Click for next page ( 30


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 29
4 Mission and Guiding Principles To improve the effectiveness of the Arctic Natural Sciences program (ANS), the mission statement and scientific boundaries need to be better defined, keeping in mind the role of the ANS program within the Office of Polar Programs (OPP) and in relation to National Science Foundation's (NSF) other units. Once its mission and boundaries are more clearly defined, guidelines can help staff mem- bers determine the relevance and appropriateness of a given proposal to ANS versus other OPP or NSF programs. Program managers can then use existing mechanisms to ensure that the research selected for funding is both of high quality and high importance. The current ANS mission is to support "research in glaciology and in the atmospheric, biological, earth, and ocean sciences. . . Areas of special interest include: marine and terrestrial ecosystems, atmospheric chemistry, exploration of the Arctic Ocean, as well as arctic geological and glaciological processes" (NSF, 1998~. After studying the ANS program and the OPP context, the committee offers the following as a mission statement for the program: The mission of the Arctic Natural Sciences program is to fund cutting-edge research dealing with any aspect of the Arctic's atmospheric, terrestrial, and marine systems. The program focuses on proposals that contribute to under- standing and predicting the unique elements and processes that are part of the arctic environment. 29

OCR for page 29
30 FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR NSF'S ARCTIC NATURAL SCIENCES PROGRAM GUIDELINES FOR SELECTING PROPOSALS The first step in determining whether a proposal is suitable for ANS funding is to judge whether the idea falls within the boundaries of the program. Thus the committee set out to develop a set of guidelines that could be applied by ANS staff to help them make these judgments. The committee began by examining the general nature of the proposals considered and funded in the past and by consid- ering the mission statements of ANS and other NSF programs that include ele- ments of arctic natural science. The committee then brainstormed an extensive list of possible criteria, refined and reduced the list, and reached consensus on the most important or first level guidelines. These guidelines are not necessarily exclusive to the ANS program, but in total can help managers in their decisionmaking process. According to the committee, research funded by the ANS program should focus on one or more of the following: The research addresses natural phenomena, problems, or processes associ- ated with arctic latitudes. The arctic environment serves as an irreplaceable natural laboratory or unique source of data or materials. The research deals with glaciology including ice sheets, glaciers, snow, and permafrost anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.2 2Historically, most glaciology work has been housed within OPP regardless of whether it was conducted in the polar regions, with a few notable exceptions such as funding for the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 (GISP2), and the committee's suggestion continues this pattern. Glaciological studies conducted in the southern hemisphere should be considered by the Antarctic Section's Glaciology Program.

OCR for page 29
MISSION AND GUIDING PRINCIPLES 31 Second, as decisionmaking about the appropriate home for a proposal con- tinues, the program should be open to: research proposals with an arctic focus that are not part of existing programs elsewhere within NSF; research proposals considered of higher risk with respect to successful ex ploration of the hypotheses outlined, and perhaps unusually creative or specula tive in nature; research proposals that require extensive logistical support in the Arctic; and research proposals that gather data and are of use to the international arctic science community and that involve collaboration with international partners. . Third, as a final level of guidance, the committee believes that ANS proposals can include: research that examines processes along latitudinal gradients that include the Arctic; research ideas from all scientists, whether or not they have had previous experience in the Arctic; . . or . research that requires major synthesis of data and theories within the Arctic; research that investigates bipolar processes. The first level guidelines basically ensure that the proposal addresses the basic mission of the ANS program. The second and third levels expand and elaborate on the types of projects that are most likely to be appropriate to ANS, emphasizing the areas that the committee believes are the program's greatest strengths. For instance, one important element of ANS is that it is available to cover proposals that simply do not fit into other, thematically focused programs, and this, in turn, makes the ANS program especially appealing to young scientists and newcomers to arctic research. Because of the program's breadth, the com- mittee sees it as especially welcoming of high risk, speculative, or innovative proposals, which might be difficult to place in more structured or planned pro- grams. Some of the other guidelines openness to proposals that require exten- sive logistics or require major synthesis of data or theories or that investigate bipolar processes are included because the committee believes the ANS pro- gram should be welcoming of such proposals as they might not be easy to place in other, related NSF programs. We do not mean to imply that other NSF pro- grams are not open to newcomers or do not support innovative research; rather, our point is that the ANS program' s breadth can be seen as a strength and taken advantage of to facilitate these kinds of activities. It is recognized, both by OPP management and this committee, that there is potential overlap between the ANS program and the Arctic System Science

OCR for page 29
32 FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR NSF'S ARCTIC NATURAL SCIENCES PROGRAM (ARCSS) program. As noted in Chapter 1 and presented in detail in Appendix A, the ARCSS program supports interdisciplinary research to understand the physi- cal, geological, chemical, biological, and sociocultural processes of the arctic system that interact with the total Earth system and thus contribute to or are influenced by global change. ARCSS's goal is to advance the scientific basis for predicting environmental change on a seasonal-to-centuries time scale and for- mulating policy options to respond to the anticipated impacts of global change on humans and societal support systems. ARCS S has four themes: understanding global and regional impacts of the arctic climate system and its variability; deter- mining the role of the Arctic in global biogeochemical cycling; identifying global change impacts on the structure and stability of arctic ecosystems; and establish- ing the links between environmental change and human activity. ARCSS has a number of clearly defined areas in which proposals are encouraged, including Ocean/Atmosphere/Ice Interactions, Land/Atmosphere/Ice Interactions, Paleo- environmental Studies, and Human Dimensions of the Arctic System. ARCSS directs much of its support to large, integrated research projects that develop out of a careful planning process, although it will consider proposals from individu- als and small groups of investigators. The interdisciplinary nature of ARCSS is well-suited to its mission, and it is an important program. Given that both the ARCSS program and the ANS pro- gram support research in an overlapping suite of disciplines, there will always be some overlap of interests. The clear thematic approach used to guide the ARCSS program is perhaps the most important factor for differentiating the programs: if a subject has been determined to be a priority for the ARCSS program, then the ANS program should continue to steer appropriate proposals in that direction and avoid duplication of efforts. ANS should not be precluded from supporting work related to global change, the underlying thrust of ARCSS, because such research is clearly a part of the ANS mission. It differs from ARCS S insofar as the global change directive of ARCSS is handled in a coordinated, interdisciplinary fashion. ANS should be seen as the broad home for natural science research in the Arctic, but it is essential that program managers understand the full range of arctic research activities that are occurring elsewhere within the NSF structure and coordinate with those activities. Given the three main components of the Arctic Sciences Section ANS, ARCSS, and Arctic Social Sciences the committee understands why ANS has had the appearance of "if a proposal does not belong in ARCSS, it must belong in ANS." While this can create some confusion among investigators, it seems an inevitable outgrowth of the existing organizational structure and may not be a serious enough problem to require major organiza- tional change.

OCR for page 29
MISSION AND GUIDING PRINCIPLES 33 IMPROVING PROGRAM MANAGEMENT The question of how to manage such a diverse program and allocate funds equitably is important, and is closely related to the issue of establishing a fair and careful peer review process. The committee brainstormed a number of possible approaches for helping program staff divide the ANS portfolio into more man- ageable pieces, some based on discipline such as paralleling the structure used within the Antarctic Section and others based on problems to be addressed or environments. In the end, considering the ANS mission and selection guidelines outlined earlier and acknowledging practical considerations (e.g., the number of staff we might realistically expect to be assigned to the program), the committee recommends that proposals be sorted into and evaluated in three "spheres": at mospheric systems, terrestrial systems, and marine systems. Atmospheric systems would include studies of the troposphere, stratosphere, ionosphere, and space physics, including physical and chemical studies ranging from the Earth surface to the sun, surface exchange processes, and interactions between the biosphere and atmosphere. Terrestrial systems would include studies of terrestrial biology and ecology, glaciology (including glaciers, ice sheets, snow, and permafrost), land-based ge- ology, Earth surface processes, past environmental history, and freshwater. Marine systems would include studies of biological and marine ecosystems, marine geology and geophysics, physical and chemical oceanography, sea-ice, and paleomarine issues.

OCR for page 29
34 FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR NSF'S ARCTIC NATURAL SCIENCES PROGRAM These three spheres are not mutually exclusive and thus a proposal may very well be evaluated and even funded by more than one sphere, or assigned to one sphere for management ease. The value of dividing the ANS program research among three spheres is that this kind of "systems approach" provides both good coverage of the relevant sciences and useful flexibility. Although not all of the disciplines grouped in each sphere share the same intellectual traditions or ex- perimental approaches, they have a commonality of environment/location and share a number of common features and processes. The terrestrial systems sphere is particularly diverse, but still less so than the current ANS program; it could be subdivided again after a trial period if it proves to be too diverse. There will certainly be interaction between and among the spheres, and proposals address- ing such interaction would be welcome and placed wherever was most logical. The committee believes the three spheres blend intellectual thrusts in a progres- sive way they will be more effective in supporting the ANS mission than a traditional disciplinary structure. The method now used to select proposals to be funded involves use of the peer review system to evaluate proposals, followed by funding decisions made by the program manager (with, recently, assistance from other ANS staff). The main problem with the current process, however, is that one program manager has a large burden of work, both in terms of numbers of proposals and amount of funding to be awarded, and in terms of the wide diversity of the proposals being considered. It is difficult for any one person to make informed, consistent deci- sions covering the range of topics that typify the ANS program. As this study was ongoing, some management changes were imposed (i.e., when the committee was formed, ANS was supported by one staff person who was a temporary employee; around the time of the committee's first meeting, another temporary staff person was assigned to provide half-time support to the program; as this report was being written, reviewed, and finalized, additional staff changes were announced).3 In general, these were positive changes because they increased the amount of staff time allocated to managing the program and set the stage for some permanence in the staff. Still, the committee believes it is appropriate to lay out a potential model of operations that, over the long term, could ensure that the program gives adequate attention to all its elements while increasing its capability to select research that is both of high quality and high importance. This model is based on the assumption that ANS is large and complex and, in the committee's opinion, would best be served by a team of three staff (e.g., 3As of July 1998, the ANS program has three full-time staff, including its original temporary position and two permanent positions transferred in from the Antarctic sciences section, but this is likely to change. The personnel changes that occurred during this study are indicative of the fact that oPP management is aware of the need for change and seeking solutions.

OCR for page 29
MISSION AND GUIDING PRINCIPLES 35 program managers), with one person assigned to manage each of the atmosphere, terrestrial, and marine spheres. The work loads would not be identical, given that (if past patterns hold) it is likely the atmospheric sciences sphere will receive relatively fewer proposals each year. Thus, there will need to be some flexibility in the staffing arrangement. Together, the three staff members would run the ANS program, coordinating on all major tasks preparation of announcements, management of incoming proposals, mail-in review, panel review, and funding decisions. When possible, the ANS program managers should take better advantage of the wide variety of expertise that exists elsewhere in OPP and across NSF as a whole. A key addition to the proposal evaluation process would be the use of a multidisciplinary panel convened specifically to consider the ANS proposals from both a quality perspec- tive and for input on research priorities. Dividing the research funding among the three spheres will require some strategic thinking. Using data provided by OPP, the committee estimated 1997 and 1998 funding shares for the three spheres (had they existed) as shown in Table 4-1. These two sets of numbers indicate, in a rough way, the current proposal pressure in each sphere. Some combination of past funding patterns and proposal pressure could be used to determine an initial division of resources across the spheres. However, given the newness of the program it is also ex- pected that variations from these early patterns are inevitable. While some useful information about funding and proposal submissions by sphere could be gained by examining ANS program history, the division of resources among the three spheres will probably be made based on the best judgment of OPP management. Regardless of how funds are split among the three spheres, the program must be flexible to accommodate complex, innovative multidisciplinary proposals as long as they are of the highest quality and are appropriate based on the selection guidelines. The ANS program should also be open to opportunities to encourage U.S. participation in international efforts because most of the Arctic lies outside the boundaries of the United States, and thus most arctic research includes a significant international component. Major international efforts often have large TABLE 4-1 Approximate Percentage of 1997 and 1998 Funding Allocated to Areas Covered by the Proposed Three Spheres % 1997 % 1998 Proposal Sphere Funding Submissions Atmospheric systems Terrestrial systems Marine systems Miscellaneous 3 16 47 34 15 42 43 o

OCR for page 29
36 FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR NSF'S ARCTIC NATURAL SCIENCES PROGRAM scopes, much larger than any single proposal, and are likely to transcend the spheres. It will take some special staff effort to stay aware of these activities. SETTING RESEARCH PRIORITIES Most research support programs use two things to guide their direction: a clear statement of mission and some sense of research priorities. Mission is the long-term vision that guides the program; it sets the overall course. Research priorities are dynamic and shorter-term; they guide year-to-year activities and allow programs to respond to newly identified needs, take advantage of special opportunities, and build upon past research in an integrated fashion. Research priorities change and are often quite focused; mission should remain relatively stable and have a broad focus. Mission is best established in a top-down fashion by program and agency management to keep the specific program in line with overall strategic planning and goals. Research priorities can be set either top- down or bottom-up, as long as the mechanisms for doing so are dynamic so that priorities remain current. Research priorities should be written to encompass a

OCR for page 29
MISSION AND GUIDING PRINCIPLES 37 range of questions. By definition, research priorities are time dependent that is, they will change over time. Thus they should always be presented with the caveat that they represent the best judgment at a given moment in time. There are many possible approaches for setting research priorities. All re- quire some decisionmaker~s) to impose judgment regarding the relative impor- tance of various issues. At times for example, when new fields of study are emerging, at a significant anniversary or other benchmark, or during a time of great controversy in a field it can be useful to get a one-time statement of research priorities from an expert committee specifically charged to do so. Such guidance can set research on a sound course and unify a community. But in many cases, it is more important to set up a mechanism to ensure ongoing input from the community, rather than just a one-time glimpse of possible priorities. What seems to make the ANS program different from many other NSF programs is its breadth how can one decisionmaker, the program manager, know all the relevant fields equally well and be truly aware of emerging issues and needs? It will always be more difficult to make judgments in fields beyond one's own, although that can be alleviated to some extent by selecting staff with broad backgrounds and over time as the staff's knowledge increases. So the goal is to add elements to the decisionmaking process to, in essence, enlarge the program manager' s view. The three levels of selection guidelines, described earlier, serve to clarify the mission of the ANS program and set broad direction. Some caution is required, however, when talking about research priorities for the ANS program. ANS's fundamental strength is its status as a general program covering a broad range of topics: it is not theme-focused nor should it be. Thus, while program managers will of course have to make decisions about what research is "better" or "of higher priority" than other proposed research, the committee believes that this should not be exaggerated to the point where the priorities take on so much weight that they become "themes" dictating what research is sought out and selected. We further believe that the review panels, Arctic Affiliates, and other exist- ing sources of expertise can play roles in helping ANS managers identify areas of important research and maintain a dynamic balance between the needs in the three scientific spheres. Priority setting should not be a one-time event but a flexible process, complete with periodic evaluations and modifications. The program can remain flexible and the appropriate home for an eclectic assortment of projects, while still listening to the scientific community about what types of research are of high importance as time progresses. LOGISTICS SUPPORT At the town meetings run by the committee and through the electronic ques- tionnaire posted on the Polar Research Board's Web site, the research community

OCR for page 29
38 FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR NSF'S ARCTIC NATURAL SCIENCES PROGRAM expressed concern about issues related to support for the logistics associated with research in the Arctic. Many comments related to finding platforms for field work, and there was virtually universal concern that logistics costs for arctic work had to be borne by science budgets. This is a disadvantage relative to work in the Antarctic where the logistics costs are covered separately by the Polar Research Support Section. Therefore, even though the science budgets of the Arctic and Antarctic Sections appear equal size, a significantly smaller share of the Arctic budget is actually available for science. (For example, a $100,000 grant from a program in the Arctic Sciences Section might cover $25,000 in logistical ex- penses like ship time or charter air services and $75,000 in research expenses; in the Antarctic Sciences Section, all $100,000 would support research, while trans- portation costs would be covered separately.) The committee recognizes that comparisons between arctic and antarctic logistics are not entirely apt. For in- stance, access to research sites in the Arctic is not as difficult in many ways because extensive infrastructure is already in place communities with facilities, airfields, and shipping points that can serve as staging bases for remote field operations. The capability exists to reach almost any location in the Arctic by aircraft during at least some seasons of the year, and the capability of sampling year-around has been demonstrated numerous times by Russia, the United States, and Canada. By contrast, NSF must supply all the infrastructure for U.S. antarc- tic research and year-around access. Nor are arctic researchers eager to deal with

OCR for page 29
MISSION AND GUIDING PRINCIPLES 39 a large bureaucracy and standardized procedures as is necessary in the Antarctic, because great flexibility is often necessary in arranging logistics in the Arctic. Nevertheless, it seems unrealistic to expect ANS and the rest of the Arctic Sci- ences Section to take leading roles in arctic research without devoting more attention to the associated logistical challenges. Concerns about logistics, access, and platform availability are discussed at length in other reports (e.g., see Schlosser et al., 1997~. In the past, one of the most prevalent complaints related to logistics support for arctic research has been the lack of a dedicated research icebreaker. The imminent commissioning of the USCGC Healy is changing this concern. Now, many scientists wonder whether already-constrained financial resources will be stretched to pay for all the ship time that will be available. Terrestrial, marine, and atmospheric scientists who do not require an icebreaker to do their work are worried that a great deal of ANS funding will be siphoned away for ship support. The cooperative arrangement with the Navy that facilitates the use of Navy submarines for research and the developing arrangement with the Coast Guard are examples of how collaboration can improve access to arctic research sites. Because a number of federal agencies have roles in the Arctic, certainly there are other opportunities to share resources ships, aircraft, shore stations, and tech- nology in ways that give researchers logistical support. Potential partners who might share logistics resources include the Forest Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, and various Alaska state agencies. It is not clear if these opportunities are being fully explored by NSF. Finally, logistical support for research in the Arctic faces the sometimes complex problem of access to foreign countries and territorial waters. This is a political and bureaucratic problem, and it is very difficult for principal investiga- tors to know all the relevant laws and procedures and make the necessary contacts to conduct experiments in the economic zone of another country. Shipping and customs in foreign countries can be extremely difficult without the proper con- tacts, even when the work is done with a collaborator in the foreign country. It is not realistic to expect the ANS program managers to juggle their scientific re- sponsibilities and deal with anything more than the most routine logistical ques- tions as well.