Research requires funding. Funding involves making decisions, which includes considering what is needed, what is likely to work, and what trade-offs are entailed. Most Arctic research funding in the United States comes from government agencies, ranging from studies intended to address the needs of regulatory and other decisions, to curiosity-driven research within broad areas of scientific interest. Additional research, typically addressing specific needs or goals, is funded by the private sector, including industry as well as philanthropic groups. Decisions about what is funded therefore occur at many levels in many places. Nonetheless, some general patterns are evident, and society’s ability to address emerging research questions in the Arctic is closely tied to the way research funding is organized.
Evaluating the strengths and drawbacks of current funding mechanisms for Arctic science in the United States is beyond the scope of this report. Instead, we draw attention to certain features of research funding and suggest a closer look at whether the current approach is optimal for addressing society’s needs. We focus our discussion in six areas: comprehensive systems and synthesis research, funding non-steady-state research, social sciences and human capacity, stakeholder-initiated research, international funding cooperation, and long-term observations. We consider cooperation among countries, among agencies, across disciplines, and with the private sector.
Research is often proposed in response to a request for proposals and then carried out over a 3- to 5-year time frame. Successful research may lead to subsequent projects that build on the results from the initial project, but there is no guarantee of further funding. Most projects are proposed and run independently, only rarely with support for coordination with related initiatives. This system provides flexibility, in that funding streams are committed for a relatively short period and in that researchers have the ability to pursue topics they deem important and, often, to adjust their research as circumstances and preliminary findings warrant. At the same time, implementation of full programs and deep engagement with and the ability to explore the wider connections or ramifications of a particular topic are often limited within a 5-year project. Similarly, the ability to coordinate and cooperate across projects may be curtailed by time as well as by the demands of producing individual project results and then the competitive aspects of seeking further funding.