The draft Ocean Research Priorities Plan (hereafter referred to as the plan or the ORPP), entitled Charting the Course for Ocean Science in the United States: Research Priorities for the Next Decade, represents the first coordinated national research planning effort involving all federal agencies that support ocean science. The draft plan was prepared by the National Science and Technology Council’s Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology (JSOST) as called for in the U.S. Ocean Action Plan. This important effort has opened up valuable lines of dialogue between and across government agencies, academia, nongovernmental organizations, and industry.
The purpose of the draft plan is to “develop and present ocean research priorities that address key interactions between society and the ocean.” The draft plan identifies six themes that represent key areas of human interaction with the ocean:
Stewardship of Our Natural and Cultural Ocean Resources
Increasing Resilience to Natural Hazards
Enabling Marine Operations
The Ocean’s Role in Climate
Improving Ecosystem Health
Enhancing Human Health
Twenty-one longer-term (~10 years) and four near-term (2-5 years) research priorities are defined with regard to these themes. There is no ranking of either the long-term or the near-term priorities. Commonalities among themes, particularly in the areas of infrastructure and education, are identified. The plan concludes by articulating a path forward that is defined by three overarching opportunities and four near-term priorities. The plan also mentions the development of the imple-
mentation strategy, a document that is to be released with the final version of the ORPP.
The co-chairs of the JSOST requested that the National Research Council (NRC) conduct a review of the plan. Prior to the committee review, NRC staff provided summaries of recommendations from NRC reports published in the past seven years that related to the themes, pillars, and cross-cuts identified by the JSOST. An ad hoc committee was assembled to perform the review, guided by the study’s statement of task (see Box S-1). The findings and recommendations of Part I are summarized below.
ASSESSMENT OF THE OVERALL PLAN
The draft plan succeeds in five important ways. The critical link between the ocean and society is clear and well articulated. The overarching opportunities defined in the plan are appropriate and compelling. The six broad themes succeed in capturing the main ocean-related issues facing society in a comprehensive and coherent way, and the draft plan acknowledges the role of fundamental curiosity-driven research in meeting the nation’s needs for ocean research and development. The plan includes research priorities in the social sciences, a necessary component for improving ocean stewardship.
The organization of the draft plan undercuts many of the valuable points that are made in the text. In particular, the sections “Expanding the Scientific Frontier: The Need for Fundamental Science,” “Opportunities for Progress,” “Overarching Opportunities,” and “Making a Difference” all support the societal themes; however, these sections are not presented effectively in the current draft. The plan could be revised in accordance with the JSOST’s Ocean Priorities Framework (JSOST, 2005), which would address many of these shortcomings. The framework document lists the following sections as part of the draft plan: vision, challenges, principles and critical elements, themes, goals, resources, and evaluating performance. Alternatively, the use of cross-cutting themes, similar to the approach in the Planning Document for the Ocean Research Priorities Plan (JSOST, 2006a) but placed early in the ORPP, would give these issues greater emphasis and illustrate many of the connections among the themes.
The plan is not successful in translating the link between society and the ocean into a bold and compelling vision for ocean research in the next decade. There is a need to draw a clearer connection between the
Statement of Task
An ad hoc committee will review the draft plan for the Ocean Research Priorities Plan prepared by the JSOST with input from a public workshop in April 2006. The review will address the following questions about the draft plan as a whole:
In its review, the committee will consider the scientific and stakeholder community comments at the April 2006 workshop and other comments received during the public comment period.
In this phase, the committee will provide an overall assessment of the revised (final) plan with an emphasis on the following:
problems and opportunities facing society and the specific challenges for ocean science, and between these specific challenges and the research
priorities identified in the plan. A stronger connection to earlier reports, such as those by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy (USCOP), the Pew Oceans Commission, and the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, would underscore the coherent evolution of thinking about the critical role that ocean research plays in addressing the pressing problems and opportunities facing society and would place the draft plan into a larger context.
RECOMMENDATION: The Ocean Research Priorities Plan should provide a bold and compelling vision for the future of ocean science research. This vision should be placed near the front of the plan and referenced in the discussions of theme priorities. This would help to integrate discrete sections of the plan.
RECOMMENDATION: The plan should be reorganized to include a discrete section devoted to cross-cutting elements that are central to the vision for ocean research. The concept of cross-cutting themes used in the planning document should be reintroduced and moved toward the beginning of the plan as a way to reinforce the importance of these elements in creating the foundation for progress on the societal themes. In particular, the section “Expanding the Scientific Frontier: The Need for Fundamental Science” should be included as one of these cross-cuts and revised to strengthen the rationale for basic research.
Themes and Priorities
The draft research priorities plan is organized around six societal themes. The themes successfully capture the main ocean-related issues facing society, have an interdisciplinary focus, and would benefit from a collaborative approach among federal, state, and local agencies to integrate efforts. However, the draft plan is less successful at elucidating the linkages among these themes. These connections provide opportunities for identifying research priorities in addition to the ORPP’s “Overarching Opportunities.” Most of the thematic discussions address at least some issues that are linked to other themes. It would be helpful to en-
hance this discussion by taking a more consistent approach across the themes that (1) carefully considers the interfaces between themes that intersect the key areas identified in the document and (2) states the research needs and the mechanisms that will foster collaborative research in those areas.
The priorities within each theme are intended to guide efforts toward the most important scientific objectives that must be reached to achieve the larger societal goals. This intention is only partially met. There are three primary concerns about the research priorities as they have been identified in the draft plan:
The priorities that start with “Understand” sound like goals (not research priorities), while the priorities that start with “Apply” sound more like activities. This terminology communicates neither the value of ocean research nor the exciting challenges of the research that could then be used to develop milestones. In addition, many of the priority statements are so all encompassing that they do not indicate areas of research that should take precedence.
The wording of some research priorities suggests that they do not involve research but rather implies that they are activities or operations that have no clear research component (e.g., Priorities 11 and 16).1
The priorities do not convey the degree of difficulty or challenge in achieving them, making it difficult to realistically address the feasibility and time frame for their likely success.
To provide a clearer connection between the scientific priorities and the underlying societal needs, it would be useful if the plan articulated a series of challenges for science and society. These challenges would facilitate the identification of more tightly formulated research priorities under each theme and, importantly, would galvanize the ocean research and policy communities around the plan.
The draft plan identifies specific criteria by which research priorities were selected. However, the connection between these criteria and the specific priorities selected is not clear. Many of the priority statements are too broad to provide useful guidance. Also, it is unclear how the priorities relate to existing programs versus new initiatives. In some
See Table 4-1 for list of priorities.
cases, the science described in the supporting text is too prescriptive with regard to the type of research activities required to address the priorities. In addition, the plan lacks both a schedule for addressing the priorities and specific benchmarks for measuring progress.
RECOMMENDATION: The ORPP should clearly state the goals, challenges, and research priorities of the plan and how these relate to existing programs and new initiatives. The challenges should provide a more directed and inspiring rationale for the research priorities.
RECOMMENDATION: Linkages among the themes should be clearly and consistently delineated in the supporting text for the research priorities. This could be accomplished through a simple statement that a given research priority will also forward the goals of other (specified) themes.
RECOMMENDATION: The implementation strategy should include a schedule by which these priorities could reasonably be addressed, a set of benchmarks by which progress can be assessed, and a strategy for maintaining new capabilities (made possible by advances in knowledge of processes, modeling, and technology) through the transfer from research to operational programs.
CONSIDERATION OF SPECIFIC THEMES
The following summarizes the assessment of the proposed research for each of the six themes. In its review, the committee considered the clarity and appropriateness of the thematic research priorities; the balance among substantive research areas as well as research activities such as observations, modeling, and communication of results; and the degree of success in linking and integrating research activities across the themes.
Stewardship of Our Natural and Cultural Ocean Resources
This theme encompasses stewardship of all aspects of the oceans and Great Lakes that represent commodities that fulfill essential human needs (e.g., goods and services such as food and transportation) or values (e.g., recreation, tourism, preservation of culture). Although the plan discusses the need for taking an ecosystem-based approach, the committee suggests that the plan go one step further and use ecosystem-based management as the unifying concept to connect the numerous human uses of the ocean and research priorities. The committee also believes that the discussion of this theme fails to capture a sense of the imperiled status of our ocean resources, the changes in human behavior necessary to achieve sustainability for renewable resources, and the difficulty of the science needed to solve these problems. In addition, the committee found it difficult to identify those resources and research priorities that the report classifies as cultural. The confusion stems from differences in the way the plan discusses these resources. As it stands, the title of this theme implies that “natural” and “cultural” resources are of equal importance in terms of research priorities, yet none of the proposed priorities deal directly with cultural resources.
RECOMMENDATION: This theme should further emphasize the necessity of understanding all human impacts, not just fishing, and the feedbacks and cumulative impacts among them as the means of moving ocean governance to an ecosystem-based approach. In addition, a more compelling case should be made for these extremely important research priorities based on the greater scientific and public awareness of the decline in living resources and biodiversity.
RECOMMENDATION: Research priorities for cultural resources should be identified, or this topic should be removed from the theme.
Increasing Resilience to Natural Hazards
This theme addresses societal risks and vulnerability to coastal and marine hazards such as hurricanes and tsunamis. Emphasis is on under-
standing economic, environmental, social, and public health impacts from hazards; assessing and reducing risks and vulnerability; and making better forecasts of hazards. The priorities are appropriate, they address significant challenges, and there is a good balance among the priority areas. One deficiency in this theme is identification of the need for more process research to understand the nonlinear complexity of coastal inundation forcing, coastal erosion, sediment transport, and the health of coastal ecosystems as has been highlighted in other reports, notably the report from the USCOP. Hazards affect activity under all of the other themes, and the discussion would be improved if these linkages were reviewed in brief.
RECOMMENDATION: The discussion of each of these priorities should be modestly expanded to provide greater specificity in the description of proposed research and to include research on coastal erosion and sediment transport.
Enabling Marine Operations
The draft plan defines marine operations to encompass commercial, recreational, and defense and security matters. The document provides justification for further research by correctly noting that marine operations can be expected to grow in importance in the future and therefore require a strong ocean science and technology base to maintain their vitality.
The priority statements in this section would be improved if they were made more specific and inspiring. The priorities, as presented, appear to be focused largely on marine transportation. Greater balance needs to be added by discussing how the proposed research will address marine operations related to defense, fishing and aquaculture, recreation, search and rescue, and energy and minerals exploitation. Some linkages to research within the other themes are identified but could be greatly expanded. Several of the suggested topics seem to involve operational issues that do not have a clear research component.
RECOMMENDATION: Specific research requirements should be better identified and described.
RECOMMENDATION: The plan should clearly distinguish operational activities from research goals. These goals should be broader than marine transportation and include areas such as national defense, fishing, and recreation.
The Ocean’s Role in Climate
The title of this priority does not reflect the intent to address both the role of the ocean in climate and the impact of climate variability and change on the ocean. A more appropriate title might be “Oceans and Climate.” The priorities concern translation of basic research into practical use for societal benefits and address the required basic research components. Thus, although broad, they are complete and balanced. The priorities as written, however, would be unlikely to capture the imagination and interest of nonscientists.
The critical needs for this theme are to expand sustained ocean observations and to conduct ocean process research required to improve numerical models for ocean state estimation and prediction. It is not clear from the document how the pursuit of thematic priorities will be coordinated to achieve this. The need for an integrated and sustained observing system is identified clearly. The importance of sustained and enhanced satellite observations for these climate priorities is called out, but the critical problem of ensuring continuity of existing and planned systems is not addressed. The required synergy between observations and models is not adequately addressed within the research priorities.
RECOMMENDATION: Linkages with other themes should be improved.
RECOMMENDATION: Priorities 12 and 14 should include discussions of sea level that explicitly recognize the importance of multiple, compounded sources of variability and change.
Improving Ecosystem Health
This theme correctly addresses and acknowledges the complexity and importance of marine ecosystems and suggests that there is much to
be learned about the structure, function, and vulnerability of these systems. However, there are still some significant knowledge gaps that the plan misses, including factors that control ecosystem stability and productivity, processes acting across interfaces, linkages among ecosystem types, and ultimately, the relationship between marine ecosystems and the larger ocean-earth-atmosphere system. Another important omission is research to develop indices that can be used to define healthy, resilient, and productive ecosystems. Some of the requirements that call for new and improved models implicitly require experiments and process studies. This could be made more explicit.
Productivity appears to be presented as the sole indicator of ecosystem health. However, by itself, productivity is a poor metric because marine systems can maintain stable levels of secondary production, set by nutrient loadings and physical conditions, even when severely perturbed by human activities. Ecosystem health needs to be assessed more broadly.
RECOMMENDATION: A broader range of ecosystem responses (not just productivity) should be considered as measures of ecosystem health. Priority 15 would be improved by substituting wording such as the following: “Develop the capability to predict the impact of natural and anthropogenic processes on ecological systems.”
RECOMMENDATION: Additional emphasis should be placed on increasing knowledge and understanding of factors contributing to the maintenance and restoration of ecosystem health.
Enhancing Human Health
This theme addresses a broad array of human health issues that relate to the ocean, the major issues being pathogens, harmful algal blooms (HABs), contaminants, marine bioproducts, and biological models. These are appropriate and capture the most important research topics. The justification for this theme is solid and should easily be understood by nonscientists, although the theme rationale could be strengthened by expanding beyond sickness and drugs to include the potential for major contributions to science in general. The research priorities capture a
broad range of topics that are appropriate and will clearly advance science in this area. The priorities would be strengthened by clearer wording and by more explicit description of important linkages with research priorities in other themes.
This theme includes an appropriate balance between substantive research areas, except for the inconsistent emphasis on basic research among the four research priorities. Recognition of the multidisciplinary nature of research needed to advance this theme is one of its strengths.
RECOMMENDATION: More careful wording should be used so that the distinction between Priorities 18 and 19 is clear, the scope of recommended research is not unnecessarily constrained, and important linkages among research themes are described. The importance of both process studies and quantification of risk should be clearly emphasized.
INTERDISCIPLINARY AND MULTI-MISSION OCEAN RESEARCH
Major ocean research and management challenges facing our nation require interdisciplinary approaches and cut across the defined missions of individual government agencies. The complexity of these challenges should be matched by the use of sophisticated approaches that draw on expertise from a range of disciplines in order to enhance knowledge and apply that knowledge to the development of scientifically sound management strategies. The major themes and overarching opportunities identified in the draft plan are interdisciplinary in nature and require expertise from many fields for substantial progress to be made. The draft plan rightly acknowledges the importance of interdisciplinary science, as well as approaches that cut across agency missions. The six research themes lend themselves to interdisciplinary efforts and collaboration, both within and across agencies. The descriptions of major research areas in the plan also indicate the need for integration, systems approaches, and collaboration in the conduct of research and the gathering of data. However, the identification of important linkages among the six major themes and multidisciplinary needs within research priorities is uneven and in some instances quite weak. Pointing out these linkages throughout the report serves many important purposes, including more accurate
identification of both the range of specific expertise needed to address the major themes and the scope of interdisciplinary and multiagency efforts that will be required. The focus on interdisciplinary science starts off in the right direction through much of the draft plan. The real test of a commitment to move beyond historical disciplinary and organizational barriers will be determined by whether the implementation strategy presents a pathway to break down barriers between disciplines and agencies to facilitate multidisciplinary, multi-mission programs.
The emphasis on multidisciplinary, multi-mission efforts and collaboration above should not be interpreted as a recommendation to abandon or downplay the importance of disciplinary training. Expertise and training in specific disciplines will be required to develop effective multidisciplinary efforts. Also, advances in traditional disciplines contribute to the solution of important scientific challenges; hence, experts in these fields can help identify new concepts or technologies that will support multidisciplinary programs.
RECOMMENDATION: The ORPP should provide a more comprehensive description of the needs and opportunities for multidisciplinary research, as well as research partnerships (multiagency and agency-academia-industry-international) for each societal theme.
RECOMMENDATION: The implementation strategy for the ORPP should evaluate the adequacy of existing mechanisms for interagency and agency-academia collaborative research to identify opportunities to improve collaboration among sectors.
RECOMMENDATION: Disciplinary expertise and research should not be neglected in the description of important research and training needs presented in the plan.
EVALUATION OF NEAR-TERM PRIORITIES
Near-term priorities provide a bridge between the generalities of the themes, the focus of the 21 priorities, and the launching of more specific actions. It is necessary to focus the early research efforts where
they will have the most impact and where they can readily be implemented. Given these constraints, the near-term priority areas selected appear to be appropriate and will advance the ocean research agenda, although they are not as clearly tied to the 21 long-term priorities as they might have been.
The basis for the selection of near-term priorities is not clear. Although criteria for selection have been identified, these criteria are not referenced in the discussion of the individual near-term priorities. Also, no milestones or metrics are offered for tracking progress toward meeting the objectives behind these priorities. A few examples under each near-term priority would be valuable in illustrating potential outcomes and would provide more inspiration for the priorities. It is not clear how the time frame for the near-term priorities meshes with the implementation of the 21 priorities. The ORPP does not explain how the implementation of near-term priorities will affect the initiation of research efforts identified under the individual themes.
RECOMMENDATION: The specific linkages of each of the near-term priorities to the 21 longer-term priorities should be identified. Milestones and metrics should be identified to measure accomplishment and progress.
RECOMMENDATION: The near-term priorities should include a description of the relationship between what is already being done in each area and how it will be expanded under the research plan.
RECOMMENDATION: The time frames for conduct of near-term and longer-term research should be clearly defined with a discussion of the balance of effort between the two sets of priorities.
RESEARCH AND HUMAN RESOURCE NEEDS
The draft plan successfully lists most of the types of physical infrastructure that will be required: vessels, earth-sensing satellites, buoys, unmanned vehicles, new sensors (particularly aimed at biological and chemical ocean variables), and more. It also mentions, correctly, various needs for more widespread deployment of many of
these tools and integration of their measurements. However, the draft does not go beyond the stages of listing and mentioning. It does not provide goals and objectives that are connected to the stated priorities nor does it give specifics for implementation. Consequently, it is not possible to answer the question of whether the plan “adequately” considers these tools.
The discussion of information infrastructure essentially parallels the discussion of physical infrastructure. Plans exist that address needed information infrastructure for ocean sciences, but these plans were not written in the context of the ocean research priorities. Although discussions of the information infrastructure in this and other reports may be informative, they do not address “adequacy” for the purpose of the ORPP. Therefore, the existing plans serve only as guidance in defining information infrastructure, not as the basis for determining the adequacy of the information infrastructure called for in the draft plan.
The draft plan contains mention, but scant quantitative assessment, of the need for intellectual capital or the future workforce required to carry out the research and related work envisioned in the plan. Short shrift also is given to the social science workforce needs that are integral to the plan. The needs run from Ph.D. researchers to electronics technicians to science managers to experts in formal and informal education, outreach, social science, and economics.
RECOMMENDATION: The final plan should move toward greater specificity in the area of infrastructure in order to command serious attention from its intended audiences.
RECOMMENDATION: The ORPP should take heed of broader workforce issues and information sources in revising, clarifying, and improving its projections of needs in this area.