BOX 5.1
NSF Broader Impacts Criterion

In every proposal seeking research funding from NSF, the principal investigator must spell out the research questions, intended methods, and proposed budget for the project. Starting in 2002, researchers were challenged to think more broadly about the societal impacts of their proposed activity, guided by the following questions:

• How well does the activity advance discovery and understanding while promoting teaching, training, and learning?

• How well does the proposed activity broaden the participation of under re presented groups (e.g., based on gender, ethnicity, disability, geography)?

• To what extent will it enhance the infrastructure for research and education, such as facilities, instrumentation, networks, and partnerships?

• Will the results be disseminated broadly to enhance scientific and technological understanding?

• What may be the benefits ol the proposed activity to society?


SOURCE: NSF, 2007.

Recent and ongoing studies of the stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet and grounding line (e.g., Jenkins et al., 2010; Velicogna, 2009)—otherwise highlighted in Chapter 3—show that large changes to global sea level rise are possible in response to global warming. Information about polar changes is thus relevant to decisions that affect the lives of millions of nonpolar residents.

IPY addressed the growing concerns about polar changes by organizing public and educational forums, and IPY outreach efforts led policymakers to turn to polar scientists to help inform decisions. In turn, through their experience preparing presentations for and answering questions from general audiences, many polar scientists learned about the concerns of the public, educators, and stakeholders, and in some cases adapted their research based on this new knowledge. The result was an increase during IPY in basic research that considered possible applications and stakeholder guidance (e.g., Stokes, 1997).

The committee notes that “action” was not defined as a major goal by the IPY Planning Group (2003-2004), the JC, or the National Research Council specifically. For example, the 2004 NRC Vision Report does not refer to the creation of adaptation plans or mitigation policy. The interest in connecting knowledge with action emerged as a logical extension of research projects or in response to information needs associated with expanding human activities, particularly in the Arctic.

The applications and observations described below are presented as examples and are not a comprehensive review of the portfolio of IPY knowledge-to-action activities.


IPY gave impetus for increased interaction and discussions between scientists and practitioners, including community planning groups, as the practitioners sought relevant, science-based information as a basis for their planning. Because of the larger environmental changes and greater populations in the North, most of the applications noted below are from the Arctic region.

Predictions, Projections, Forecasts, and Scenarios

IPY had a strong focus on observations and modeling to improve predictive capability, in part due to the need to understand and project the forcing and implications of cryospheric changes. The foundation for this focus was laid years earlier under the scientificcommunity-inspired “Study of Environmental Arctic Change” (SEARCH).2 SEARCH eventually became in interagency initiative with an international legacy through the International Study of Arctic Change (ISAC), which was established in 2003. The SEARCH tripartite charge “Observing Change, Understanding Change, and Responding to Change” is explicit about informing action.

The record sea ice minimum in 2007, the first year of IPY, stimulated concerted efforts to understand its cause, project plausible future trajectories, and consider systemwide implications. Cooperative oceanographic cruises and remote sensing imagery provided by many nations in concert with sophisticated modeling studies provided a comprehensive picture of its shrinking extent and thickness.

With the rate of change in the Arctic outpacing traditional modes of scientific communication, the


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