Summary of FY2002 Budget Request to Congress - National Science Foundation

U.S. POLAR PROGRAMS $276,570,000

The FY 2002 Budget Request for U.S. Polar Programs is $276.57 million, an increase of $3.31 million, or 1.2 percent, over the FY 2001 Current Plan of $273.26 million.

(Millions of Dollars)

 FY 2000
FY 2001
 FY 2002
Amount Percent
U.S. Polar Research Programs 189.93 210.80 213.97 3.17 1.5%
U.S. Antarctic Logistical Support Activities 68.40 62.46 62.60 0.14 0.2%
Total, Polar Programs $258.33 $273.26 $276.57 $3.31 1.2%

Totals may not add due to rounding.

The U.S. Polar Programs Activity supports most of the polar research funded by the National Science Foundation. The Arctic and Antarctic are premier natural laboratories whose extreme environments and geographically unique processes enable research not feasible elsewhere. For example, polar ice forms an integral part of the Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector Array, and the cold, dry environment and high altitude at the South Pole render certain astrophysical telescopes uniquely effective. These instruments probe the distant reaches of the universe, while environmental observatories detect and monitor effects of climate change on extreme terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Polar researchers are also monitoring and analyzing recent changes in the Arctic ice cover and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to better understand the potential impact of these changes on global climate change. Other projects supported by Polar Programs analyze the chemistry of ice cores as a record of global climate history; utilize astrophysical observations to determine the evolution and structure of the universe; examine the effects on marine life of increased ultraviolet light resulting from ozone depletion; and elucidate adaptation mechanisms of organisms and ecosystems to harsh living conditions.

Polar regions also offer unusual opportunities for environmental research, both because polar ecosystems are so sensitive to small changes in the environment and because polar regions provide information about past environmental changes, serving as bellwethers for potential future change.

Highlights of recent research supported by Polar Programs include the following:

In the Antarctic, the high-risk, international Cape Roberts Project yielded impressive results related to the long-term evolution of the Antarctic climate and ice sheets, marine life, topography, and tectonics. The recorded Antarctic changes help to explain some of the puzzling major changes in global climate on timescales of millions of years.

The mapping of the Arctic Ocean floor using the NSF-developed Seafloor Characterization and Mapping Pods (SCAMP) mounted on the nuclear submarine USS Hawkbill is a good example of using innovative tools and, as a result, developing new databases. The resulting data sets of high-resolution and narrow-beam bathymetry as well as chirp sub-bottom profiles will revolutionize Arctic Ocean modeling, and have driven the development of advanced visualization techniques and multi-dimensional Geographic Information Systems.

A cooperative program with German investigators to sample basalts, peridotites and related rocks along 600 km of the Gakkel Ridge in the central Arctic Ocean. The Gakkel Ridge is a fundamental component of the Arctic Ocean system. Thirty percent of the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean has been generated there, but very little is known about the rock types of the Arctic Ocean crust. How the mantle below the Arctic Ocean is related to the mantle beneath the rest of the world and how it may have been influenced by nearby continents are basic geological questions that can only be answered by a study such as this one. The polar mantle may be very different from the equatorial mantle and the Gakkel Ridge is our only opportunity to sample this part of the earth's interior.

An interesting example of important research focusing on Life in Extreme Environments is the discovery of bacteria actively metabolizing at -17°C in snow at the South Pole. This result indicates that life can exist at lower temperatures than previously believed. This evidence for the resilience of life exposed to heavy doses of UV radiation, extreme cold, and darkness has important implications for the possibility of life elsewhere in the solar system.

The discovery of viable microbes in Lake Vostok accretion ice provided the first evidence that Lake Vostok, a large subglacial lake located 4 km beneath the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, might support a microbial community.

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. Funding in the Arctic includes research and logistics support for work conducted in that remote region.

Funding for the Arctic Research Commission, an independent federal agency, is also included within funding for Polar Programs.

NSF is charged with managing all U.S. activities in the Antarctic as 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 and its role in global environmental systems, to protect the relatively pristine 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.

In FY 2002, Polar Programs will support research and education efforts related to broad, Foundation-wide priority areas in Biocomplexity in the Environment, Information Technology Research and Learning for the 21st Century.

Biocomplexity in the Environment (BE): Funding for BE in FY 2002 totals $1.41 million. These funds will contribute to NSF's centralized competition; provide preliminary support for Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH), a broad, interdisciplinary multi-scale program with a core aim of understanding the complex suite of recent and ongoing environmental changes; and fund initial efforts related to Antarctic sub-glacial lake characterization and study at Lake Vostok.

Information Technology Research (ITR): Funding for ITR in FY 2002 totals $1.09 million. Priorities include continued development of remote operation capabilities and accessible information systems for polar data.

Learning for the 21st Century: Funding for this priority area in FY 2002 totals $1.10 million. Polar Programs support enhances the partnership between rural college campuses in Alaska and U.S. research institutes through interactive distance courses, labs, and workshops. Support is also provided for the Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) Program and the Interagency Education Research Initiative (IERI).


U.S. Polar Programs' support for ongoing and new activities contributes to NSF efforts to achieve its strategic goals, as well as to the administration and management activities necessary to achieve those goals.

(Millions of Dollars)

FY 2001
FY 2002
People 2.14 3.50 63.6%
Ideas 71.01 72.41 2.0%
Tools 196.76 197.31 0.3%
Administration & Management 1 3.35 3.35 0.0%
Total, OPP $273.26 $276.57 1.2%

Totals may not add due to rounding.
1 Includes only costs charged to the R&RA appropriation.


Across its programs, OPP will provide support for more than 2,000 people in FY 2002, including students, researchers, post-doctorates, and trainees. Support for programs specifically addressing NSF's strategic goal of "People - Developing a diverse, internationally competitive and globally-engaged workforce of scientists, engineers and well-prepared citizens" totals $3.50 million in FY 2002. Moreover, about 31 percent of the funding for research grants - approximately $23 million in FY 2002 - provides support for researchers and students, including about 645 post-doctorate, graduate, and undergraduate students.

Innovative efforts in Polar Programs include use of new technologies such as interactive video; 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 and global phenomena. Continuing activities also include support for the Antarctic Artists and Writers program; Scouting in Antarctica; Live from Antarctica, a project linking researchers to classrooms; curriculum development activities; and Teachers Experiencing the Antarctic and Arctic. Polar Programs also supports the following Foundation-wide programs: Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training; Model Institutions for Excellence; ADVANCE, Research Experiences for Undergraduates, and the GK-12 Fellows Program.


Support that enables discovery across the frontier of science and engineering, connected to learning, innovation, and service to society increases by $1.40 million in FY 2002, to a total of $72.41 million, an increase of 2.0 percent over FY 2001. Only fundamental research that can be uniquely or best undertaken in the polar regions is supported. This Arctic and Antarctic research addresses the solid earth, glacial and sea ice, terrestrial and marine ecosystems, the oceans, the atmosphere and beyond. Research on the solid earth is integral to understanding our planet's plate tectonics, the evolution of life in Earth's distant and recent past, and the interactions of Earth's crust with the overlying ice sheets. Glacial and sea ice studies elucidate aspects of biologic productivity and global climate processes. Marine/terrestrial biota studies examine systems from extreme environments that are relatively unaffected by humans - they are therefore ideal for documenting the long-term effects of human activities. A major focus of ocean studies is 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 unique 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.

Support includes $1.42 million for two Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites in Antarctica which 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 leased 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 and their unique microbial systems. Activities at these sites involve researchers, graduate students and undergraduates from universities across the United States.

OPP also provides research and operational support for Toolik Lake Field Station, a sub-Arctic LTER in Alaska. Toolik Lake Field Station provides a logistical base for ecosystem studies of Arctic tundra, lakes and streams. This LTER is supported in cooperation with NSF's Biological Sciences Activity.

In FY 2002, Polar Programs will attempt to address Foundation-wide concerns about grant sizes by increasing the average size and duration of awards. These efforts will contribute to increasing the efficiency of the Foundation's merit review process and achieve greater cost-effectiveness for both NSF and the university community.


Research in the polar regions is also supported through provision of research support, special facilities, and logistics. A substantial portion of Polar Programs' funding is used for maintaining Arctic and Antarctic research facilities, stations, and camps, often requiring long-term commitments. Funding for Tools in FY 2002 totals $197.31 million, a 0.3 percent increase over FY 2001. Research support includes costs typically awarded directly to grantees in other areas of NSF - technicians, field safety equipment, laboratory costs, transportation of scientists and their cargo, and instrumentation and equipment - but handled centrally by Polar Programs when it is more cost efficient to do so. In FY 2002, both the physical infrastructure and communications will continue to be upgraded. Both scientific and operational needs for enhanced computing and communications will be met by equipment upgrades. Remote sensing, data retrieval and handling, and automated observatories will be developed.


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

  • Logistics resources such as airplanes, helicopters, and access to icebreakers and field camps are provided to researchers participating in approximately 130 projects in remote sites in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Arctic Scandinavia, Russia, and the Arctic Ocean.

  • Toolik Field Station on the Alaskan North Slope, one of the focal points of U.S. polar terrestrial research, is operated by the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF). NSF is working cooperatively with UAF on the operation of Toolik Field Station to enhance its management and long-term development of the infrastructure. Scientists from over 50 institutions work at Toolik annually. In 2002 continued improvements are expected to be made to the living conditions in the camps, following last year's improvement to laboratories and communications capabilities.

  • The Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC) operates a wide variety of facilities, including laboratories, workshops, and an airfield from which to operate small research aircraft and pilotless aerosondes imaging sea-ice and the tundra, to support up to 40 projects operating in the region. BASC also manages an Environmental Observatory at Point Barrow, Alaska, and plays a critical role in linking Arctic science to regional communities on the North Slope of Alaska.

  • Automated stations on the North Slope of Alaska support studies of carbon dioxide and methane fluxes from the tundra.

  • Leased facilities at Kangerlussuaq, on the west coast of Greenland, provide a support hub for research on the Greenland icecap and the coastal tundra. Leased facilities at Thule Air Base in northwest Greenland support terrestrial/icecap field programs in northern Greenland and on the drifting ice of the Arctic Ocean.

    NSF's Summit Field Station on the Greenland icecap operates as a year-round international site for a variety of atmospheric and geophysical measurements. NSF is developing partnerships with the Danish Polar Center and the European Union for continued operation of the site.

  • Polar Programs supports Long Term Observations in the Arctic. For example, a new monitoring site in the central Bering Strait is being set up on Little Diomede Island to collect biological, chemical, and physical data on the transport of nutrient- and organic-rich waters of north Pacific origin into the Arctic Ocean through this narrow strait. The station will be operated as a collaboration between the Little Diomede Inuit community and scientists at major U.S. universities. The station will be housed in the community and maintained daily by local technicians trained by the science team.

  • FY 2002 will be the second year of support for NSF researchers on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy. Current plans call for approximately 160 days of ship time. The Healy has the capability to support a broad range of research, including physical oceanography, ocean-ice-atmosphere interactions, marine sediment coring, petrologic biogeochemical surveys, and long-term observational programs to track environmental change.

  • The research vessel Alpha Helix, part of the U.S. Academic Research Fleet, enables oceanographic research in the northern high latitudes. Primary support comes through NSF's Ocean Sciences Subactivity, with contributions from Polar Programs. In addition, other vessels such as the Tiglax, owned and operated by Alaska's Department of Fish and Wildlife, will be used to support work along the Aleutian chain.

  • Following pilot courses in FY 2001, up to three field safety and first aid courses will be offered to the science community in an effort to improve individual field teams' field operations safety.

  • Additional hand-held global satellite telephone communications will be provided for individual investigators working in remote regions. This is particularly important as there is no centralized programmatic communication and control system in the Arctic.


In the Antarctic, funds for science support, operations, and logistics make research possible by providing all the infrastructure, instrumentation, and logistics necessary for scientists from all disciplines 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 contractors in the United States. Facilities include:

  • A year-round facility at McMurdo Station on Ross Island that functions as the logistics hub of the USAP. It is the southernmost port and the largest of the three Antarctic permanent stations. Research on glaciology, geology, geochemistry, geophysics, biological studies, and long term ecological research is conducted at the Albert P. Crary Science and Engineering Center in McMurdo and in the immediate vicinity. During the austral summer McMurdo is the gateway to the interior of the continent, including Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and USAP major deep field research camps.

  • A year-round facility at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Research supported by the station focuses on understanding earth systems and on the origin and evolution of the universe. Disciplinary studies include meteorology, astrophysics, aeronomy, atmospheric chemistry, astronomy, and seismology research.

  • A year-round facility at Palmer Station on Anvers Island in the Peninsula area near South America. This facility is primarily a marine biology laboratory and is one of NSF's long-term ecological research sites, focusing on biological and marine ecosystem research.

  • Helicopters and fixed wing aircraft necessary to provide transportation of people and cargo to and within the continent; all support for outlying field camps; and search and rescue operations. Some aircraft are owned or leased by NSF, and others are provided on a cost-reimbursable basis by the Department of Defense. Leased Twin Otter aircraft are specially outfitted with a unique suite of integrated instruments for gathering airborne geophysical data for research projects over the icesheet.

  • Two leased research vessels -- the R/V Nathaniel B. Palmer, a research icebreaker designed to operate year-round throughout the Antarctic Ocean, and the R/V Laurence M. Gould, which supports research in the Antarctic Peninsula area and provides the logistics support to Palmer Station.

  • A Polar Class U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker for opening the channel to McMurdo Station for the single annual fuel tanker and single annual supply ship that are provided on a cost reimbursable basis by the Military Sealift Command.

  • Operations support by a civilian contractor that operates and maintains the stations, provides engineering and construction, manages the USAP logistics system, manages contracts to complement USAP airlift, and provides science support.

  • Air traffic control, meteorology services, and electronic equipment maintenance support by the Department of Defense.

Administration and Management

Administration and Management provides for administrative activities necessary to enable NSF to achieve its strategic goals. This includes $3.35 million for the cost of Intergovernmental Personnel Act appointments and contractors performing administrative functions.

Number of People Involved in Polar Programs Activities

FY 2000
FY 2001
FY 2002
Senior Researchers 773 860 880
Other Professionals 451 505 520
Post-Doctorates 89 100 100
Graduate Students 308 350 360
Undergraduate Students 160 180 185
Total Number of People 1,781 1,995 2,045

Polar Programs Funding Profile

FY 2000
FY 2001
FY 2002
 Number of Requests for Funding
1,062 1,110 1,160
 Dollars Requested (in thousands)
$3,036,033 $3,200,000 $3,400,000
 Total Number of Awards
631 710 730
251 280 290
Funding Rate
37% 35% 35%
Median Annualized Award Size1
$76,035 $78,300 $80,600
Average Annualized Award Size1
$131,847 $135,800 $139,800
Average Duration (yrs.)1
2.8 2.9 3.0

1 Statistics for award size and duration are for Research Grants only.


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