Three interrelated conclusions provide a compelling rationale for making the environmental
portfolio a central activity of the Foundation: (1) environmental issues are significant to
national health, prosperity, equity, and well-being; (2) environmental research, education,
and scientific assessment are essential to environmental problem solving; and (3) within the
family of Federal agencies, NSF is positioned to play a leadership role in providing and
communicating the fundamental knowledge base on environmental topics. To be effective in
this role, NSF's activities must complement and enhance, not duplicate or replace, the extant
portfolio of Federal activities in this area.
Environmental sciences and engineering have matured significantly over the last decade.
New knowledge and new technologies have combined to bring the environmental sciences to
an unprecedented threshold of discovery and understanding. Although NSF already supports
more environmental research and education than is generally realized, the Nation's
need for fundamental environmental knowledge and understanding requires further attention.
To expand and strengthen the Foundation's environmental portfolio, environmental
activities within NSF must:
- be organized more effectively, and
- receive greater funding.
The growing frustration with the lack of adequate scientific information about environmental
issues has led to a plethora of reports and suggestions. The majority of these focus on
enhancing the disciplinary and interdisciplinary fundamental understanding of environmental
systems and problems, improving the systematic acquisition of data, the analysis and
synthesis of these data into useful information, and the dissemination of this information
into understandable formats for multiple uses. A number of these reports and policy documents
examined by the Board made specific recommendations regarding the level of funding
required to meet the Nation's needs in these areas (see Appendix B). The Board received
additional testimony during the hearing process on the scale and scope of the needed
investments. These substantial inputstogether with a thorough review of NSF's current
investmentform the basis for the Board's budget recommendation.
Suggestions for Federal organizational changes have included the creation of a new Federal
National Institute for the Environment, a strengthened interagency environmental committee
that would involve NSF, an environmental institute within NSF, and a new directorate
inside NSF. These suggestions have been tremendously helpful in promoting dialogue and
raising awareness of the issues, and the Board considered these carefully in light of its
immediate focus on environmental research, education, and scientific assessment within
NSF. The suggestion of a new institute within NSF, for example, was deemed less desirable
than a new mechanism that would simultaneously retain and strengthen existing disciplinary
units but at the same time provide more effective integration, cooperation, visibility, and
continuity across the Foundation.
Based on these reports and the broad input received by the task force, the Board identified
the following characteristics as necessary for an effective organizational structure. NSF's
environmental portfolio should be well-integrated, high priority, highly visible, cohesive, and
sustained. It must work effectively with and enhance the current disciplinary structure and,
simultaneously, provide more and more effective interdisciplinary efforts. Moreover, NSF's
activities should continue to complement and enhance those of other Federal agencies. To
this end, the Board made two overarching recommendations.
Environmental research, education, and scientific assessment
should be one of NSF's highest priorities. The current environmental
portfolio represents an expenditure of approximately $600
million per year. In view of the overwhelming importance of, and
exciting opportunities for progress in,
the environmental arena, and
because existing resources are fully and appropriately utilized, new funding will be required.
We recommend that support for environmental research, education, and scientific assessment
at NSF be increased by an additional $1 billion, phased in over the next 5 years, to
reach an annual expenditure of approximately $1.6 billion.
The Board expects NSF management and staff to develop budget requests and funding
priorities for the coming years that are consistent with this and the following recommendations.
It further expects that, consistent with its normal way of operating, NSF will involve
the scientific community in identifying specific priority programmatic areas and in elaborating
the specific recommendations below.
NSF management should develop an effective organizational
approach that meets all of the criteria required to ensure a well-integrated,
high-priority, high-visibility, cohesive, and sustained
environmental portfolio within the Foundation. These criteria include:
A high-visibility, NSF-wide organizational focal point with:
principal responsibility for identifying gaps, opportunities, and priorities, particularly in interdisciplinary areas;
budgetary authority for enabling integration across research, education, and scientific assessment, and across areas of inquiry;
responsibility for assembling and publicizing, within the context of the Foundation's normal reporting, a clear statement of NSF's environmental activities; and
a formal advisory process specifically for environmental activities.
Continuity of funding opportunities, in particular in interdisciplinary areas.
Integration, cooperation, and collaboration with and across established programmatic areas, within NSF and between NSF and other Federal agencies.
The Board acknowledges the attention and priority that the Foundation recently has placed
on identifying possible new organizational structures. The Board further recognizes that it is
a challenging task to satisfy all of the criteria specified in the organizational recommendation.
At the same time, it stresses the importance of doing so in order to respond effectively to the
unprecedented emphasis on integrative, sustained, interdisciplinary activities called for in this
SPECIFIC FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The above keystone recommendations are complemented by 10 more specific findings and
recommendations. These are organized into three basic activity categories (research, education,
and scientific assessment) and four crosscutting categories (physical infrastructure,
technological infrastructure, information infrastructure, and partnerships).
The fundamental understanding of environmental pattern and process requires analysis in
balance with synthesis to provide a foundation of knowledge upon which paradigm development
and predictive modeling can be based. As the field of environmental research has
matured intellectually, its requirements for knowledge across all scientific, engineering, and
mathematics disciplines have increased. The Board finds that meeting this challenge will
require increasing disciplinary research efforts across all environmental areas.
The role of the research component of NSF's environmental portfolio is to foster discovery
across the fields of science and engineering that seeks to elucidate environmental processes
and interactions, thereby providing an integrated understanding of the natural status of, and
the anthropogenic influences on, Earth's environment. Information and understanding from
certain disciplines are especially relevant to environmental problems, but are often lacking.
The Board finds that lack of knowledge in biological/ecological and social sciences and
environmental technology is limiting. Specific research areas needing enhancement in the
NSF environment portfolio include ecosystem services, integrated environmental systems,
biosphere and society, and strategic environmental technologies (see Table 4). Note that these
specific areas do not represent a comprehensive list of all high-priority unmet research needs.
Rather, they illustrate examples of exciting, emerging areas ripe for advance and immediately
relevant to environmental needs that were identified repeatedly in the task force's inquiry.
Most environmental issues are interdisciplinary, and their drivers, indicators, and effects
propagate across extended spatial and temporal scales. Increased resources are needed for
interdisciplinary, long-term, large-scale, problem-based research and monitoring efforts. In
addition, special mechanisms may be required to facilitate successful interdisciplinary
programs. The current mechanism of establishing special competitions to address interdisciplinary
needs is useful to initiate programs, but does not address the need to provide long-term
stability of interdisciplinary efforts.
Table 4. Programmatic Gaps Or Areas Needing Enhancement In The Current NSF Environment Portfolio Identified By The Board
The interface between ecology and economics, especially mechanisms for incorporating ecosystem services into market systems.
Relationship between biological diversity, the area occupied by the ecosystem, and the delivery of critical services.
Discovery of unknown species, understanding their relationships to known organisms, and evaluation of their genetic and other potential for ecosystem functioning and services to humans.
Integrated Environmental Systems
Carbon cycle connections: terrestrial-atmospheric-oceanic. Emphasis to improve balance of knowledge among components.
Coastal zone research and other interface areas: watersheds, coastal waters and estuaries, large rivers.
Ecosystem experimentation and the systems theory/complexity theory interface.
Spatially explicit studies of biogeochemistry, land cover, and land use.
Ecology of infectious diseases.
Integration of systematic biology with molecular and evolutionary approaches to improve predictive understanding of invasive species, human disease, and other areas.
Climate and the hydrological cycle.
Biosphere and Society
Valuation and decision-making research on risk, existence values, ethics, and intergenerational tradeoffs of well-being.
Historical ecology: e.g., tracing human-environment relations by integrating evidence from physical, biological, and social sciences and the humanities over space and time.
Social ecology: e.g., studies of social, cultural, and economic processes, societal institutions, and public policies in relation to the environment and its spatial context.
Research on the innovation process for environmentally benign materials, designs, and processes.
Strategic Environmental Technologies
Integration of classic environmental technologies with new capabilities in molecular biology, informatics, gene expression, robotics, observing capabilites, and other enabling technologies.
Industrial ecology: e.g., materials flow accounting, scale issues research including the scale of human perturbations to natural material flows, studies of urbanization/transportation and land use, and product/process life-cycle assessment research.
Energy and environmental implications of emerging 21st century patterns: e.g., service economies, movement of certain production processes to lesser developed countries, and remanufacturing.
The Board acknowledges that the time scales of environmental phenomena are much longer
than funding cycles and program durations. Long-term databases, observations, and experiments
are necessary to provide understanding of many environmental problems, yet insufficient
support exists for sustained research efforts.
Environmental research within all relevant disciplines should be
enhanced, with significant new investments in research critical to
understanding biocomplexity, including the biological/ecological
and social sciences and environmental technology.
Interdisciplinary research requires significantly greater investment,
more effective support mechanisms, and strengthened capabilities
for identifying research needs, prioritizing across disciplines, and
providing for their long-term support.
The Foundation should significantly increase its investments in
existing long-term programs and establish new support mechanisms
for additional long-term research.
The twin goals of learning are to gain knowledge and to acquire skills such as problem
solving, consensus building, information management, communication, and critical and
creative thinking. Environmental issues offer excellent vehicles for developing and exercising
many of these skills using a systems approach. Moreover, environmental education and
training should be science based, but should be given a renewed focus on preparing students
for broad career horizons; they should also integrate new technologies, especially information
technologies, as much as possible. Finally, changes should be made in the formal educational
system to help all students, educators, and education administrators learn about the environment,
the economy, and social equity as they relate to all academic disciplines and their daily lives.
To this end, NSF should create educational and training opportunities that enhance scientific
and technological capacity associated with the environment. These opportunities should
be made available not only through formal education channels, but also through more
informal education channels such as science centers, aquariums, and similar facilities;
television and radio programs; web sites; and other learning foci that are attractive to the
public. In this way, the agency can help enhance the public's ability to deal with complex
information in the environmental area and encourage access to information on, and opportunities
to learn and make informed decisions about, the environment as it relates to citizens'
personal, work, and community lives.
The Foundation should encourage proposals that capitalize on
student interest in environmental areas while supporting significantly
more environmental education efforts through informal
vehicles. All Foundation-supported education activities should at
their core recognize potential and develop the capacity for excellence
in all segments of society, regardless of whether they have been part of the scientific and
Scientific assessment, as used here, is defined as inquiry-based synthesis, evaluation, and
communication of understanding of relevant biological, socioeconomic, and physical
environmental scientific information to provide an informed basis for (1) prioritizing
scientific investments and (2) addressing environmental issues. The Board finds that NSF's
role is to facilitate the development of methods and models of scientific assessment and
foster scientific assessment, both domestically and internationally.
Research on how to do effective, credible, and helpful scientific assessments is timely.
Approaches to scientific assessment need to be refined, standardized, and made more
transferable between environmental issues. In addition, the Board finds that there is an
identified need for a credible, unbiased approach to defining the status and trends, or
trajectory, of environmental patterns and processes. The Board acknowledges the ongoing
scientific assessment activities of other agencies, and urges that additional scientific assessment
efforts by NSF complement present efforts.
The Foundation should significantly increase its research on the
methods and models used in scientific assessment. In addition,
NSF should, with due cognizance of the activities of other agencies,
enable an increased portfolio of scientific assessments for the
purpose of prioritizing research investments and for synthesizing
scientific knowledge in a fashion useful for policy- and decision-making.
Environmental research depends heavily on effective physical infrastructure. Environmental
observatories, ranging from telescopes to undersea platforms to LTER sites are complemented
by high-speed communications links, powerful computers, and well-constructed
databases. Another category of physical infrastructure is natural history collections that
provide a baseline against which to measure environmental change and provide essential
resources for biology and biotechnology. Finally, centers- both traditional and virtual- are
magnets for interdisciplinary teams that can address problem-focused issues and complement
the types of activities that individual investigators perform. Consequently, NSF must foster
the development of facilities, instrumentation, and other infrastructure that enable discovery,
including the study of processes and interactions that occur over long time scales.
The physical and virtual infrastructure required for an effective environmental program
should be enhanced. Some of this enhancement can be done in partnership with other
agencies; some is primarily NSF's responsibility. In addition to traditional areas of physical
infrastructure, more attention is needed to informatics, web accessibility of data sets, and
maintenance of natural history specimens (extracted genetic, living, and preserved) to ensure
that researchers and educators can leverage past and future investments.
NSF should give high priority to enhancing infrastructure for
environmental observations and collections as well as new information
networking capacity. The agency should create a suite of
environmental research and education hubs, on the scale of present
Science and Technology Centers and Engineering Research Centers, that might include
physical and/or virtual centers, site-focused and/or problem-focused
collaboratories, and additional environmental information synthesis and forecasting centers.
The Board finds that a critical NSF role is to foster research that seeks to develop innovative
technologies and approaches that help the Nation conserve its environmental assets and
The convergence of 21st century
science and technology with emerging paradigms of
ecological understanding provides an unprecedented opportunity. Wholly new fields of
inquiry and analysis that address complex ecosystem processes and resource stewardship have
emerged in just the past few years. The Board finds that the thoughtfully planned integration
of these sciences offers great promise for accelerating fundamental understanding of environmental
principles and injecting contemporary science and technology into the study and
management of ecological systems. Table 5 presents examples of technologies with promise
for environmental research.
Table 5. Examples Of Technologies With Promise For Environmental Research
Genome sequencing and derivative technologies
DNA chips and other new biotechnologies to increase understanding of how biological processes are controlled by genetic limitations and environmental variables; design principles borrowed from biological systems to guide biocatalysis and bioremediation.
Networked observational systems
Data provided by robust sensors, autonomous ecological monitoring devices, biochemical tracers, and satellite-based imaging of landscapes and bodies of water are networked for better integrated and more accessible information.
New molecular design methods and smart technology can lead to environmentally benign materials, device miniaturization, and advanced processing methods.
Software and statistics
New software for computational analysis, modeling, and simulation combined with new statistical approaches to provide a better basis for comparison of patterns emerging from data at different levels of detail.
NSF can play an important role in facilitating innovation and stimulating a shift from
relatively small incremental advances to bold technological transformation in response to
environmental problems. The Foundation should facilitate an effort to identify technologies
that represent order-of-magnitude improvements over existing environmental technologies,
andin cooperation with other Federal agencies, the academic community, and the private
sectorsupport the scientific and engineering research needed to underpin these technologies.
The Foundation should vigorously support research on environmental
technologies, including those that can help both public and
private sectors avoid environmental harm and permit wise utilization
of natural resources.
The Foundation should enable and encourage the use of new and
appropriate technologies in environmental research and education.
Lack of knowledge and poor communication of existing information constrain both the
progress of discovery and the processes of society. As good stewardship of environmental
systems becomes increasingly vital, the need for ease of analysis and synthesis of information
about them will become ever more important. NSF should, in partnership with other
Federal agencies, stimulate the development of mechanisms and infrastructure to synthesize
and aggregate scientific environmental information and make it more accessible to the
public. A coordinated electronic network linking distributed information and databases at all
levels is vital; this network must ensure efficient and effective information access by and
transfer to the public.
The state of environmental monitoring is imperfect; even the data that exist are not routinely
checked for comparability and quality, nor are they made conveniently available for analysis
in the way in which labor statistics, for example, are managed by the Bureau of Labor
Statistics. A central source of comparable, quality-controlled time-series measurements of the
environment is needed.
The Foundation should take the lead in enabling a coordinated,
digital, environmental information network. In addition, NSF
should catalyze a study to frame a central source that compiles
comparable, quality-controlled time-series measurements of the
state of the environment.
Partnerships, Coordination, And Collaborations
Collaborations and partnerships are essential to high-priority environmental research,
education, and scientific assessment efforts. Furthermore, collaborations are most effective
when they are based on intellectual needs. The collective results should be greater than what
could have been achieved independently. Partnerships among federal agencies, with nongovernmental
bodies (e.g., private sector entities, NGOs, and others), and with international
organizations can provide the intellectual and financial leveraging to address environmental
questions at the local, regional, and international levels.
Within the Federal Government, many mission agencies conduct research, education, and
assessment activities in the environmental arena. There are thus many opportunities to
partner in bilateral agreements or via National Science and Technology Council science and
engineering initiatives. In addition to bridging common interests and objectives, partnerships
should provide for more effective coordination of complementary expertise and
experience, and broadening of perspectives among participants. The Board endorses strong
NSF participation in the NSTC coordinating mechanism.
On the international front, many of NSF's environmental research collaborations address
fundamental scientific questions at the root of current environmental issues (e.g., the role the
equatorial ocean plays in controlling the timing and magnitude of El Niño) and reflect the
drive to develop an international scientific consensus for consideration by policy-makers
(e.g., the scientific basis for the depletion of stratospheric ozone and the international policies
within the Montreal Protocol). Just as research informs the policy dialogue within the
United States, so research in which national policy-makers have confidence undergirds
international policy negotiations. By collaborating with scientists from around the world
including those in countries with limited meansNSF-funded projects help expand the
knowledge base needed for scientific consensus.
The most effective partnerships involve the evolution of trust among participants, strategic
thinking processes to identify and evaluate common interests and objectives, and relatively
simple, flexible administrative arrangements. They also require sufficient staff, resources, and
time to mature.
NSF should actively seek and provide stable support for research,
education, and assessment partnerships that correspond to the
location, scale, and nature of the environmental issues. Such
partnerships and interagency coordination should include both
domestic and international collaborations that foster joint implementation
including joint financing when appropriate. This report clearly establishes the
need for an expanded national portfolio of environmental R&D. Therefore, the Board
suggests that NSTC, with advice from the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and
Technology, reevaluate the national environmental R&D portfolio, including identification
of research gaps and setting of priorities, and the respective roles of different Federal agencies
in fundamental environmental research, education, and scientific assessment.