This review was co-commissioned by the Directors of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation, who called for examination of the logistical capabilities needed to support the science drivers identified in a National Research Council report, Future Science Opportunities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean (NRC, 2011a), and ways to improve the logistical efficiency of U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) operations. The Blue Ribbon Panel (BRP) that addressed the charge was chaired by Norman Augustine who previously headed the panel that led to the reconstruction of South Pole Station, comprising military and civilian experts in logistics and research management, as well as two scientists from the NRC (2011a) study.1
Based on its analysis of the NRC (2011a) report, the BRP considered major logistical drivers for the coming decades to include:
- Extensive at-sea research with a need for near- and under-ice operations,
- Year-round research and likely expansion of major instrumentation and data transmission at the South Pole,
- Focus on climate-related measurements and analysis (including continuity of the LTERs),
- Construction and year-round operation of a comprehensive and automated continent-wide and Southern Ocean observing system, and
- Intensive and widespread deep-field research projects.
1 NSF’s response to the Blue Ribbon Panel report, issued in March 2013, can be found here: http://www.nsf.gov/geo/plr/usap_special_review/usap_brp/rpt/nsf_brp_response.pdf.
The BRP panel concluded that “substantial cost savings can be realized and more science therefore accomplished, some through rather straightforward operating changes and others requiring initial investment. The latter offer long-term gains that are justified on a discounted cash-flow basis, from safety considerations, or from science returns. The essence of our findings is that the lack of capital budgeting has placed operations at McMurdo, and to a somewhat lesser extent at Palmer Station, in unnecessary jeopardy. . . .”
Given the need for and cost of extensive facility modernization, the BRP closely examined the logistical and scientific factors influencing the choice of McMurdo Station on Ross Island as the primary point of resupply and support for USAP continental operations. As its first of 10 principal recommendations, the panel validated the continued use of McMurdo, Palmer, and South Pole stations as the primary U.S. science and logistics hubs on the continent.
The BRP’s other major recommendations called for:
- The need for major facility upgrades at Palmer and McMurdo,
- The establishment of a long-term facilities capital plan and budget,
- Restoration of the U.S. polar ocean fleet to ensure reliable resupply and to support research and national security,
- Adoption of state-of-the-art logistics and transportation support,
- Modernized and expanded communications capabilities,
- Improved energy efficiency,
- Emphasis on fully burdened cost and technological readiness in review of science projects,
- Pursuit of additional opportunities for international cooperation in logistics support as well as science, and
- Review and revision of the documents governing U.S. Antarctic policy and implementing mechanisms.
These 10 principal recommendations were complemented by some 84 “implementing and ancillary actions”, the most significant of which can be categorized as follows:
Essential for safety and health and considered mandatory:
- At Palmer Station modify or replace the pier, reconstruct the boat ramp, add fire suppression in the workshop, move power generators out of housing and dormitory spaces away from kitchens, and consolidate hazardous materials.
- Modernize the McMurdo clinic and replace compromised warehouse flooring.
- Manage populations (especially at McMurdo) so that currently crowded conditions do not remain a health hazard and morale issue.
- Provide backup power or gravity feed for all fire suppression systems.
- Implement a more comprehensive system of safety inspections and ensure follow-through, and increase emphasis on workplace health and safety through greater use of signage, near-miss reporting, and widespread use of antibacterial liquids.
- Continue to provide basic clothing for safety and health, replace obsolete gear, and reinforce guidance regarding gear required for field and flying.
- Improve planning for complex field operations to ensure adequate contingency, defined risk analysis, and mitigation measures.
Readily implementable without significant financial expenditure, and yielding disproportionately great benefits:
- Establish within the Division of Polar Programs/Division of Antarctic Infrastructure and Logistics a small independent systems engineering/cost analysis group to seek continued opportunities for safety and efficiency.
- Improve workforce professionalism and stability, seek to reduce McMurdo contractor personnel by ~20 percent, and streamline field-camp support force.
- Establish a DARPA-like program to develop enabling technologies for polar research to include automation and robotics for traverse, robotic field stations, and advanced remote sensing systems for use on, under, and above the ice; and expand current deployed automated networks to lead the development of a comprehensive international terrestrial and Southern Ocean observing and prediction network.
- Provide rigid-hulled inflatable boats at Palmer to enhance safety and expand the local research perimeter.
- With the Department of Defense and Air National Guard (ANG), maximize use of C-17s to refocus LC-130 operations on deep-field support, reduce the LC-130 fleet and flying-hour program by 40 percent, and modify an ANG aircraft as a science platform.
- Work with Christchurch International Airport and Lyttleton Port to ensure USAP needs are met as New Zealand develops its new master plans.
- Explore logistic support collaborations with Chile and the UK in the Antarctic Peninsula, and with New Zealand, Italy, and South Korea in the Ross Sea region; and review the U.S./international support balance sheet for equity.
- Utilize the merit review system to ensure justification for continued support of ongoing programs as new science opportunities emerge, and more stringently and formally enforce test, evaluation, and assessment of technological readiness of new equipment and processes.
Significant investment/large payoff, requiring more detailed analysis by NSF:
- Increase the number of traverses for South Pole resupply and field support and incorporate automation, thus releasing the LC-130 fleet for deep-field support.
- At South Pole Station construct a runway capable of supporting wheeled aircraft to enable C-17 operations, and construct a solar-heated vehicle storage building.
- Designate Pegasus Field as a permanent site with appropriate facilities, retain Williams Field for an alternate and LC-130 operations, and discontinue the annual ice runway.
- At McMurdo, consolidate warehousing and storage into a single inside facility, implement a vehicle modernization plan and expand the vehicle maintenance facility, build a single consolidated facilities maintenance building, streamline on-site product flow, consider converting waste that must otherwise be retrograded into heat and electricity, centralize recreation facilities, and deploy an optimum number of wind turbines.
- Develop a multifactor supply-chain planning and implementation process, and utilize a modern commercially available inventory management system.