multiple sponsors, commonly acting under the leadership of a small group of scientists that form a scientific steering committee. Large initiatives such as these that examine the ocean or ocean-related processes, are referred to as major oceanographic programs. These programs have grown to account for a significant source of funding for basic oceanographic research in this country. For example, within the Ocean Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation (NSF/OCE; the largest sponsor of basic oceanographic research in the United States in terms of the number of principal investigators funded), major oceanographic programs account for at least 40 percent of funds expended. NSF/OCE plays a significant role in nearly all of the major oceanographic programs because it funds the majority of proposals submitted by academic scientists who participate in these programs.

These programs play a prominent role in both this country's efforts to understand the environmental processes that influence the quality of our individual lives and in the lives of those who study such processes. This makes major programs of particular significance to the scientists, policymakers, and administrators who make up what is often referred to as the ocean science community. In many ways, these major programs are inexorably linked to this nation's ability to understand and protect our environment and the wealth of resources it contains.

Focus Of This Study

In response to a request by NSF/OCE for input from the National Research Council (NRC), the Committee on Major U.S. Oceanographic Research Programs was formed to evaluate the impact of the past and present programs and provide advice on how these programs should be developed and managed in the future (Box 1-1). Implicit in the committee's charge is the recognition that the ability to organize and implement large, coordinated efforts to conduct basic oceanographic research (such as the programs discussed in this report) is, and must be, an essential component of the scientific capability of the United States. The committee also recognizes the importance of contributions made by individual or small groups of scientists conducting basic research outside of these programs. The challenge, in its simplest form, is to provide the federal agencies, the research community, and the nation itself with the tools needed to strike a balance (based on scientific requirements) between:

    (1)  

    supporting sustainable and efficient research into processes that operate on such large spatial scales or over such long time frames that satisfactory results cannot be obtained by small groups of investigators or individual scientists; and

    (2)  

    encouraging and nurturing the individual creativity and the scientific diversity that has been the hallmark of research funded through the unsolicited



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