Return to front cover

Message from the former Director, Office of Polar Programs:

Looking toward the future

When I accepted the position of director of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Office of Polar Programs 4 years ago, I described antarctic research as being on the threshold of change-at the beginning of a new age characterized by an awareness of the interdependence of global systems, the need to preserve the continent's unique environment, new research opportunities that could not be conducted elsewhere or could be effectively conducted only in Antarctica, and the importance of cooperation among nations.

The U.S. Antarctic Program was also in transition. Although historically USAP had been a leader in science, policy, logistics capabilities, and advanced technology use, the program faced many new challenges. Questions were raised about the nature of U.S. antarctic policy and activities in the post-Cold-War era. Do Presidential memoranda, articulated in the 1980s apply in the 1990s? Is the quality of research performed in Antarctica up to the standards of research supported by the rest of the NSF? How should the NSF respond to the Navy's stated desire to withdraw from supporting the program? Other challenges appeared in the form of greater competition for funding and of the potential conflicts between our new responsibilities for environmental protection and preservation on one hand and the support and conduct of science on the other. USAP also faced the challenge of repairing and replacing, in a time of constrained budgets, the infrastructure that supports antarctic research.

In this time of transition, two high-level studies of USAP were conducted. The results of both are likely to define the future of U.S. activities in Antarctica. The first, conducted by the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) at the request of a Senate committee, examined options for reducing operational costs and considered options including increased international cooperation, less than a year-round human presence, and closing stations. The Council, which is chaired by the President, concluded that U.S. national and scientific interests are well served by USAP and emphasized that the United States should maintain an active and influential presence in the Antarctica. The NSTC report notes that the science conducted in Antarctica is of high quality and of interest to a broad scientific community and that often the results of these investigations imply consequences for human activity beyond those usually associated with basic research.

To explore options for sustaining the high level of U.S. antarctic research under constrained funding levels, the NSTC recommended that NSF convene an External Panel. This panel, consisting of 11 distinguished representatives from the research community, the Federal Government, and the business community, received about 70 briefings, conducted 80 meetings with people involved in all aspects of USAP, and inspected McMurdo and Amundsen-Scott South Pole Stations between October 1996 and February 1997. The panel's task was to examine in detail the infrastructure, management, and scientific options for the U.S. presence in Antarctica.

From this investigation, the panel concluded that it agrees with the NSTC that a strong U.S. scientific presence in Antarctica, including three permanent research stations, is essential. In its view, the substantial U.S. presence in Antarctica is a critical element in ensuring the continued political stability of the region. By working with other nations, the United States has a significant role in preserving the antarctic ecological system, an important indicator of global change. The panel supported the opinion of NSF and NSTC that South Pole Station needs to be replaced and that facilities at McMurdo and Palmer Stations need modernization.

The final report of the External Panel, with its 22 principal findings and 12 recommendations, probably will influence how the United States works in Antarctica for many years. The House Committee on Appropriations, after reviewing the panel's findings, recommended full funding for the redevelopment of South Pole Station in its FY98 budget recommendation for NSF. The House and Senate are still completing the budget for FY98.

The endorsements of these two reports have bolstered USAP during a time of change in the way the program is supported and managed. This austral summer, many of you will see that the presence of U.S. Navy is greatly reduced. In its place are contractors, such as PHI Helicopters, and Air National Guard personnel. A new research ship, Laurence M. Gould, will make its first voyage to Antarctica, replacing the Polar Duke, which served USAP well for nearly 13 years. However, transition may also mean greater competition for a smaller amount of research funds, as NSF works to upgrade the infrastructure of the program.

When I began serving the National Science Foundation, I urged scientists to make a greater effort to explain to the public how polar research relates to their lives. As I return to the academic community, I realize that we must continue in our efforts to make others more aware of the role Antarctica has in global processes and to convey our understanding of the complexity of the processes that drive our environment. By doing this we can establish a dialog that will encourage the exchange of ideas and that will open doors to new forms of cooperation, new research and education opportunities, and the potentials offered by scientific and technological advances in the interests of our society.

Cornelius Sullivan ends term at NSF

On 31 July 1997, after more than 4 years of service, Cornelius W. Sullivan, Director of the Office of Polar Programs, left the National Science Foundation (NSF) to assume new responsibilities as Vice Provost for Research at the University of Southern California. An oceanographer whose research focuses on the structure and function of ice-covered marine ecosystems, Dr. Sullivan joined NSF's Office of Polar Programs as Director in 1993. Before coming to the Foundation, Dr. Sullivan was Director of the Hancock Institute of Marine Studies and directed the graduate program in Ocean Sciences at the University of Southern California, as well as serving as professor in the University's Department of Biological Sciences. He also has been a visiting professor at the University of Colorado, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the U.S. Army's Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. He earned his doctorate degree in marine biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California­San Diego. His master of science degree in microbiology and his bachelor of science degree in biochemistry were from Pennsylvania State University.

NSF's plans for a successor to Dr. Sullivan have been announced.

Dr. Sullivan may be reached at the University of Southern California at the following address, telephone or fax numbers, or e-mail address:

Cornelius W. Sullivan
Vice Provost for Research
University of Southern California
ADM 300-MC4019
University Park
Los Angeles, California 90089-4019
  Phone: (213) 740-6709
Fax: (213) 740-1313

Return to front cover