessment in Lapland and the Barents Region, producing information that is highly relevant for local and national authorities, politicians and the public. The Arctic Center will increase its visibility as the key producer of Arctic and Antarctic information that is accessible in different formats for all.
  • Mission.  The Arctic Center’s mission is to undertake locally and regionally oriented and globally relevant research, PhD student supervision, undergraduate education and science communication about the Arctic and the Antarctic. The Arctic Center is in constant dialogue with Arctic indigenous peoples, local residents and regional stakeholders. The Arctic Center engages in international and multidisciplinary scientific research whilst also maintaining high quality standards within single disciplines. The Arctic Center synthesizes scientific information in an understandable format for the public, pupils, authorities and policy makers within and outside the Arctic.
  • Goal.  The Arctic Center’s goal is to address pressing social and environmental issues that are of broad concern to both Arctic and non-Arctic peoples, institutions and communities. The Arctic Center aims to increase knowledge and awareness based on sound scientific information and in this way to support sustainable development, environmental protection and social, cultural and biological diversity in the Arctic and the North.
  • Level.  The target audience of the document appears to parallel the center’s goals to span disciplines and have products that take many forms, from scientific papers and monographs, teaching in the classroom, field courses and supervising PhD students, to books, exhibitions, audiovisual material, artworks and films. “The Arctic Center is a place where researchers, doctoral students, planners, artists and architects collaborate within and outside the University. The community of researchers within the Center derives from diverse scientific, national, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The Center has strong local and regional orientation and provides an international research environment that fosters a multidisciplinary approach.”
  • Chapters.  National and international arctic hub; vision, mission, and goal; framework; research; education; science communication and outreach: policy applications; scope, implementation, and management; challenges, opportunities, and growth areas; quality.  20 pages.
  • Outcome.  The Center has an international board of directors and appears to have robust support from its parent university and national government.

Global Science in the Antarctic Context: British Antarctic Survey Strategy to 2012, 2005

  • Vision.  British Antarctic Survey aspires to become, by 2012, the leading international center for global science in the Antarctic context.
  • Mission.  To undertake a world-class program of scientific research, survey, and long-term observations, and to sustain for the UK an active and influential regional presence and a leadership role in Antarctic affairs.
  • Chapters.  Introduction, our strategic priorities, how we will choose our science, how we will work with others, how we will be a focal point for public interest, how we will serve the national need, how we will protect the environment, how we will develop our people, how we will do our work, conclusions, offices and research stations.  24 pages.
  • Objective.  We will know that we have become the leading international center for global science in the Antarctic context when we are recognized as making major contributions to global or basic science, show output performance indicators that set new standards of excellence, are interdisciplinary and innovative in our approach and delivery, consistently publish world-class science in the leading journals, attract and work with people who are best in their field, are respected for our stewardship of the environment, are used as an authoritative source of information and advice.
  • Outcome.  Separate science and business plans draw from this document.

Statement of Purpose and Values, Australian Antarctic Division

  • Vision.  Antarctica valued, protected, and understood.
  • Charter.  To advance Australia's Antarctic interests.
  • ResponsibilitiesLead Australia's Antarctic Program, manage research expeditions, protect the environment, administer the Australian Antarctic Territory and the Territory of Heard and McDonald Islands, be the primary Australian source of Antarctic information, provide objective, accurate, and high-quality advice to our Minister, implement the decisions of government promptly and conscientiously.
  • PurposeMaintain the Antarctic Treaty system and enhance Australia's influence in it, protect the Antarctic environment, seek better understanding of the role of Antarctica in the global climate systems, undertake and support scientific work of practical, economic, and national significance.
  • Values.  Uphold the laws of Australia and the ethical values of the Australian Public Service, accept professional responsibility and personal accountability, be honest and forthright with advice, be innovative, improve skills and knowledge, be fair in dealings with others, consider impact of actions and decisions on the environment.
  • Outcome.  This 2-page document is the current vision statement on the division’s web site.

Statement of Intent 2009-2012, Antarctica New Zealand

  • Vision.  Antarctica and the Southern Ocean: valued, protected, understood.
  • Purpose.  To advance appreciation, conservation and knowledge of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean for the benefit of New Zealand and the world community through leadership, partnership, and involvement in high-quality Antarctic and Southern Ocean-related activities.  This statement of intent sets out the activities by which we will achieve these goals over the next 3 years.
  • Values.  We are a high-performing organization underpinned by a culture of shared beliefs. These are: safety, minimizing our environmental impact, learning, and quality.
  • Chapters.  Preface, introduction, roles and responsibilities, context, outcomes, organizational health, financial management, objectives, forecast financial statements, forecast service performance.  34 pages.

Antarctica 2010 – a notebook : proceedings of the Antarctic Futures Workshop, 28-30 April 1998, edited by Graeme Tetley

  • Vision.  “Antarctica – sustaining global ecosystems and the human spirit.”  The future is not something that is done to you.  It is something you create.  Trends – key ones being convergence and globalization – will shape the future, but discontinuities – forces and movements – will appear or disappear, sometimes suddenly.  Life styles and customers will drive the future.  But science and technology will be central: 87 percent of the growth in the U.S. economy this [20th] century arises from new knowledge and technological change, not economic efficiency or capital investment, according to Rob Solow, Nobel prize-winning economist.
  • Questions authors asked themselves. So often we try to solve where we are going by projecting the past.  We tend to get stuck in today.  Over the next 3 days we will test assumptions about the future – stand in 2010, look back at today [1998] and say, “What would that look like?”
  • Level.  I came to the Antarctic Futures Workshop to see if the Antarctica of my mind matched the Antarctica of the Antarcticans.  I came to check out the Antarcticans too.  I came to the workshop to learn how to predict the future. – Graeme Tetley, a New Zealand TV script writer who edited and annotated this workshop proceedings.
  • Objective.  To maintain New Zealand as a stakeholder and a shareholder.  To have a continent that maintains its unique environment through careful and cooperative management while allowing scientists and those interested in the landmass to conduct themselves responsibly.
  • Chapters.  Setting the scene, frameworks for thinking about the future, tourism, fisheries, science, geopolitics, values, Antarctic Treaty, potential for New Zealand leadership, United States in Antarctica, power of scenarios, Utopian Antarctica, regulatory challenges, vision.  Commentary (throughout) by the editor.  96 pages.
  • Outcome.  This book – not online and pulled by chance from an office bookshelf at NSF – came to eye after the above summaries had been written.  It is different from the others.  It assembles representatives from fisheries, tourism, science, geopolitics, government, business, environmental groups, the arts.  Two participants are Americans: the then deputy director of NSF’s Office of Polar Programs (Maryellen Cameron) and a science fiction writer who had participated in NSF’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program (Kim Stanley Robinson).  The book’s back-to-the-future title and expansive concept suggest it to be an interesting complement to others on the list.

1 Director, American Geographical Society, 1915-1935.  President, Johns Hopkins University, 1935-1948.

2 Problems of Polar Research: A Series of Papers by Thirty-One Authors, edited by W.L.G. Joerg, Special Publication No. 7, American Geographical Society, 1928, 479p.

3 Fridtjof Nansen, Knud Rasmussen, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Douglas Mawson, Erich von Drygalski, Griffith Taylor, Raymond Priestly, Robert Cushman Murphy, Umberto Nobile, others.

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