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OAC Response to the 2001 COV Report

A committee of visitors (COV), chaired by Dr. Robin Bell, was convened in Autumn of 2001 to review the polar research support services (PRSS) of OPP and to recommend areas where logistics and infrastructure, supporting scientific research in Antarctica, could be expanded or improved.  The OAC extends its appreciation to Dr. Bell for the effort in providing an informative report that captures the important issues to which continued attention should be paid.  The overall message of the COV report—that OPP provides the national scientific community with an extraordinary polar-research infrastructure, unsurpassed in its capacity to foster innovative, technologically modern investigation in all areas of scientific interest—was well-received and echoed by OAC discussion in November, when we reviewed the report.  Indeed, the OAC takes this opportunity to applaud OPP for creating a world-class research infrastructure in one of the world's least explored and most extreme environments. We acknowlege the enormous challenges inherit to this overall task and both the general (e.g., long-term planning, according to scientific input) and specific (short-term fuel savings) ways by which OPP and PRSS achieve this success.  We also commend the attention to circumstances where logistics and support resources can be shifted without adverse effect from areas considered "well established" to areas of "innovation," thus helping to keep Antarctic research at the cutting edge.

The COV report speaks for itself in articulating six major recommendations for OPP to consider in continuing to build and maintain this remarkable scientific support infrastructure. After spirited discussion and debate, the OAC accepts these recommendations for the most part.  However, OAC members took issue with COV conclusions on at least one major recommendation (#1); we elaborate our views on this recommendation and two others below.

Recommendation 1. "Streamline the logistics planning process." We recognize that the ultimate capacity of OPP to fund and support individual proposals involves two categories of consideration. The first one, scientific merit, is covered by an extensive review process (involving two criteria) that involves mail reviews, panel reviews and the collective wisdom of OPP program managers.  The second category, logistical support impact, presently is covered by a detailed review, by PRSS top-level management and by the science support contractor, Raytheon Polar Services (RPS), of all proposals; i.e., regardless of proposal status relative to the scientific merit consideration.  The thrust of the COV recommendation is to address the fact that this detailed initial review of all proposals puts an undue time burden on PRSS and RPS staff, who must typically deploy to the Antarctic within 3 or 4 months of the proposal submission deadline. The OAC is sympathetic to the problems associated with achievement of a logistical review process that includes all proposals under the given time constraints.  We most strongly recommend, however, that any "streamlining" efforts to remedy these problems be developed in such a manner as to:

  • avoid either the real or perceived circumstance that deliberation on whether to fund or decline an individual proposal is compromised by administrative preconceptions based on logistic support considerations made in advance of a full review of the scientific merit of the proposal; and

  • avoid streamlining steps that might ultimately limit innovation in either scientific research or logistical support practices; i.e., research proposals that are "easy to support" given present infrastructure should not automatically take precedence in funding over proposals that might be "difficult to support" due to their innovative nature.

Recommendation 2. "Take a leadership role in implementing the Antarctic Environmental Protocol." The wording of this recommendation implies that OPP is not currently providing leadership in implementing the Antarctic Environmental Protocol.  The OAC recognizes and commends the fact that OPP is already providing exemplary leadership in this area.  An accurate wording for this COV recommendation is "Continue to provide strong leadership in implementing the Antarctic Environmental Protocol."

Recommendation 3. "Upgrade deep-field science infrastructure."  While PRSS should consider many initiatives as means to upgrade deep-field science support, one of the principal constraints felt sharply by deep-field scientists is the lack of sufficient C130 aircraft support, as duly noted elsewhere in the COV report.  The present insufficiency of C130 flight hours devoted to deep-field support is due largely to the South Pole station reconstruction efforts, which we recognize to have a finite lifetime.  (We also recognize that PRSS has worked hard and successfully to ensure that the disruption to science by the reconstruction efforts was less extreme than originally anticipated by the Augustine report). Nevertheless, the OAC believes that the best way to allow science priorities to drive deep-field research forward is to continue to increase the number of on-continent LC-130 missions devoted to deep-field science support even during the remaining years of reconstruction work. Two ways to increase the availability of these flights would be to: 1) extend the functionality of the Pegasus runway (used for wheeled, intercontinental missions); and 2) investigate over-snow traverses to re-supply South Pole Station.  These measures may free ski-equipped LC-130 resources for science tasking.

In considering the overall impact of logistics constraints on scientific research in Antarctica, the OAC recognizes both the opportunities and drawbacks of large research projects (such as IceCube); they have the potential to expand scientific frontiers, but at significant logistic impact to other parts of the OPP mission.  Such projects must include both science and logistics components in their budget, including funding for acquisition of new support capabilities if needed.  In considering the prospects of new, single-item "large science" research in Antarctica, OPP should continue to be vigilant in its effort to ensure that the overall capability to support broadly based scientific research by the "community at large" is not affected adversely.

The OAC also anticipates obstacles to continuing and improving the excellence and innovation of Antarctic research in the form of absent modern communications and internet access from South Pole, the Dry Valleys, and Deep Field sites. Until these sites are covered by continuous, reliable, high-bandwidth voice and data links, certain types of research cannot be fully effective or even undertaken.  Some examples include astrophysical research at South Pole (high-volume data transmission needs), extended season/over-winter research in the Dry Valleys (voice and data links for health and safety), and remote, autonomous geophysical and meteorological research (two-way, near-real-time, medium bandwidth data).