U.S. POLAR PROGRAMS         $244,960,000

The FY 1999 Budget Request for U.S. Polar Programs is $244.96 million, an increase of $16.43 million, or 7.2 percent, over the FY 1998 Current Plan of $228.53 million.

 (Millions of Dollars)

NSF conducts Polar Programs through two budget Activities:

Polar Programs is unique within the Foundation in both its geographic focus -- polar regions -- and in the breadth of its scientific programs. Polar regions play a central role in environmental issues related to global climate and are vital to understanding past, present and future responses of Earth systems to natural and man-made changes.

The Arctic and Antarctic are premier natural laboratories whose extreme environments and geographically unique processes enable research not feasible elsewhere. Projects supported by Polar Programs employ ice sheets to detect high energy subatomic particles, utilize astrophysical observations made in cold dry polar conditions to determine the evolution and structure of the universe, analyze the chemistry of ice cores as a record of global climate history, examine the effects on marine life of increased ultraviolet light (UVB) from ozone depletion, and elucidate adaptation mechanisms of organisms and ecosystems to harsh living conditions.

NSF is one of twelve federal agencies supporting Arctic research and logistics. The Foundation provides interagency leadership for research planning as directed by the Arctic Research Policy Act of 1984. NSF also supports university research to increase our knowledge of the region, to improve understanding of Arctic phenomena, and to enhance stewardship of natural resources.

In the Antarctic, NSF is charged with managing all U.S. activities through a single integrated program. The U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) implements national policy to maintain Antarctica as an area of international cooperation reserved for peaceful purposes, to preserve and pursue unique opportunities for scientific research to understand Antarctica itself, as well as its role in global environmental systems, to protect the relatively unspoiled environment and its associated ecosystems, and to assure the conservation and sustainable management of the living resources in the surrounding oceans.

Funding for the USAP includes research and the science support directly linked to research projects, as well as support for the broader operations and logistics infrastructure that makes it possible to conduct science on the remote and uninhabited continent. Across the USAP, research grants and science support account for about 40 percent of the program.

U.S. Polar Programs support activities through the Foundation’s key program functions: Research Project Support; Education and Training; Research Facilities; and Administration and Management.

Research Project Support: Priority is given to fundamental research that can be uniquely undertaken in the polar regions. Research in the Arctic and Antarctic covers virtually every aspect of our planet: the solid earth, glacial and sea ice, terrestrial ecosystems, the oceans, the atmosphere and beyond. Research on the solid earth is integral to understanding plate tectonics. Glacial and sea ice studies focus on the unique role of polar regions in climate. Marine/terrestrial biota studies rely on the extreme environment to study systems relatively unaffected by humans. Ocean studies concentrate on the role of polar regions in generating nutrient-rich, cold currents that influence global ocean circulation. High latitude magnetic field and upper atmospheric studies provide singular views of near-earth space physics. The dry, cold atmosphere at the South Pole, its 9,300 foot elevation and six month continuous night permit astronomical studies not feasible elsewhere. The search for Antarctic meteorites enables fundamental advances in knowledge about the origin of our solar system, including possible life on Mars.

Within Research Project Support, three centers are funded in Antarctica. The Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica conducts research in both astronomy and astrophysics at the South Pole. Two Antarctic Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites are part of the U.S. LTER network. On the Antarctic Peninsula, the LTER near Palmer Station focuses on marine research, with field support from the research vessel Laurence M. Gould. At the LTER in the Dry Valleys near McMurdo Station, researchers study polar desert oases and permanently ice-covered lakes. These sites involve a number of researchers, graduate students and undergraduates from several universities across the United States as well as researchers from other federal agencies.

Arctic and sub-Arctic LTERs in Alaska -- at Toolik Lake and at the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest -- are the base for studies of Arctic forests, tundra, lakes and streams. These LTERs are supported through NSF’s Biological Sciences Activity, with associated research supported by Polar Programs.

Polar Programs will be part of the Foundation-wide effort to address concerns about grant sizes by increasing the average award size and duration and providing more support for researchers, with particular attention to new investigators. These efforts will also contribute to increased efficiency in the Foundation’s merit review process, and achieve greater cost-effectiveness for both NSF and the university community. In addition, Polar Programs will participate in the Foundation-wide initiative on Research on Education and Training Technology, undertaken in partnership with the Department of Education.

Education and Training: Innovative efforts in Polar Programs contribute to the integration of research and education. These efforts, some of which are carried out cooperatively with the Education and Human Resources Activity, as well as with other agencies, include use of new technologies (interactive video); outreach activities providing Arctic and Antarctic research experiences to high school teachers; efforts to improve scientific literacy and education in Alaska; and contribution to development of a geosciences curriculum for undergraduates (GLACIER) relating geoscience disciplines to polar phenomena, in particular ice sheet evolution. Polar Programs also supports the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program and the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training program.

Research Facilities - Polar Science Operations and Logistics: Research in the polar regions is also supported through provision of special facilities and logistics.


Support for Arctic research facilities, through Polar Programs and other NSF Activities, includes support for Arctic field stations and large instrument facilities in Alaska, Greenland, and Arctic Canada:


In the Antarctic, funds for polar science operations and logistics make research possible by providing all the infrastructure, instrumentation, and logistics necessary for scientists from all disciplines -- including over 600 650 science personnel from institutions in over 30 states who travel to Antarctica for their research. This support includes forward staging facilities in New Zealand and South America, as well as the home ports or headquarters for the military and civilian contractor in the United States. Facilities include:

In FY 1999, $22.0 million is requested for the next phase of South Pole Station Modernization and $20.0 million is requested for modifications to NSF’s polar support aircraft (ski-equipped LC-130s). The Major Research Equipment Account has further information on these requests and on progress addressing critical health, safety and environmental improvements at the South Pole Station, funded in FY 1997.

Administration and Management: The administration and management key program function includes $1.35 million for Intergovernmental Personnel Act appointments and contractors performing administrative functions.

National Policy for Antarctica

In 1996 the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) completed a government-wide review of U.S. Antarctic policy at the request of Congress and reaffirmed U.S. policy, including the need for a continuing U.S. presence at the South Pole. The report also recommended that an external panel be convened by NSF to explore options for sustaining the high level of USAP science activity under constrained funding, including consideration of South Pole Station.

As a result of the NSTC review, NSF convened the U.S. Antarctic Program External Panel, chaired by Norman Augustine, then Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Lockheed Martin Corporation. The Panel’s 1997 report included the following recommendations:

Funds were specifically appropriated in FY 1997 to rectify the most extreme safety, health and environmental concerns at the South Pole. In FY 1998, $70.0 million was appropriated for the first phase of construction of the Optimized Station recommended by the External Panel. The FY 1999 Budget Request continues the Foundation’s investment in improving South Pole Station infrastructure within the Major Research Equipment Account.

NSF’s Enhanced Role in the Arctic

The Arctic plays a central role in regional and global environmental issues, especially those related to climate and resource development. Current model simulations predict that the Arctic will be the first place on the planet to be significantly impacted by projected climate changes. The Arctic is also of considerable importance from economic and national policy perspectives. The Alaskan Arctic and adjacent areas contain significant oil, natural gas and marine resources. Research findings will assist with the management and development of these natural resources in ways that sustain the environment.

The need for additional scientific information is matched by new opportunities, including the opening of the Russian Arctic to researchers, the declassification of U.S. and Soviet oceanographic data, and the launching of the research icebreaker USCG Healy. The Polar Programs Arctic Research Program will participate with other NSF Activities to enhance support for research and education in the Arctic. In FY 1999, support across NSF will total about $81 million, an increase of approximately $27 million:

NSF Arctic Funding
(Millions of Dollars)

Emphasis includes expansion of logistics capabilities, research platforms and facilities; extension of education and outreach activities, especially those exploring new technology venues and distance learning; increased scientific cooperation at international levels, and further development of research programs on the human dimensions of global change. In FY 1999, over $50 million is requested for research and education, $9.5 million for targeted logistics improvements, and $21.0 million for the Polar Cap Observatory. An Arctic Affiliates group, with representatives from across the Foundation, provides interaction among NSF programs supporting Arctic research.

Foundation-wide Activities

The FY 1999 request for U.S. Polar Research Programs includes participation in Foundation-wide activities.

Life and Earth’s Environment (LEE): In FY 1999, Polar Programs will provide an increment of $10.0 million for LEE. Plans include:

Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence (KDI): In FY 1999, Polar Programs will provide an increment of $950,000 for KDI. Plans in Knowledge Networking include continuing emphasis on: development and deployment of remote sensing and remote operation capabilities; use of Geographic Information System (GIS) and Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies; digital maps; development of accessible information systems for polar data; and interactive video systems in Antarctica and Alaska to establish a virtual campus.

Educating for the Future (EFF): In FY 1999, support for EFF will increase $1.26 million to enhance activities such as the Antarctic Artists and Writers program; Scouting in Antarctica; Live from Antarctica project linking researchers to classrooms; curriculum development initiatives; summer internships in Alaska; and Teachers Experiencing the Antarctic and Arctic.

Participation in the NSF-wide Major Research Instrumentation program will continue.