Division of Ocean Sciences - Fall/Winter 2001 Newsletter
NSF 02-055
(Replaces NSF 01-127)

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Oceanographic Instrumentation and Technical Services

Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI)

Guidelines for the 2002 MRI competition are available on the NSF website at http://www.nsf.gov/od/oia/solicitations/start.htm (select MRI, NSF publication 01-171). The deadline for MRI submittals is January 24, 2002, and future deadlines have been established as the fourth Thursday of each year. The anticipated funds for the NSF-wide competition are expected to be the same as for FY ‘01, about $75 million, with about a third of these funds reserved for non-Ph.D.-granting institutions. For general information about MRI, refer to the solicitation or contact the Office of Integrative Activities at mri@nsf.gov; for specific information related to Ocean Sciences submittals, contact Alexander Shor at ashor@nsf.gov.

Prior year MRI awards by the Division of Ocean Sciences are listed with our shipboard instrumentation awards on the Ocean Sciences web site http://www.geo.nsf.gov/oce/ (then select Award Search under Funding, and use Oceanographic Instrumentation and the relevant fiscal year to search).

Oceanographic Instrumentation Program (OIP)

Prior year OIP awards can be found at the same location as MRI awards, described above. Proposals received for the September 15, 2001 deadline are presently being evaluated for 2002 funding. With rare exceptions, instrumentation requests via OIP should be for shared-use instruments that will be supported by shipboard technical personnel at UNOLS operating institutions. For more information, see guidelines (NSF Publication 00-39) for this and other Ocean Sciences facilities programs at http://www.nsf.gov/cgi-bin/getpub?nsf0039.

Oceanographic Technical Services Program (OTSP)

Support under OTSP is provided by 3-year awards to UNOLS operators, with annual budgets based on actual numbers of operating days and specific scheduled requirements. Proposals for CY2002 were due on October 15, and will be awarded during the first quarter of the new year. 2002 is the third year of the current award, and all operating institutions’ proposals will undergo external review for 2003.

NSF has provided support since 1972 for basic shipboard technical services on UNOLS research ships through OTSP (and its predecessors, beginning with the Shipboard Technician Program). Beginning in 1999, with strong encouragement from two external reviews, the Division began an effort to simplify and expand our direct support of shipboard technical services via the annual Oceanographic Technical Services proposal. The primary objectives were to a) eliminate user fees for “standard” oceanographic equipment, consolidating these into the single, required technical services daily rate charged to all users, and b) provide facility-type support for some more specialized shared-use instruments. Changes were made in the belief that they would reduce costs and budgeting effort by technician groups, improve agency ability to review quality, remove barriers to efficient ship scheduling, and assure continuity of facilities and staff as needed. It was recognized that cost “transparency” to PIs would potentially make cruise planning more difficult for the operators, but it was felt that procedures could be developed to improve this process if it became a major concern.

The implementation of new procedures has been relatively smooth. However, as we enter the fourth year under the revised guidelines, there are a few questions that are frequently asked by PIs and technical support groups. We address some of these here:

Why do we need to include costs for some systems but not others in research proposals?

We changed the guidelines for Basic Technical Services to include most common, shared-use oceanographic instrumentation in the required Technical Services Daily Rate for each vessel. All UNOLS operators that participate in OTSP (this includes all UNOLS vessels except R/Vs Gyre and Urraca) have now eliminated such fees. We also created a new category of support for some more specialized shared-use instruments, and costs for NSF users of qualified systems (see below) are supported directly via the annual OTSP proposal from each operator rather than on individual research grants. User fees are set, however, and users supported by other federal agencies (and most other funding sources) are assured they will not pay a different rate than NSF-funded users.

Instrument systems that are not available to the academic research community for shared-use operations via a UNOLS operator’s OTSP proposal are not eligible for direct support, and all costs related to use of such systems should be included in proposals for individual research projects.

What costs are paid by OTSP for eligible systems?

The intent of the OTSP “specialized services” program is to cover the costs of data acquisition using shared-use instruments provided by a UNOLS vessel operator. Such instruments should be available (subject to reasonable scheduling) to any federally-funded researcher using a UNOLS research vessel. They may be ship-specific (such as the multibeam echosounders on UNOLS Global Class vessels) or portable (like large coring systems available from OSU or WHOI). Eligible costs are outlined in the OTSP proposal guidelines; briefly, they include those reasonable costs for personnel and equipment that are required to ensure safe and appropriate use in data acquisition for all funded projects for the operating year. This includes items such as maintenance and calibration, but it is intended to exclude costs of most data processing and analysis. As an example, the costs paid by OTSP for use of multibeam echosounders typically includes XBTs (for calibration), software licenses for on-board and shore-based editing, display and processing, fractional salaries of shipboard technicians responsible for instrument operation, and costs for shore-based staff for overall system support. It does not include the cost of extra shipboard staff for processing data for an individual research cruise. Those costs, if needed, should be requested and justified in the research proposal.

Why doesn’t the OTSP cover costs of data processors at sea?

This is considered to be a fundamental component of research in most instances and, thus, not something that is appropriate for standardized support via the OTSP. We provide funds to have necessary software and computer systems on the vessels to allow for shipboard processing of most types of data. We also pay costs for routine calibrations, maintenance and repair. Processing needs of individual projects vary widely, however, and we believe that they should be defined and budgeted in the context of the proposed research.

Alexander (Sandy) Shor (ashor@nsf.gov)
Holly Smith (hesmith@nsf.gov)

U.S. Navy-constructed R/V Kilo Moana

Launch of the U.S. Navy-constructed R/V Kilo Moana, the newest oceanographic research vessel, at a ceremony in Jacksonville, Florida on November 17, 2001. The Kilo Moana is an AGOR26 swath ship that will be operated by the University of Hawaii. After completion of sea trials, NSF will fund research using the vessel in the latter half of 2002. Photo courtesy of Naval Sea Systems Command.

 

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