Assessment of the Overall Plan
The draft plan succeeds in a number of important ways. First, the important link between ocean and society is clear and well articulated. Second, the committee agrees with the identification and the importance of the overarching opportunities (developing the understanding and capability to forecast ocean processes; collecting the scientific information needed to support ecosystem-based management of resources, especially those found in coastal and nearshore ecosystems; and accelerating deployment of an ocean observing system that will, in turn, advance forecasting and management capabilities). Third, the draft plan is organized around six broad themes, and these themes succeed in capturing the main ocean-related issues facing society in a comprehensive and coherent way. Fourth, the plan includes research priorities in the social sciences, a necessary component for improving ocean stewardship. Finally, the draft plan acknowledges the role of fundamental science in meeting the nation’s needs for ocean research and development.
The plan does less well at translating the link between society and the ocean into a bold and compelling vision for ocean research in the next decade. The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy’s report, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century, provides a useful example of such a vision in the section “A Vision and Strategy for the 21st Century and Beyond” (USCOP, 2004, p.4). There is a need to draw a clearer connection between the 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. These connections were clearly elucidated in several recent national reports, including those by the USCOP, the Pew Oceans Commission’s (2003) America’s Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change, and the
Joint Ocean Commission Initiative’s From Sea to Shining Sea (JOCI, 2006). The JSOST draft plan mentions these reports only minimally and thus misses an opportunity to put the plan into a larger context. A stronger connection to earlier reports would underscore the coherent evolution of thinking about the critical role that ocean research plays in addressing the pressing problems and opportunities facing society.
ORGANIZATION OF THE DRAFT PLAN
A further concern of the committee is the current organization of the plan, which differs from the previous outlines in the framework and planning documents. In particular, the committee is concerned with changes in the discussion of some of the original cross-cutting issues, especially fundamental science and education.
The draft plan does attempt to provide an overall vision and a sense of a grand challenge under the section “The Path Forward.” The subsection on “Overarching Opportunities” in particular provides a vision of the future that is multifaceted and from which numerous challenges and related goals could be developed. This section could be strengthened significantly and moved to the front of the plan with other cross-cutting elements.
The draft plan draws a somewhat sharp distinction between basic and applied science. In doing so, the plan does not adequately reflect the nature of the scientific process in which basic process studies interact continually with more applied observational and modeling efforts, both to advance science and ultimately to inform and support policy decision making and societal needs. Improvements in models and observing systems—in terms of predictive ability and cost—will depend on continuing advances in basic knowledge. A consequence of separating fundamental from more applied science is the potential to undervalue the role of basic science in supporting all types of scientific research and application. Ocean research contributes insights that advance other fields of science in addition to addressing the science-based ocean policy and management needs. As one example, basic research in acoustic propagation, remote sensing, turbulence, environmental prediction, and novel vehicles has led to operationally important military systems. Similarly, experiments with marine communities and organisms provide insight into the underlying processes controlling the organization and functioning of ecological communities more generally. This point reflects the general connectedness of science in many ways across subject bound-
aries that at first glance may appear quite impenetrable. It is critical to recognize that basic and applied science represent a continuum, not discrete entities. The solid arrow in Figure 3-1 represents how societal goals can drive an applied research agenda, which is highlighted by the ORPP. The dotted arrows represent the nature of the scientific enterprise and the resulting linkages between societal needs and applied and basic science. The presence of these feedbacks illustrates the dependence of one type of scientific endeavor on the other.
The committee suggests that the importance of wide-ranging fundamental research, while acknowledged in the plan, could be bolstered. The committee agrees with the JSOST view that fundamental research is the crucial foundation for progress in all of the themes and should continue to “be driven by competitive, merit-based investigations” and not constrained to the subjects of the themes. This will allow for the continued infusion of curiosity-driven inquiry and novel findings, thereby supporting “unexpected breakthroughs” across many fields. As it stands, the plan ineffectively addresses the role of basic research in achieving the priorities identified. The discussion of fundamental science could be more effectively highlighted as a cross-cutting element, connected to the subsequent discussion of the themes by statements that provide examples of ways in which fundamental research could lead to progress in those
theme priority areas. An associated modification of the thematic discussions would then serve to close this connection and emphasize the core importance of breakthroughs in fundamental science to advancing research priorities in the themes.
Clearly, two issues central to assessing the feasibility of the plan and its responsiveness to the nation’s needs are the level and allocation of funding and the strategy for implementation. The draft plan is silent on these issues, making it difficult to assess either feasibility or responsiveness. Because many priorities rely on large infrastructure investments or will require establishment of new research programs, there is a need to spell out the general funding assumptions under which the plan was developed (as was done, for example by both the Pew Oceans Commission  and the USCOP  in their discussions of future ocean science support). The ORPP section titled “The Next Steps” provides an outline of topics to be addressed in the implementation strategy. The first bullet, “roles and responsibilities of each constituent sector (e.g., federal agencies, state agencies, private sector, academia and nongovernmental organizations) in planning, programming, budgeting and execution of the priorities” (JSOST, 2006b, p. 64), identifies issues that will be critical to ensure success of the plan. The coordination of effort among the agencies provides much of the justification for this research planning effort and cannot be overemphasized in the implementation strategy.
In addition, the committee has a specific concern that the operation of an integrated ocean observing system will degrade the nation’s research capabilities unless mechanisms are developed to transfer fiscal responsibility from research programs to operational entities. The plan correctly recognizes the importance of developing technologies into operational capabilities (JSOST, 2006b, p. 53), but one of the major stumbling blocks in this step is not mentioned—the need for a sustainable source of support for operations such as ocean observations. Enhancing ocean observations is clearly required to address the research priorities identified in the draft plan. If the observing system is explicitly designed, deployed, and operated to benefit both scientific and operational activities, it will be necessary to develop a cost-sharing approach for the operational and research programs. The need to plan for the transfer of research-oriented observation capabilities to operational observing programs has become a major concern, as indicated by the focus on this issue in several recent NRC reports (e.g., NRC, 2003a, 2003b).
Education is another element that does not receive sufficient emphasis, primarily because of the ineffective placement of the discussion toward the end of the plan. Education is integral to the entire ocean enterprise, and its value and many contributions to the research enterprise should be emphasized as an essential, cross-cutting element of the ocean research plan, as illustrated in Figure 3-2.
The committee notes that there are a number of places in this report where it is suggested that the draft ORPP does not provide sufficient detail to adequately describe or develop the arguments for a particular theme, priority, and so forth. The committee realizes that the JSOST needs to keep the ORPP as short and succinct as possible. However, even though the additional detail would make the plan a little longer, this added information will make the plan much more credible, useful, and scientifically acceptable. Some of the background discussion in the plan could be trimmed, or concerns about a longer plan could be allayed by a particularly succinct and readable Executive Summary.
The draft 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 between and among these themes. These connections identify opportunities for collaborative research efforts in addition to the overarching opportunities. The process of connecting could also illuminate potential areas where discussion of the science in the themes is inconsistent. For example, the text in the “Stewardship of Our Natural and Cultural Ocean Resources” theme discusses the need to expand data collection efforts to determine the “worth” of natural resources using current valuation methodologies, and the “Improving Ecosystem Health” section makes the point that new approaches are needed to evaluate the consumptive and nonconsumptive use value of natural resources. More details on the linkages among themes are provided in Chapter 4.
Within each theme, the draft plan identifies a small number of priorities intended to guide effort toward the most important scientific objectives that must be reached to achieve the larger societal goals. There is no ranking of the priorities either within or across themes. Because the research priority statements are phrased as broad, sometimes all encompassing, objectives rather than specific research needs, they only partially meet the intention to guide future scientific efforts. The terms “understand” and “apply” are more typically used for describing societal goals and are ineffective in conveying the scientific questions and technological innovations required to advance knowledge. Similarly problematic is the use of the word “priority.” By definition, priority implies precedence in importance, timing, or some other characteristic. However, because of their lack of specificity, the priorities do not clearly indicate a sense of value, urgency, or ranking. In other words, many of these priorities are too general to provide useful guidance. Three examples suffice to illustrate this point. A priority under the theme “Stewardship of Our Natural and Cultural Ocean Resources” is to “understand interspecies and habitat/species relationships as a basis for forecasting resource stability and sustainability.” The activities enumer-
ated under this theme include “data collection, experimentation, and advanced modeling” with an additional four priorities for natural resource modeling listed. It is fair to say that this priority essentially covers the entire field of marine ecology. A priority under the theme “The Ocean’s Role in Climate” is to “understand ocean-climate interactions across regions.” The specific issues raised under this priority include “the influence of the global tropical ocean phenomena (as demonstrated by El Niño, PDO [Pacific Decadal Oscillation], and NAO [North Atlantic Oscillation] events and monsoons in the Indian and eastern Pacific ocean)” and ascertaining “the role of the deep ocean … particularly with regards to mitigating climate change (e.g., via carbon sequestration and heat storage).” Again, these are monumental scientific challenges covering a large part of physical and chemical oceanography. A priority under the theme “Enhancing Human Health” is to “understand human health risks associated with the ocean and the potential benefits of ocean resources to human health.” In large part, this is simply a restatement of the theme. By encompassing virtually the entire scope of research under a theme, many of the so-called priority statements do not suggest prioritization. The near-term priorities provide an example of true priority setting because they clearly give precedence with respect to implementation.
Although it may seem paradoxical, at the same time that many of the research priority statements are too broad to serve as a guide, some of the supporting text is overly prescriptive with regard to the type of scientific activity specified to address the priority. For example, supporting text under the priority statement “Understand human health risks associated with the ocean and the potential benefits of ocean resources to human health,” listed in the theme “Enhancing Human Health,” calls for the integration of ocean data and modeling “with epidemiologic studies to define exposures and refine risk assessments.” Although this integration may indeed be valuable, epidemiologic studies may not be the optimal tool in every circumstance. In one case, the wording of the priority statement under the theme “Improving Ecosystem Health”—“understand and predict the impact of natural and anthropogenic processes that govern the overall level of ecosystem productivity”—is too limited. Singling out productivity as a measure of ecosystem status is overly restrictive and captures neither the complexity nor the variety of ecosystems and the services they provide. The optimal mix of process, observational, and modeling studies will depend on the specifics of the research project and hence will be determined more effectively by scientists endeavoring to address these research priorities. This priority
statement could be rephrased as: “Develop the capability to predict the impact of natural and anthropogenic processes on ecological systems.” A number of system characteristics, including organization, composition, complexity, and productivity, are important to consider both as measures of impact and as factors that ultimately influence the direction and magnitude of ecological responses. Particular attention should be paid to nonlinear dynamics, threshold responses, and properties that influence the ability of systems to resist or recover from natural and anthropogenic stressors.
The ORPP identifies specific criteria by which research priorities were selected (presumably from a longer list of candidate priorities). However, the connection between these criteria and the specific priorities that were selected is not spelled out (see Chapter 4 for additional discussion). In addition, the plan does not provide a schedule for addressing the priorities and lacks benchmarks for measuring progress.
The committee believes that some of the problems identified above could be alleviated by expanding the theme-priority hierarchy through the introduction of an intermediate level that identifies “challenges for science and society.” As it stands, the themes refer to societal issues, while the priorities are phrased as broad research goals for addressing these issues. Between these two levels, large-scale scientific challenges could be articulated to assist in the formulation of more tightly focused research priorities. Some examples are given in Box 3-1. These challenges would galvanize the ocean research and policy communities and
Examples of Challenges for Science and Society
Theme: The Ocean’s Role in Climate
Challenge for Science and Society: By 2020, determine environmentally safe limits and conditions for disposal of excess CO2 in the ocean and develop economically viable disposal methods that meet those conditions.
Challenge for Science and Society: By 2020, assess the risk and prospects of abrupt climate change.
Theme: Stewardship of Natural and Cultural Resources
Challenge for Science and Society: Within the next decade, develop ecosystem-based models that accurately predict future abundances of all major harvested fish populations within a given ecosystem.
Challenge for Science and Society: Assess the potential for ocean energy and its likely ecological impacts by 2020.
more convincingly convey the need for an ocean research plan to address societal concerns. The examples in Box 3-1 are provided only to illustrate how challenges could be incorporated under the themes. The identification of challenges is an integral step in the development of the research plan and as such should be undertaken by the JSOST.
The committee struggled with assessing whether the time frame for attaining the priorities is realistic (Task 3b). Initially, the committee attempted to address this task for each of the priorities that were stated in the draft ORPP. Because of the linkages among these priorities, as discussed in Chapter 4, progress toward certain priorities will be affected by progress toward one or more of the others. It also became clear that because the 21 longer-term priorities were so broadly stated, the committee could not answer Task 3b without information about how the research priorities would be implemented. As noted in Chapter 4, the discussion of the priorities does not convey the degree of difficulty or the challenge in achieving them or convey an assessment of where the ocean research community stands today, making it difficult to address realistically the likely time frame for success. There are no explicit, or even implicit, milestones.
The organization of the draft plan undercuts many of the valuable points that are made in the text. The current draft could be revised in accordance with the JSOST’s Ocean Priorities Framework (JSOST, 2005), which would address many of the shortcomings identified in this review. 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 April 2006 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. A possible new outline for the plan is provided in Box 3-2. Strong editorial attention is needed throughout the document to help to make it more exciting, dynamic, organized, and readable. The use of boxes, figures, tables, pic-
tures, and other tools would help to highlight information by consolidating it and presenting it in a format that has a greater impact on the reader.
ADDRESSING THE STATEMENT OF TASK AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Task 1 of the committee’s charge is to assess if the is plan responsive to the nation’s needs for ocean research and development. The committee finds that at a broad level, the draft plan is generally responsive to the nation’s needs for ocean research and development in addressing present problems and opportunities facing society. The draft plan is less responsive to the need for ocean research that, while not directly connected to today’s challenges, will provide the basis for addressing challenges in the future. The draft plan also lacks a bold and compelling vision for ocean research and development over the next decade.
The committee was also asked to assess whether the plan effectively links proposed science and technology developments to benefits to the nation with regard to quality of life, safety and security, economic growth, environmental sustainability, and education (Task 2). The com-
mittee finds that as a result of the use of vague statements to characterize research priorities, the plan does not effectively make these links.
For Task 3b, the committee was asked to assess whether the time frame for attaining the priorities is realistic. Because the 21 longer-term priorities were so broadly stated, the committee finds that it cannot determine how realistic this time frame is without additional information specifying how the priorities will be implemented.
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. Examples of the role of basic research in advancing the goals of the societal themes should be used to illustrate why this is a cross-cutting issue.
RECOMMENDATION: The plan should identify challenges under each theme that provide a more inspiring rationale for the research priorities.
RECOMMENDATION: Carefully formulated and well-justified research priorities should be identified that are clearly connected to scientific challenges. The implementation strategy should include a schedule by which these priorities could reasonably be ad-