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The National Science Board - A History in Highlights, 1950-2000
Table of Contents | Preface | Acknowledgements | Former Members | Exec Secretaries/Officers | Timeline

Revisiting the Poles

In the latter part of the decade, the Board turned its attentions to another area of long-time scientific significance: the North and South polar regions. Since the International Geophysical Year programs of 1957-1958, NSF had been the lead federal agency in the Antarctic. But the budget strains of the 1970s had rendered U.S. stations and other infrastructure there in need of updating. A group of new international agreements in the 1980s further altered U.S. responsibilities in the Antarctic. In the Arctic regions, NSF was one of several agencies conducting research; then in 1984, the Arctic Research and Policy Act gave the Foundation the lead role in the Arctic as well.

For all these reasons, the Board decided to take stock of long-term needs in both polar regions. A Board Committee on the NSF Role in Polar Regions, headed by University of Maryland microbiologist Rita R. Colwell (who would become NSF Director in 1998), started work in June 1986.

Among the changes called for by the Colwell committee was a doubling of funds to update the scientific programs in basic engineering, health, medicine, and the social sciences, and to drastically improve logistics-the movement of people and supplies to and from the regions. The case for a new ice-breaking research vessel, a new South Pole station, and other improvements was bolstered by an outside panel on Antarctic safety, headed by astronaut Russell Schweickardt. Colwell's committee also urged certain infrastructure improvements, such as a new South Pole station and a new ice-breaking research vessel. Today, all fifteen of the Board committee's recommendations have been implemented, resulting in increased American influence in international polar policymaking.

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