Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Acting Deputy Director
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Scientific Ice Expeditions (SCICEX) Meeting
October 7, 1998
Thank you. I'm very pleased to be able to give NSF's
ringing endorsement for this productive partnership
with the Navy and ONR in the SCICEX program.
SCICEX has been a shining example of "dual use" of
military assets. In tandem with national security
objectives, it has given us access to the Arctic Ocean
for research and education. This region's scientific
secrets have remained locked away in ice long after
our other oceans were being opened to exploration.
Although smallest of the world's oceans, the Arctic
still holds more than its share of mysteries, and
the SCICEX submarines are helping us to plumb these
Let me take a moment to underscore the importance NSF
places on Arctic research. As my friends in the Arctic
science field often remind me, the region is crucial
to deciphering global change. We know that its snow,
ice, and biota are sensitive bellwethers of the past
and future. The permafrost, the ice, the lakes and
the sea -- all harbor histories of climate. And of
course, many think that the Arctic exerts a strong
influence on global climate. Tracing climate change,
oceanic circulation, transport of contaminants --
the Arctic Ocean is at the heart of these global questions.
Over the past few years, NSF has augmented its leadership
role in Arctic science across the disciplines, and
we expect to do much more in this critical region.
The scientific harvest being reaped by SCICEX has helped
to make this progress happen. The submarines give
us access to permanently ice-covered areas. They provide
a stable and quiet platform for research. They let
us gather data continually. We can sample the physical
and chemical characteristics of the water while the
ship is underway.
While icebreakers offer us a lot, they simply cannot
provide the same kind of stable and super-quiet platform
for research, and furnish the same clarity of acoustic
data. In fact, the SCICEX data provides the U.S.'s
primary time series -- a series of scientific snapshots
-- of the Arctic Ocean.
As my Arctic science colleagues have explained to me,
SCICEX has found dramatic changes in temperature,
ocean currents, and how water coming in from the Pacific
and Atlantic moves around the Arctic Ocean. And we
have indicators that the sea ice covering the Arctic
Ocean is thinning.
This all adds up, I am told, to an emerging picture
of how the Arctic Ocean circulation works.
SCICEX has also opened up new vistas for us in geology
and geophysics. This is the realm where the Mid-Atlantic
Ridge continues up into the Arctic. With the submarines
as platforms, we've been able to inaugurate the first
use of modern mapping methods in the Arctic Ocean.
The submarine data, I am told, could transform our
understanding of the structure and history of the
Arctic Ocean basin.
All of this fantastic science is happening at a bargain
price, thanks to our partnership with the Navy. In
essence, we're getting a logistics capability in the
Arctic Ocean that we could never afford otherwise.
This unique partnership between the federal science
and engineering agencies, the Navy, and the research
community stands now at a new threshold. Of course,
that's why we're here: not just to take stock of where
we are but to consider what might come next.
As the Sturgeon class of submarines is exhausted for
scientific use, we certainly want to explore new possibilities.
On NSF's part, we are interested in new classes of
subs that might become available for science.
Even with our new Arctic research vessel, the Healy,
coming on line, the submarines offer unique and complementary
capabilities for science. At the same time, we know
the Navy is being asked to carry out more submarine
missions with fewer vessels.
Let's keep talking in the interest of fashioning a
mutually beneficial solution. If we're fortunate to
continue this partnership using other ice-capable
submarines, we know that annual cruises may no longer
be possible. We actually see that as another kind
More time between cruises -- something that may fit
well with the Navy's requirements -- could give us
the opportunity to digest the data already gathered
and hence target science on a future cruise in a more
refined way. A cushion of time between cruises also
gives a chance to develop and test new scientific
instrumentation in a way researchers haven't been
able to do with the current schedule.
In any case, as we continue discussing the future of
submarine-based science, you should remain assured
of NSF's strong support for Arctic research. We enthusiastically
endorse this productive partnership, in keeping with
the Navy's mission responsibilities.
Our consistent support over the past few years shows,
I think, how much we value this type of program. Now
that we've learned to coordinate the science more
efficiently and how vital it is to have a plan with
priorities, let's look at what we may be able to do
next -- together.