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United States Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel

Third Meeting of the U.S. Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel

March 5, 2012 Arlington, VA
(prepared by Guy Guthridge, Jim Swift, and Sue LaFratta)

The third meeting of the U.S. Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel took place in room 1295, National Science Foundation, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Monday, 5 March 2012. Nine of the 12 members participated (Keith Harrison, Gérard Jugie, and Robert Spearing were absent). Approximately 27 observers from NSF, other agencies, and the public were present.

The schedule followed the published agenda. No presentations were scheduled for this meeting.

Norm Augustine (Chair) began by welcoming the group. He noted that the purpose of this meeting was to agree to a tentative set of findings and recommendations, and to determine the primary thrust of the work. He noted that the BRP is committed to be finished by late spring.

The focus after this meeting will be writing the report. The report will include charts, pictures, and facts, and must not have assertions that are not backed by facts. Norm asked the panel members to examine their written contributions for unsubstantiated assertions, gaps and inconsistencies. Norm noted that the Panel can do most of the next stage of report work by email and telephone. He noted that the Panel must gain a sense of the cost and pricing of the recommendations that it might make and that the Panel needs to show rather convincingly whether or not there is an alternative to McMurdo that does not involve a heavy icebreaker. A final meeting date will be set at which the report strategy and recommendations would be finalized.

Break for official business and introductions:

NSF official Jim Swift informed the group that, while open, the meeting was not being broadcast, and it was not being recorded. He stated that all conflict-of-interest documents had been received and were in order.

Business continued with a discussion of the Panel's site visit to the USAP Palmer Station:

Panelists who participated noted that it was an outstanding trip, with well organized logistics. They visited Palmer Station, spent time on the USAP ice-strengthened research and resupply ship Laurence M. Gould, and visited the USAP icebreaking research ship Nathaniel B. Palmer. The overall reaction was that the station is very different from McMurdo and the Pole, both in what it does (research mostly on biology and the environment), and size — 45 people maximum. Panelists were struck by large changes: mean air temperatures have increased 12° F in winter over the past 50 years, and the penguin colony has declined precipitously. The station is more accessible than McMurdo and the Pole and tends to be a more compact operation. There is a focus on marine research and research on nearby islands. The Chair noted many changes in the 23 years between his visits.

BRP trip members talked about the trip:

  1. There are concerns about the BIO building housing above the galley and science labs. Some panelists questioned whether having housing situated above galley and laboratory spaces was a fire safety issue and also noted possible concerns with the sprinkler system and the carpentry shop. There is only one bathroom (one shower & one toilet) for each sex in the BIO building — can be up to 15 people for that bathroom — which is a marked inconvenience at times. Science aspects: the panelists noted the desire of some researchers to extend the boating limit, which is driven by the type of boats currently used at Palmer Station. The station is an excellent outreach site (due to many cruise ships) — the program Palmer does for tourists should be highlighted. Can there be collaborations between bases to highlight what each is doing?

  2. Impressed with the ocean gliders. Being able to do things under the ice is important, too, and perhaps inertial guidance would be useful. Communications at Palmer Station are good, although ship-board communications could be improved.

  3. The current lease on the LMG is up in about 2 years. The vessel has three missions: supplying food and fuel, transporting people, and oceanographic research. The panelists discussed possible alternatives such as flights to King George Island with ship transit to the station. The pier is the original 1968 pier and is not in good shape. Without a pier, we cannot think about what ships & boats might be used. Noting the unique and valuable scientific aspects and Palmer Station's location on the Peninsula, the panel noted that the station could serve as a hub for future international collaboration in Antarctica. Use of passenger ships to transport USAP participants was also discussed.

  4. The lack of a capital budget appears to result in the physical plant running down. The continued push for more science has constrained capital expenditures. A panelist noted that it could be valuable to include findings from recent studies of facilities into a holistic master plan, and that it would also be valuable if an internationally-coordinated, long-term science (and logistics) plan for the Palmer Station and Antarctic Peninsula area were to be developed. In terms of U.S., we need to get a good value out of the logistics (tie to costs). Another area of opportunity is implementation of renewable energy systems at the station. Panelists also noted that OPP may be able to increase interaction between UNOLS, OPP, and OCE.

  5. Except for what is done with the Gould [also known as the LMG], the area accessible from Palmer Station is disappointingly tiny, and this is a shame considering the investment: greater range is needed. But some things have to be done in doubles (a primary and a backup for each mode) — one must think of rescue operations. It would be easy to make a little ramp to launch and deploy the Zodiacs. Fuel storage — the present work is just a start. The panel member noted the need for OPP to have an advance technology organization that could create general purpose devices for the community as a whole. (Robotics, remote stations, solar power — classic example is the gliders.) Room for a small group that funds each development. The international situation, with so many stations on KGI (some nations investing in a big way), makes a Peninsula region "ferry" operation a possible need. Yet there is growing nationalism, including settlements with schools and children; Chile has put up a marker in the south of the mainland noting it as the center of Chile, i.e. Chile is including KGI as part of the nation. With the other nations’ interests and presence, tourism, the regional climate change, and the possible pressure of oil exploration, impacts have to be thought through, and the research may be subject to change. There are so many international stations in the area — there is seems to be an obvious need for international logistic support. The change to more integrated, larger scale research in Antarctica — the environmental impacts on Antarctica (temperature changes, etc.) and growing numbers of tourists (45,000 per year and likely to grow) have implications that need to be thought through. Mentioned the town hall meeting at Palmer Station and how much the BRP appreciated the comments from so many persons.

NSF: NSF probably has cost information for some of the recommendations discussed this morning, such as cost data on work boat options. NSF will provide the data to the panel.

Panel member: Mentioned re Palmer area international collaboration that trip participants could provide their recommendations to him. Also, somewhere there needs to be a discussion of how to get in front of efforts to exploit oil and minerals (via treaties). NSF noted that about 15 years down the road there is likely to be pressure to modify the treaty.

Another Panel member saw the potential for Palmer Station to be a regional hub. He also mentioned the potential for oil development and its impact on the treaty, noting that the U.S. needs to stay in front of the issue. What is the consequence of an American oil company fronting through a nation not party to the treaty?

NSF commented that many IMO member nations have ships, but only about 20 of them have signed the Antarctic environmental protocol. He said a ship that does not meet IMO standards can’t get insurance. The USCG is our rep on this. The ecopolitical aspects might best be dealt with at the international security council level.

Panel member: Regarding mineral exploitation, there is a Convention on exploitation that was never fully signed.

Suzanna Cooper from DoS: The Environmental section does cover this. Working on this at the moment would involve the Treaty organization not the UN.

A panel member asked what the larger international vehicle would be to address this.

NSF replied that the Coast Guard takes US lead in IMO activities. The USAP has an important geopolitical role.

Panel member suggested a recommendation that the US move forward on this, if there is an obvious consensus from the BRP on this.

Chair asked DoS if there is a Treaty provision for withdrawing. DoS responded there was not. NSF mentioned that another nation could, however, just abrogate.

Panel member asked the date of the environmental agreement. DoS replied that it was 1998.

The meeting moved into break-out sessions — no minutes taken.

Resume minutes at 1:00 pm in plenary session

Section/subcommittee leaders presented their draft recommendations. The Chair suggested that the Panel keep in mind three overall categories for recommendations:

  1. Must-dos such as violation of environmental laws or safety issues

  2. Low hanging fruit

  3. Other

8.1 report:

Bandwidth issues present a potential single-point failure for science. Initiating any other large enterprises at SPS [South Pole Station] will require additional bandwidth. Went through the draft recommendations from section 9.1 2-22-12. A Panel member noted these should include NSF ensuring the requirements for deployment of remote sensing instruments are developed and met.

  1. Bandwidth
  2. Remote sensing
  3. International collaboration, with data standards
  4. PRV
  5. Reduce support personnel
  6. Evaluate legacy programs (see French program)
  7. Observations for science
  8. Predeployment qualification of instruments
  9. Standardization throughout the program

A Panel member noted that every point where we can standardize should be capitalized upon. Especially in communications.

8.2 report:

  1. Support for 8.1.8 (see above)
  2. Lockheed Martin hiring folks will evaluate the 20% reduction
  3. Cost consciousness throughout the program
  4. Cost benefit analysis for independents
  5. Focus on new technology
  6. Focus on field work vice having a university on the Ice
  7. International long-term observing requires more top-down planning

Panel comments: A Panel member cautioned that by having more efficient operations you reduce the human footprint (say, by 20%) and improve many areas; but appropriators may assume that the budget can be cut by 20% if we are not careful how this is worded.

8.3 & 8.5 report:

  1. Increase multimodal
  2. Traverse
  3. Favor C-17; conserve LC-130
  4. Pole runway
  5. East and West Antarctica: C-17 seven times more efficient than LC-130; groom runway to C-17 standard, not commercial
  6. Precision airdrop
  7. Optimize LC-130, DC-3, Twin Otter mix
  8. Compacting equipment
  9. Pegasus more permanent, Williams Field-LDB complex, Williams Field is a bowl resulting in lots of snow removal
  10. Modernize the LC-130s
  11. Consider airships
  12. International
  13. McMurdo is a unique asset: need to discuss this eyeball to eyeball with unconvinced persons
  14. If you have to move Pegasus because of warming, it’s a matter of just 200 yards or so farther into the accumulation zone
  15. Traverse tradeoff? Fuel all the way. Cargo a mix of air and traverse

A question was asked about temperature sensitivity of possible South Pole compacted runway - reply was that it is not an issue for C-17s.

Question was asked about air temperature sensitivity of Pegasus runway re warming over the next 20 years. Answer: A small shift (a few hundred feet or yards?) in the runway location could accommodate this.

Fuel traverse to SPS makes sense. But a mixed mode might be better for some other cargo.

8.4 report:

  1. Offload options
  2. USCG break-in issues
  3. Risk mitigation options
  4. Future U.S. icebreaker fleet (+ PRV) (NSF: NSF has a critical interest in the fleet)
  5. New Zealand, liners, Christchurch as port (NSF + State)
  6. New Zealand port calls should start with refurbished USCGC Polar Star

Palmer Station:

  1. Offload platform: consider using a barge as both a camel and a fuel container
  2. Collaborate with Chile and other nations
  3. Workboats to relieve the LMG
  4. Work with UNOLS and OCE
  5. Consider the KGI option of a workboat back and forth to Palmer (Brian Stone: building a pier at KGI in collaboration with the tourist industry)

May need a separate recommendation about what a US icebreaker fleet should be. NSF noted that NSF has a critical interest in the composition of the US fleet that operates in ice-covered waters.

8.6 report, including additional components following up on the existing draft:

Target non-transportation renewable energy to 100% in the next 5 years. Consider geothermal for McMurdo. The DOE MOU and the NREL plan need an NSF response. NSF needs a program manager for this and the authority to move forward. Collaborate at the technical level between the agencies then get a high level signoff. ESCO lets the private sector come in with capital then reap the benefit.

NSF: May need to get the lawyers to help;

NSF: For renewables we need to consider cost-effectiveness, and the jury is still out on geothermal.

Other Panelists noted:

  1. The New Zealand ambassador is more positive on geothermal.
  2. Remote sites need better energy sources, also.
  3. Adam Rosenberg at DoD runs the renewables collaboration in Afghanistan.
  4. Some chapters need to co-reference.
  5. Chair: Put the NREL and DoE documents in the password protected web site.

DoE has a clear direction to provide technical assistance to NSF to reduce fossil fuel use. NREL has a plan that needs NSF response (due to lack of capital budget).

There could be a program manager for energy sustainability and renewable energy. There are some knowledgeable people who have put together good plans, and they need the go-ahead (and funds?) to go forward. A Panel member noted to NSF that paying for this could possibly also involve ESCO (the authority to allow the private sector to come in and make investments and then make some profits off the return in investments). But NSF cannot do this at present.

A Panel member mentioned re energy that "big energy" and "small energy" both need to be addressed.

8.8 Communications and information

Two problems: McMurdo replaces phone parts at McMurdo off eBay. Replace them with a cell system. Same for Palmer Station. The big item, though, is bandwidth. The available satellites leave a gap 2018-2022. The new Iridium will work, but it will be expensive. There’s the social aspect of trading bandwidth for people.

NSF: The telemedicine capability is compelling, and NASA is hearing us.

8.9 report:

  1. Upgrade Palmer housing for fire safety.
  2. At McMurdo put in a hotel management scheme.
  3. Long term there’s the issue of replacing dorms at Palmer and McMurdo; consider single rooms as at Rothera and Pole.
  4. Food and freshies are a high profile item. At McMurdo improved food management could reduce the energy of preparation.
  5. Recreation building for health issues and morale.
  6. Increased communications as a welfare issue.
  7. Greenhouse at McMurdo (do cost analysis) and other stations.
  8. Advertise that comms is not at the high level you get at home.
  9. Does the predeployment exam have to be the same for everyone?
  10. Improve the files of physical exams, etc.
  11. Get people to realize that personal safety is a personal responsibility.
  12. Upgrade the clothing gear.

Discussion: (In response to question:) Greenhouse at McMurdo would need to be supporting 200 person winter personnel.

A Panel member pointed out that there is an existing unused fuel tank uphill from McMurdo that could be retrofitted as a water tank, and also noted that the firefighting capability at Palmer is limited.

8.10 report:

Work on the safety program was delayed by a Panelist's surgery but will resume soon. NSF mentioned that scientific diving might be addressed in this.

  1. Fire safety: convert the fuel tank on the hill to water for gravity firefighting feed; fire chief’s idea
  2. NSF: Add electrical backup for the pumps
  3. Panel: we heard the Brazilian Antarctic station fire was in the engine room.
    NSF: We will get the answer.
  4. Boating safety at Palmer (one panel member on USCG small boats; NSF on scientific diving)
  5. no sprinkler in the wood shop at Palmer.

A Panel member asked for an update of the Palmer boating safety record.

8.11 report: 8.11 is still underway. Not yet ready.

8.12 report: 8.12 was discussed over noon time in break-out session (no minutes taken).

8.13 report:

IDA is making progress on the cost analyses. Whose perspective on costs are we taking? For example, ANG will fly some C-130 missions with or without USAP. In terms of cost analysis that fuel at the South Pole costs about $28/gallon (not including purchase price of aircraft but does include aircraft maintenance).

Big issues: people days and energy costs are key. Cost savings are highly nonlinear, and by whose perspective? USG? USAP? How do you cost the LC-130s when the Air Guard uses them in Greenland, too? We’ll put the cost model report on the web, but need to write down the assumptions, e.g., balancing the cost of South Pole Station and IceCube. One way to look at the program is that spending on research has gone up compared to spending on operations, indicating efficiency. But logistics still cost some 4 times as much as research. Is the lack of upgrades preventing some research? How does one cost out a capital fund? We know how a university does it. A Panel member noted that in his town at least 25% of the total budget is capital costs.

The Chair requested that the recent IDA report (ppt) be placed on line, and noted that the IDA analysis shows that the expenditures for research are increasing faster than those for logistics, implying that operations are becoming more efficient. Also implies that maintenance has not caught up with the research program.

A Panel member noted that major capital investments will be required, and asked how this is costed. NSF mentioned that there are companies that specialize in calculating the reserves necessary to maintain capital investments. Chair: let’s check what companies spend.

Resume After Break

The Chair had asked for a discussion of intra-governmental coordination.

NSF remarked that this was triggered by noting that if the U.S. still had the high-level Antarctic policy group that formerly existed, this might have been useful regarding icebreaker support. Perhaps what is needed is something like the former policy group — the BRP report can be used as a guideline for future needs.

A Panel member noted the need a unified policy construct, such as a National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD). The National Ocean Council (and now the National Ocean Policy) and similar initiatives can lose their budget bite without a champion. So how does one integrate the national posture — to whom do we need to "socialize" the BRP's recommendations?

(There was additional discussion about the value of an NSPD.)

A Panel member noted that some coordination works, and some is dysfunctional. Somehow you have to have the different participants involved differently, depending on the function. Also need to involve people at a high enough level to get things done.

Another Panel member noted that you have to have the right players to solve the problem. NSF's handling of the USAP has been exemplary, but NSF cannot handle the icebreaker issue on its own.

The cost of science projects was discussed. Panel comments:

  1. NSF reviewers don’t have a handle on technological readiness as NASA does.
  2. The proposal itself has to address costs.
    NSF: proposers themselves sometimes can’t cost out their operational parts.
    NSF: formalizing the capture of logistics costs is our role, but adjusting the system is another level. NSF has started a new program to integrate across all the interests.
    NSF: it’s the delicate balance. You don’t want the cheapest science.
    NSF: Costs at the Pole versus on the ocean are not the same, but they all come down to dollars.
  3. Different kinds of science have different price tags. One cannot trade off astrophysics and biology.
    NSF: relevant language is in the 1997 External Panel report.1
    NSF: it can come down to pushing science versus saving money.
    NSF: it has to be formalized with the NSB.
  4. The point is to make sure cost is evaluated throughout review and planning.

Panelist: Formalize command and control in the field and elsewhere. NSF has to make the call. NSF: This is a U.S. mission, not NSF’s alone.

The Chair then noted that it would be worthwhile for the BRP to think about its primary "elevator speech" recommendations. The following list of 1 major one and small number of other ones was discussed [This is the list discussed during the meeting itself; a revised list from the Chair was sent to the Panel after the meeting]:

  1. Affirm McMurdo South Pole, and Palmer stations as principal science and logistics hubs of the on-Continent USAP.

  2. Implement state of the art logistics and transportation support to expand science opportunities and reduce future logistics costs.

  3. Establish a USAP capital budget and a long-term capital plan.

  4. Ensure that the U.S. icebreaker fleet provides long-term support for science, logistics, and national security needs in both polar regions.

  5. Enhance communications capabilities in Antarctica to enhance science output and reduce operational footprint.

  6. Pursue opportunities for additional international cooperation for shared science and logistics support.

  7. Enhance energy efficiency and implement renewable energy technologies to reduce future operational costs.

  8. Revise the existing PDD and the implementing mechanisms for the Antarctic to reflect the findings of both the NRC and BRP studies of USAP future opportunities.

  9. Formalize a process by which total marginal cost and technological readiness are taken into account in the review of science projects.

  10. (There was discussion of a "Command and Control" recommendation. can maybe be in the executive summary.)

The Panel suggested the life-safety issues could be a separate "no brainer" list.

Regarding assembling the report, executive secretary Jim Swift was asked to keep an updated copy of report (and report without figures) on line. He suggested keeping a log file of changes and incorporating date/time of version into file names.

As the meeting neared its conclusion the panel chairman, Norm Augustine, called attention to Karl Erb’s forthcoming 31 March 2012 retirement from his position as Director, Office of Polar Programs, NSF, and presented Dr. Erb a copy of his book, Augustine’s Laws, first published in 1984. Panel members signed the frontispiece of the book. Dr. Erb responded that the panel’s work is tremendously valuable.

Meeting adjourned at 5:00 pm.

1 In 6.0, Findings (continued), see 6.11, Cost Visibility


Posted: 04/19/2012