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A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research (2015)

Chapter: 4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program

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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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CHAPTER FOUR

Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program

The preceding chapter discussed the Committee’s strategic vision of priorities for Antarctic and Southern Ocean science in the coming decade. This chapter discusses the “foundational elements” that the Committee feels are critical for a healthy, effective research program—elements that directly support the implementation of the priority research topics, and can add lasting value to the outcomes of these research efforts.

CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE AND LOGISTICAL SUPPORT

The infrastructure and logistical support needs that the Committee identified as particularly critical for advancing the priority research topics, and for supporting investigator-driven research across PLR’s core programs, are discussed below in the following general categories:

  • Access to remote field sites especially in West Antarctica,
  • Data transfer, communication, and information technology needs,
  • Icebreaker support to ensure access to McMurdo Station and deep-field research,
  • Support of sustained observations.

All of these needs must be considered in the context of the proposed Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science (AIMS) program to modernize McMurdo and Palmer bases (See Box 4.1).

Access to Remote Field Sites

The USAP has long been a leader in supporting deep-field research campaigns, due largely to the availability of ski-equipped LC-130s and the U.S. Air Force C-17, which have enabled the delivery of fuel to some of the most inaccessible sites on the planet. Increasingly, this heavy-lift airborne support has been complemented by surface

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

BOX 4.1
The Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science (AIMS) Project

An important development during the course of our study was the announcement that the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) is developing a Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) proposal for a project to modernize McMurdo and Palmer stations.The project, called Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science (AIMS) Project, is aimed at continuing progress on NSF’s commitment to more efficient and cost-effective science support as recommended by the Blue Ribbon Panel report (BRP, 2012).

The project is currently in the conceptual design phase and, as of this writing, still needs to go through numerous levels of review and approval before being granted MREFC funding. Because many of the specific details of this effort are yet to be determined, the Committee did not attempt to evaluate directly, or make explicit recommendations to, the AIMS planning effort. But we note that AIMS does have great potential to advance the efficiency and quality of science support at McMurdo and Palmer stations, and to help enable the science programs recommended here.

Those working on the AIMS planning will need to take into account the logistical support implications of the science priorities recommended in this study. For example, the science priorities point to the importance of McMurdo as not only a research station, but also as a launching point for studies in the deep interior of Antarctica. And in light of lessons learned from the South Pole Station modernization experience, we urge that all possible efforts be made to ensure that the AIMS project does not cause any serious interruption to scientific research during the construction period.

NSF representatives noted that as part of the efforts to minimize such interruptions, they are hoping to arrange for year-round flights into McMurdo, thus allowing much of the construction work to take place during the “off-season” beyond austral summer. While the priority for this extended access must of course go to the construction support personnel, it is worth noting that many scientists would be excited to take advantage of any opportunity to join these additional flights and explore research questions that cannot be addressed within the confines of the standard research season—for instance, to study the year-round life cycle and migration patterns of certain animal species. A special NSF workshop held more than a decade ago identified a wide array of science opportunities that could result from year-round access to McMurdo (Priscu, 2001). The new AIMS developments may provide a strong motivation to reexamine this analysis and explore opportunities to act on those recommendations.

traverses, which are being used to deliver large volumes of fuel to the South Pole and to move major field infrastructure, as in recent support of the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research (WISSARD) project. This all provides a valuable foundation for supporting much of the priority research identified here—research that requires access to deep-field sites on the continent and in the ocean. In particular, the Changing Ice Initiative will require expanded access to critical regions of the West Antarctic

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

image

FIGURE 4.1 Examples of deep-field research access needs. A: The research vessels Lawrence M. Gould and Nathaniel B. Palmer. SOURCE: Christine Hush, NSF. B: A science field camp, with Mount Erebus in the background. SOURCE: Alberto Behar. C: A Twin Otter airplane transports scientists and cargo to remote field sites. SOURCE: Peter Rejcek, NSF. D: A British Antarctic Survey science traverse. SOURCE: Damon Davies, University of Edinburgh.


Ice Sheet (WAIS) by aircraft and traverse from McMurdo, and improved access to the adjacent ice shelves and the Southern Ocean with a next-generation research vessel. These key needs are discussed further below.

Crucial regions that the Changing Ice Initiative must target are, in priority order, the Amundsen Sea sector (including Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers and the surrounding active regions), the Ross Ice Shelf, and the grounding lines of the Siple Coast. The related ice-coring and geoscience sampling efforts likewise require access to a variety of remote areas around West Antarctica. Research in these regions will require surface and airborne studies based from a deep-field camp in West Antarctica, geophysical and oceanographic surveys on the continental shelf, and installation of observatories/

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

moorings beneath the ice shelves and in the adjacent ocean. A location such as the WAIS Divide Camp (or possibly Byrd Station) could serve as a central field camp and logistics hub for the surface and airborne programs. The exact location would be selected in consideration of weather conditions and access to the Amundsen Coast—a notoriously challenging area to work in, with difficult weather conditions often limiting flight operations. The surface program will include Bassler- and Twin Otter–supported field parties, and will require the development of an effective over-snow

BOX 4.2
Improved Weather Forecasting—A Critical Infrastructure

Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are parts of the Earth where the weather can change suddenly, and scientists and support personnel can be abruptly confronted with extreme and dangerous conditions. Knowledge of the weather and its changes are key factors for safety, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of Antarctic operations by air, sea, and land.Year-round flights into McMurdo Station, for example, are only possible when accurate weather forecasts are available. Remote field camps in West Antarctica and elsewhere depend on accurate weather forecasts for their success. The types of meteorological observations needed for generating accurate forecasts can also provide valuable contributions to research efforts.

Weather forecasters face many challenges in these areas. Available forecast models are designed for lower latitudes, and they have problems representing polar-specific processes. Direct atmospheric observations are very limited, making it difficult to know precisely what atmospheric events are happening. Satellite observations are difficult to use over snow and ice surfaces.Advancing forecasting capabilities requires more and better information about the vertical structure of the atmosphere, which must come from high-temporal-resolution observations collected from surface-based sounders, radars, or instrumented towers. The most important forecast model deficiency is the prediction of low clouds and fog, information that is critical for aircraft landings. Another persistent problem occurs in characterizing the cold, stable atmosphere near the surface, which determines the generation of strong winds and blowing snow. Analysis of the atmospheric structure (a starting point for forecast models) needs significant improvement, and more effective use of satellite data promises the greatest return.

Forecasts longer than 1-2 days out require prediction of ocean and sea ice conditions; developing this prediction capability requires coupling capable sea ice and ocean models with weather prediction models. In addition, the generation of multiple numerical weather forecasts from an array of slightly different starting points (known as ensemble prediction) is very useful for assigning confidence to longer-duration forecasts. The World Meteorological Organization’s Polar Prediction Project (running from 2013 to 2022) aims to address many of these issues; and its flagship activity, the Year of Polar Prediction (2017-2019), is an important opportunity for coordinated international advancement of Antarctic weather forecasting.

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

science traverse capability (one or more traverse trains expressly for science support). The British Antarctic Survey has demonstrated that a modern traverse can produce remarkably high-resolution data and insights into the base of the ice sheet and can operate under moderately poor weather conditions. This deep interior field camp and logistics hub will facilitate aerogeophysics support and the installation of important new weather observatories (see Box 4.2).

image

FIGURE Automatic Weather Station on Mulock Glacier. SOURCE: Jonathan Thom, Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

Concerns about ship support for Antarctic and Southern Ocean research were raised repeatedly in our community outreach discussions, and this is a critical need for supporting the Changing Ice Initiative. The United States has very limited heavy icebreaker support for research in Antarctic waters. As discussed later in this chapter, the USCGC Polar Sea is over 40 years old and is tasked primarily with breaking a channel into McMurdo Station. The Nathaniel B. Palmer is approaching the end of its design service life, and in any event, is designed for only limited icebreaking (with a specified capability of breaking through 3 feet of level ice at 3 knots). The NSF recognized the urgency of advance planning for a Palmer replacement more than 12 years ago and has since supported a series of associated science workshops, icebreaker design contracts (with the U.S. Maritime Administration), and mission requirement refresh activities. Yet no significant progress has thus far been made toward the acquisition of a new polar research icebreaker on the funding side.

The potential gap in ship capacity presents a fundamental challenge to U.S. leadership. The only solution at present for U.S. scientists to pursue key research in heavy-ice areas, or along most of the coast during winter, is to work on research icebreakers of other nations. To adequately support the science priorities recommended by this Committee, and to retain a leadership-level role in both Antarctic and Arctic research, NSF will need to prioritize the acquisition of a next-generation research icebreaker. A new MREFC proposal is one possible vehicle that could be explored for advancing this goal. Given the long time horizon for funding, building, and deploying such assets, NSF will meanwhile need to establish stronger ties with foreign research vessel operators to provide critically needed field opportunities for U.S. scientists.

Data Transfer, Communication, and Information Technology Needs

As noted in the Blue Ribbon Panel report (BRP, 2012), there are four USAP communications and information technology enterprise lines of function—Technical Services, Communications, Information Systems, and Governance—each of which has many subsidiary components. The most relevant concerns for researchers are assurance of safety in the field, operational support and management of manned and autonomous instrumentation, and daily bulk transmission capacity for scientific data.

To address these issues, NSF commissioned the Aerospace Corporation to analyze alternatives for USAP communications architectures and mission support capabilities for the planning horizon of 2015-2030. This study built upon a May 2011 workshop that addressed three main elements of communications needs: (i) South Pole users, which currently have the largest bulk data requirements; (ii) distributed users,

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

which are largely serviced by low Earth orbit systems such as ARGOS and Iridium; and (iii) maritime users, which may impose new needs such as acoustic communications to manage under-ice operations and data transmission. Developments stemming from that analysis will likely be helpful for supporting the research recommended here, but a few outstanding needs are worth highlighting.

At the South Pole, to accommodate the proposed next-generation Cosmic Microwave Background program, an increase in the total transmission rate by roughly a factor of five to around 1 TB/day in 6 to 8 years would be required. Although a modest increase by some standards (compared to Moore’s law), it represents a challenge for USAP. It is expected that the GOES-3 satellite will not be operational much past 2017, and NASA will have gaps in the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) coverage during the same time frame. NSF is coordinating with the U.S. Air Force to obtain access to the Defense Satellite Communications System’s DSCS III satellite for high-bandwidth communications from the South Pole to compensate for the loss of the other capabilities. DSCS will provide significant operational and cost advantages (for Southern Ocean and McMurdo as well as the South Pole) once appropriate ground stations are installed, and at the South Pole it should provide 4- to 6-hour blocks of connectivity, equivalent to TDRS. In addition, there is a need to investigate other access options from the South Pole, such as fiber optics and/or repeater stations to reach more favorable latitudes. It is possible that there will need to be significant physical transport of backed-up data media from the CMB telescopes (needs that may be even greater if data transmission requirements of other South Pole experiments significantly increase).

Increased bandwidth requirements associated with some elements of the Changing Ice Initiative are also anticipated, including for autonomous sensors and for research vessels, and assured 24/7 communications from the ships, field camps, and deployed systems. Addition of a new satellite ground station on Ross Island (as proposed for the AIMS MREFC) should add significant flexibility and assurance, as well as cost savings over the current exclusive reliance on Black Island. Availability of DSCS may open an opportunity for tactical ground stations such as used by the military for some field camp communications—similar in nature to the portable GOES-3 station that was employed at WAIS Divide. One important requirement will be for data transmission and operational communications (including technologies that enable location and navigation) for autonomous underwater vehicles operating around and under the ice shelf. Depending upon the details of the observing strategy, this may well require installation of an extensive acoustic communications and navigation network in the Amundsen Sea region, as well as ship-based acoustic communications enhancements.

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

Icebreaker Support to Ensure Access to McMurdo and Deep-Field Research Opportunities

Much of the research highlighted in this report will require robust support of McMurdo Station as a logistics and research hub. Everything from movement of scientists and telescopes to the South Pole to drilling new ice and sediment cores, to studying the changing grounding line of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, to collection of biological samples for genomic analysis, will require access to the continent through McMurdo and the western Antarctic Peninsula.

Operation of McMurdo requires opening a channel through the sea ice (break-in) by an icebreaker each austral summer. In accordance with U.S. policy regarding Antarctic operations, break-in to McMurdo is supported by U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers when requested and funded by NSF. This service has traditionally been performed either by USCGC Polar Star or Polar Sea. Starting in 2004-2005, reliability concerns and other operational considerations led the USAP to charter icebreakers from Russia and Sweden. Initially these vessels were backups to deployed USCG vessels, but subsequently were used in the primary role, and in the 2009-2010 through 2012-2013 seasons, only foreign icebreakers were used to support McMurdo break-in. In recognition of the dangers inherent in relying upon foreign support to sustain American research commitments to Antarctica, the Polar Star was overhauled and reactivated in December 2012 with an expected additional 7-10 years of service life. Polar Star supported the 2013-2014 McMurdo break-in and is expected to continue to provide such support while in service. Polar Sea has been in inactive status since October 2011.

While the Coast Guard has initiated a project for design and construction of a new polar class icebreaker, there remain numerous concerns in the research community about (i) the national commitment to acquire one or more new U.S. polar class icebreakers; (ii) the time line for funding and constructing such vessels; (iii) the disposition of Polar Sea, and the Polar Star when she again has operational problems; and (iv) whether a new icebreaker would be able to support science operations to any reasonable degree in the absence of a dedicated new polar research vessel. Our Committee shares all of these community concerns and urges NSF to place a high priority on providing adequate ship-based support, both for maintaining operations at the three U.S. Antarctic research stations and for advancing the priority research identified in this report.

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

Support of Sustained Observations

Many previous reports from the NRC and elsewhere have discussed why understanding the natural environment, and human influences on that environment, often requires that key physical and biological observations be sustained over long periods of time—months, years, even many decades in some cases. This is an ongoing need for almost all areas of environmental science; but for polar-based research in particular, maintaining robust observing systems can present major challenges due to the harsh and remote setting in which these systems are implemented.

There has been longstanding debate about NSF’s role in collecting long-term observations, based on the argument that routine monitoring activities fall outside the scope of the agency’s mandate to advance fundamental scientific understanding, and that such activities are best covered by other, mission-driven agencies. While agencies such as NASA and NOAA certainly have important roles to play in this regard, some sustained observational efforts are in fact critical to discovery-based, fundamental research. The scope of the work envisioned for the Changing Ice Initiative includes observations aimed primarily at understanding processes, particularly the underlying drivers, mechanisms, and impacts of change. This is clearly within the purview of NSF—as opposed to observations aimed primarily at documenting changes and trends in key environmental systems, which fall more clearly under the purview of NASA and NOAA.

The following discussion from the report The Arctic in the Anthropocene: Emerging Research Questions (NRC, 2014) further articulates this idea, with arguments that apply just as well to Antarctic as to Arctic science:

When suitably constructed, long-term observing systems serve a variety of purposes for a variety of stakeholders. On one hand, they enable quantification of the natural variability, over a range of temporal and spatial scales, of complex “noisy” systems. Once the noise is defined and quantified, long-term observations enable detection of gradual, systematic changes. On the other hand, because of the nonlinear character of many systems, a carefully developed monitoring scheme may detect abrupt and/ or unanticipated changes. In this capacity, long-term observations serve as part of an early warning system . . . , which then allows for a choice of responses. These responses will vary depending upon the nature of the change, but they could include collecting focused measurements designed to better understand the emerging phenomenon; development or initiation of mitigating procedures, if deemed feasible; or, in the event of a potential catastrophe, appropriate emergency responses. Long-term observations also provide the temporal-spatial context in which shorter-duration, hypothesis-driven process studies can be undertaken. In this context it allows researchers to determine

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

whether the processes under consideration occurred under typical or atypical conditions. . . .

Monitoring is a synergistic component in modeling and hypothesis development. It provides datasets necessary for the evaluation and development of models and/or suggests investigations needed to improve model parameterizations and/or processes. Models provide an integrated approach to understanding system behavior and can be used to modify the monitoring program as necessary. Models also augment monitoring efforts by suggesting how unsampled system components may be evolving. Monitoring and model results both contribute to the construction of hypotheses on how the system or parts of it operate. (pp. 118-119)

Future Science Opportunities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean (NRC, 2011a) advocated establishing “a broad-based observing system, including remote sensing as well as in situ instrumentation, that can collect data which will record ongoing changes in the Antarctic atmosphere, ice sheets, surrounding oceans, and ecosystems.” While there have been some encouraging developments in recent years with respect to oceanic observing systems (e.g., the Southern Ocean Observing System [SOOS]) planning efforts, support for the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling [SOCCOM] project), pursuing a comprehensive coastal/terrestrial observing system across the Antarctic may not be a feasible goal in today’s constrained budget environment. Yet the sustained observational efforts that are at the heart of the proposed Changing Ice Initiative could serve as valuable building blocks for the broader goal of a more comprehensive pan-Antarctic observing system. More generally, there are many relatively low-cost steps that can be taken toward this broader goal by better coordinating, integrating, and strategically augmenting existing observational and data management efforts being carried out by different research groups, different federal agencies, and different countries. NSF’s responsibility to manage the logistical support for Antarctic-based research means that their leadership in this coordinating work is indispensable.

This need was emphasized in the report Autonomous Polar Observing Systems (NSF, 2011), which resulted from an NSF-sponsored workshop. This report identified several strategies for maximizing the scientific value and minimizing the costs and logistical burdens of deploying arrays of autonomous sensors. For instance, they recommended better coordination of existing disciplinary observing systems to fully exploit their synergies, and establishing “supersites” where researchers with diverse interests could share logistics and on-site capabilities, and where support personnel would have the training to meet the needs of multiple science groups. For Southern Ocean studies, mooring-based observatories and underwater autonomous vehicles are opening up new opportunities to better characterize undersampled regions of the ocean,

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

and to extend and integrate existing, isolated observational efforts. (See examples in Boxes 4.3 and 4.4).

A common theme in the input from the community was the call for expanded NSF support of sustained observational efforts, including the need for mechanisms to ensure continuity of support for efforts that span beyond the length of a typical research grant. Similar concerns and needs were expressed by researchers in widely varying disciplines. Some examples of sustained observing system needs that were frequently highlighted include:

  • Expanding the Automatic Weather Station network, both to aid fundamental research efforts and to aid operational weather forecasting;
  • Continuing the seismic and geodetic (GPS) monitoring around the continent to constrain ice sheet models;
  • Expanding use of key ocean observing platforms such as surface and subsurface moorings, profiling floats, and gliders;
  • Characterizing long-term changes in solar variability and its impacts, for instance, with neutron monitoring stations, magnetic measurements at key sites, auroral observatories, and lower, middle, and upper atmospheric weather stations.

BOX 4.3
Southern Ocean Observatories

Two Southern Hemisphere observatories have been implemented under the NSF’s Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI). A National Research Council report (NRC, 2003a) and community workshops led to establishment of sampling sites in the South Pacific at 55°S, 90°W (called the Southern Ocean site) and in the South Atlantic at 42°S, 42°W (called the Argentine Basin site). These sites were designed to observe from the sea surface to the sea floor, to collect up to 20 years of data, to provide high temporal vertical resolution over the full water column, to carry multidisciplinary instrumentation, and to sample horizontal variability on the mesoscale and smaller scales.

In the data-sparse Southern Hemisphere, these and any additional new sites can make exceptionally valuable contributions to better quantifying and modeling surface meteorology and air–sea fluxes of heat, freshwater, momentum, and chemical constituents such as CO2. The OOI arrays add a unique new capability to understand the role of the ocean mesoscale in upper-ocean dynamics and vertical exchanges and mixing. Studies indicate that increased model resolution shows greater mesoscale structure, and eddy-permitting models yield different upper-ocean stratification and ventilation than coarse, non-eddy-resolving models (Hallberg and Gnanadesikan, 2006; Lachkar et al., 2007).

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

BOX 4.4
Linking Remote Distributed Field Stations Via Autonomous
Sampling Systems

The West Antarctic Peninsula is experiencing the largest winter warming trend of any region on Earth (Vaughan et al., 2003), with over 80 percent of the region’s glaciers in retreat (Cook et al., 2005; Vaughan, 2006) and the annual sea ice season shortened by 90 days (Stammerjohn et al., 2012). These changes in the physical system have been mirrored in alterations in phytoplankton, zooplankton, and penguin communities (Fraser et al., 2013; Schofield et al., 2010; Steinberg et al., 2015). There is an intensive presence of the international research community in this region, with 16 countries maintaining land-based field stations. Because few of these stations have airfield capabilities, the majority rely on small-boat operations for their research. Safety considerations significantly limit the range of these boats, which ultimately limits the research capabilities of the field stations.

Rapidly maturing autonomous technologies now offer the opportunity to safely expand the research footprint of these field stations. For instance, autonomous gliders can collect physical, chemical, and biological data over thousands of kilometers, in missions that may last up to several months (Schofield et al., 2007). The close proximity of many field stations along the Peninsula means they could be linked by a fleet of gliders—with field stations launching gliders to other stations, which then receive, rebattery, and redeploy the gliders to return to their home base.These surveys could be conducted periodically and provide the foundation for an integrated sampling network, at a fraction of the cost compared to a similar-scale sampling network using ships. Discussions have already commenced on developing this community of glider operators, as a way to maintain a sustained presence in the coastal waters of the shelf region, to better understand the changing environment.

One area in which NSF has made great strides in supporting sustained observational-based research is the LTER network. The two Antarctic-based LTER stations collect a wide array of observations that provide highly valuable information for supporting a range of scientific investigations. At the McMurdo Dry Valleys LTER this includes, for instance, continued observations of atmospheric temperature, lake levels, soil temperature and moisture, timing and amount of glacial melt–generated stream flow, as well as biomass primary production and biodiversity measurements. And at the Palmer LTER, examples of key observations include sea ice coverage, coastal ocean properties (temperature, salinity, optical depth, circulation patterns, biological productivity), and surveys of the abundance and distribution of marine mammals, seabirds, zooplankton. In some cases, advancing critical observing systems requires expansion of interagency cooperation—as highlighted in the examples in Boxes 4.5 and 4.6.

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

BOX 4.5
Research and Monitoring for Sustainable Southern Ocean Fisheries

Commercial fishing in the Southern Ocean has raised longstanding concerns about overfishing of key target species, and cascading impacts on other species through unintentional by-catch and alteration of regional food-web dynamics.These concerns are exacerbated by climate-related stressors on fish populations such as acidification and warming of Southern Ocean waters. The Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) came into force in 1982, chiefly as a result of concerns about increasing catches of krill—a vital foundation of the Antarctic marine food web. More recently, there have been growing concerns about the Antarctic toothfish (commonly marketed as Chilean Sea Bass), which faces growing illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing. As a top predator in the Southern Ocean, the toothfish is critical to overall ecosystem functioning.

For several years now, CCAMLR has overseen intense debates and negotiations about Marine Protected Areas aimed at managing Southern Ocean fishery resources on a sustainable basis. But the scientific information needed to establish appropriate guidelines and goals, and to eventually establish formal regulatory programs, is almost entirely lacking. For instance, the life cycle of the Antarctic toothfish is virtually unknown. There are pressing needs for intensive monitoring efforts to better establish the current state of key fish stocks, including information on how these populations vary over time and space (life history, population structure, reproductive cycle) and details on their life cycle (breeding grounds, migration patterns, etc.).

While scientific needs are clear, the question of who has the mandate and resources to lead such work is much less clear. In most fishing areas where the United States has economic interests, NOAA has the mandate to lead research and monitoring efforts. For instance, NOAA conducts an annual survey for key economic marine species such as pollock, snow crab, king crabs in the Alaskan Arctic. And in the Southern Ocean, the NOAA Antarctic Marine Living Resources program conducts research on krill, finfishes, krill-dependent predators, and other components of the Antarctic ecosystem—including annual surveys of key species around the South Shetland Islands. It is logical that NOAA should continue to lead in this work—given the primary focus on ongoing monitoring and applied ecosystem management goals. But the resources allocated to this NOAA program do not appear to be nearly sufficient to carry out this work on a scale that is needed. And given NSF’s unique role in overseeing the USAP, a strong partnership between NSF and NOAA is critical.This should include fully exploiting possibilities for collaborative work with the Palmer LTER and other NSF-supported activities in the western Antarctic Peninsula.

Ideally, such issues are examined in the context of comprehensive, ecosystem-wide studies—including not only fish species but also (for the Southern Ocean) whales, seals, seabirds, and plankton. But if NSF does not consider efforts of this scale to be currently feasible, there are a few key life history traits that may be amenable to study with relatively limited, small-scale studies. For instance, if NOAA is able to expand operational monitoring and data-sharing efforts, this may provide a useful platform for NSF-supported biologists to address basic research questions about the toothfish life history. This could be one of the topics to examine in the context of the Ross Sea Research Coordination Network proposed earlier in this report.

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

BOX 4.6
Observations for Understanding the Coupling and Transport of Energy, Momentum, and Mass in a Dynamic Solar Wind–Magnetosphere–Ionosphere–Upper Atmosphere System

Advancing understanding of the dynamics of the Earth’s upper atmosphere and how this region is affected by short-term and long-term changes in solar forcing requires coordinated observations of critical parameters in space and on the ground. This includes optical techniques to measure the location and energy of charged-particle precipitation into the atmosphere, magnetometers to measure the effects of electrical currents and hydrodynamic waves produced by various plasma processes, GPS receivers to measure the ionospheric electron content and also investigate the plasma instabilities, and various radio techniques that provide the means to remotely sense a variety of magnetospheric parameters. There is increasing need for greater spatial coverage and resolution in these sorts of observations, in order to inform and validate numerical models of the geospace system.

NASA is undertaking ambitious satellite missions to advance understanding of the physics that governs space weather. Instrumentation that can be deployed and operated autonomously in remote polar regions is vital to the analysis of the data being obtained by these satellite missions. This is particularly important for the Antarctic, which until recently has been extremely data sparse, and which provides the best stable land mass to support instrumentation at high polar latitudes. For example, the South Pole and surrounding regions provide several months of darkness that allow optical auroral measurements at the dayside ionospheric intersection of the magnetic field lines that first encounter the solar wind.

In the coming decade, ground coordination with the existing Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions During Substorms satellite mission, the Magnetosphere Multiscale Mission scheduled for launch in March 2015, along with other future missions, will maximize the science being accomplished by either the ground-based science or satellite missions alone. Coordination with other ground-based and satellite experiments will provide additional synergy to advance the scientific return from these investments. Such a coordinated approach forms a “heliophysics observatory.” While NSF has indispensable roles to play in coordinating the ground-based components of this observatory (i.e., distributed arrays of remote autonomous observations), NASA could play a leading role in supporting this network—just as (in other parts of the world) NASA supports ground-based observational arrays that are critical for validation and interpretation of their remote sensing observations.

Recommendation: NSF should prioritize the following actions to advance infrastructure and logistical support for the priority research initiatives recommended here—actions that will likewise benefit many other research activities supported under NSF/PLR’s core programs.

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×
  • Develop plans to expand deep-field access in key regions of the West Antarctic and Southern Ocean, including the following key elements: deep-field camp and logistics hub, over-snow science traverse capabilities, ship support for research in ice-covered Southern Ocean coastal areas (see below), all-weather aircraft access to McMurdo, and improved aircraft access to remote field locations.
  • Support the efforts of the Coast Guard to design and acquire a new polar-class icebreaker; and with the assistance of other research partners, design and acquire a next-generation polar research vessel. In the near term, work with international partners to provide ocean-based research and sampling opportunities through other countries’ ice-capable research ships.
  • Actively pursue opportunities for better coordinating and strategically augmenting existing terrestrial observation networks and better coordinating of national vessels to increase sampling of the Southern Ocean.
  • Continue advancing efforts to improve USAP communication and data transmission capacity, including location/navigation for autonomous underwater instrumentation.

COORDINATION AND COLLABORATION OPPORTUNITIES

As discussed in Chapter 2, research supported by NSF/PLR is inherently intertwined with research supported in other parts of NSF, in other U.S. federal agencies, and in other countries’ Antarctic and Southern Ocean research programs. The Committee’s recommended scientific priorities bear this out because they all require some degree of collaborative efforts on all of these different fronts. Some of these needs are discussed below.

Intra-NSF Coordination

Some examples of opportunities for expanding intra-NSF partnerships were discussed Chapter 3— for instance, the cosmic microwave background efforts would involve collaboration with the NSF Divisions of Physics and of Astronomical Sciences, and the Antarctic genomics research could involve collaboration with the NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences. Here we highlight in particular the many opportunities that the proposed Changing Ice Initiative presents for joint efforts between PLR and other divisions in NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences.

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

A prime example is the Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences’ (AGS) support for the global Community Earth System Model, the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model, and a variety of regional earth system modeling efforts (in particular, efforts to advance sea ice and ice sheet components of these models). These AGS-supported efforts can both contribute to and benefit from PLR-supported research that improves understanding of key ice–ocean–atmosphere interactions, understanding of the teleconnections that link Antarctic-region changes to climate variations in subtropical and tropical latitudes, and understanding of how aerosols and clouds affect radiative balance over the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. Although AGS may be best suited to lead the support for much of this work, it should be developed in close cooperation with PLR, especially in developing the plans for the Changing Ice Initiative.

The Division of Earth Sciences (EAR) supports efforts to improve models of ice sheet retreat through the collection and interpretation of field data (e.g., the mapping and dating of raised shorelines across the globe during periods of recent global warmth) and to develop and improve novel geochronological tools for higher-precision dating of relevant glacial landforms. The Division’s core strengths of geology, geochemistry, and geophysics are well suited for addressing the complex response between ice sheet retreat and sea level rise, which varies geographically and is dependent on factors such as mantle rheology, crustal processes, and detailed understanding of ice sheet melt geometries.

The Division of Ocean Sciences (OCE) overlaps substantially with PLR research, as highlighted by the recent Decadal Survey of Ocean Sciences (NRC, 2015), which recommended that a top-priority science question for OCE is “What are the rates, mechanisms, impacts, and geographic variability of sea level change?” Addressing this question hinges in large part on the research recommended in our Changing Ice Initiative. Thus cooperative efforts are critical—in terms of both direct research support and infrastructure/logistics support. The ocean does not respect the 60°S line between PLR and OCE “territory,” so this artificial boundary should not impede efforts to advance research on the ocean as one integrated system. Likewise, the fact that NSF operates two separate fleets of research ships (one funded principally by OCE and operated under UNOLS [University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System], another funded by PLR and operated under Edison Chouest Offshore, Inc. [ECO]) , should not impede efforts to prioritize investments on the basis of overall significance to scientific priorities. OCE-funded investigators most often use UNOLS vessels for research north of the 60°S boundary line, but better use of PLR vessels for this research is increasingly important, given growing constraints in the availability of global-class UNOLS vessels, and the efficiency gains of avoiding long transits. For instance, the Nathaniel B. Palmer was recently used for a hydrographic cruise (part of GO-SHIP), and it is expected to be

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

used for annual servicing of OCE’s Southern Ocean OOI arrays. Future planning efforts to acquire and manage NSF research vessels would greatly benefit from adopting an integrated usage strategy.

Interagency Cooperation

NSF is charged with responsibility for budgeting and managing the entire U.S. national program in Antarctica, including logistic support activities. This responsibility mandates close coordination with all other federal agencies involved in Antarctic and Southern Ocean research, as well as with the Department of State’s involvement in the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings. Thus there are existing mechanisms for interagency cooperation, and indeed there are many good examples of where this is done effectively (see Chapter 2). All three of the recommended priority initiatives present new opportunities for interagency cooperation, and our community engagement participants repeatedly raised calls for improving and expanding such cooperative efforts. Some particular research areas frequently emphasized include:

  • Collaboration with NASA in Antarctic radar mapping exercises, and in the Long Duration Balloon Program;
  • Collaboration with NOAA in expanding meteorological observations and atmospheric studies and in fisheries-related Southern Ocean monitoring.
  • Collaboration with DOE and other agencies, as well as interagency programs such as U.S. CLIVAR, to improve representation of Antarctic and Southern Ocean processes in earth system models, and to advance understanding of how polar processes can affect mid-latitude/tropical variability and global climate change.

It is beyond the scope of this study to recommend new mechanisms for interagency engagement, but it is worth noting the model used in Arctic research, with the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC). Consisting of principals from 16 agencies, departments, and offices across the federal government, and operating under the auspices of the White House National Science and Technology Council, IARPC provides a platform for sharing information and developing interagency research plans, which has helped to ensure better coordination and effective leveraging of resources among the agencies. While recognizing the very different political context of the U.S. Antarctic Program, it may be worth considering the possible strategic benefits of having an IARPC-like forum for Antarctic and Southern Ocean research.

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

International Cooperation

Our community engagement participants also frequently stressed the need for expanding international collaboration, to help alleviate the difficulties and costs of Antarctic research, and to expand opportunities for research well beyond the confines of any one nation’s facilities and logistic reach. These opportunities cut across a wide array of research areas, encompassing, for instance, model intercomparison studies; joint research cruises; terrestrial and marine biological sampling efforts; ice core, marine sediment, and geological drilling; astronomy and astrophysics projects; subglacial lakes explorations; and aerogeophysical, bathymetric, and seismic mapping exercises. Collaborative opportunities also extend to aircraft, weather observing networks, and other aspects of deep-field support infrastructure. SCAR and COMNAP will continue to provide critically important platforms for NSF for building and sustaining this international cooperation.

In light of the concerns expressed earlier about ensuring adequate support from polar research vessels and icebreakers, it is worth stressing in particular the need to improve cooperation across research vessels working in the Southern Ocean. This could greatly advance critical data collection such as routine collection of underway meteorological and oceanographic data; seafloor mapping; deployments of floats, gliders, and drifters, and deployment/recovery of moorings installed along regular transit routes. The proposed Changing Ice Initiative provides a valuable opportunity for NSF to both benefit from and contribute to observations planned by international programs such as SOOS and CLIVAR.

DATA MANAGEMENT

Formalized, coordinated, professional data stewardship is necessary to achieve the integrative goals of the USAP and to address the specific recommendations of this report. It was clear from the community input received that researchers demand finer-scale and more-real-time data as well as more open and coordinated data collection and sharing, more consistent time series, and better use of existing data. The community is also taking an increasingly systems-oriented view to research problems, which requires more integration of data across nations, disciplines, and data types. NSF/PLR has already made significant strides in this area and is well positioned to help the community sustain and develop necessary data services for integrative science.

Several recent reports have provided solid advice on NSF’s role in supporting data stewardship. The report on Critical Infrastructure for Ocean Research and Societal Needs

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

in 2030 (NRC, 2011b) provides an excellent summary of sound data management practices; Baker and Chandler (2008) also describe a useful information management strategy. A workshop report on Cyberinfrastructure for Polar Science (Pundsack et al., 2013) provides a compelling vision of “Data as a Service,” including on-demand data sharing, discovery, access, and delivery through standard protocols. The 2013 NSF/PLR Committee of Visitors report emphasizes the need to proactively address long-term archiving and ensuring active data management planning.

The International Polar Year provided valuable experience with interdisciplinary and international data policy, coordination, and stewardship; lessons and recommendations are highlighted in numerous reports and are summarized by Parsons et al. (2011a,b) and Mokrane and Parsons (2014). All of these reports emphasize the need to involve data scientists directly in the science early and throughout the process at all levels (senior planning to field and lab support). This means funding data science as an integral part of the scientific effort, training data scientists, training researchers in data science, and supporting an underlying international data stewardship infrastructure.

The Blue Ribbon Panel report (BRP, 2012) discussed communication and information technology needs of Antarctic research, highlighting the lack of a capital budget for USAP as a root of many inefficiencies in supporting these and other research infrastructure needs. Data should be viewed similarly—as a valuable capital asset that requires initial investment and ongoing maintenance. Failure to do so results in large inefficiencies because each investigator must spend undue time and effort finding and preparing data for their application.

Research infrastructure is more than physical assets and technologies; rather it encompasses a complex body of relationships connecting people, machines, and institutions (Edwards et al., 2007). NSF needs to foster these relationships by encouraging interdisciplinary and international collaboration and by linking scientific research with modern e-science tools and methods (cf. Assante et al., 2015; Mattmann, 2013). Data are often at the boundary of these relationships—be it a collaboration between scientists from different disciplines, integration of an algorithm with a scientific instrument, or assimilation of an observation into a model. As such, it is vital not only to support data as a valuable asset, but also to support the people—the curators and data scientists who act as mediators and add value to the data.

This emphasis on data curation is especially critical in Antarctic and Southern Ocean research because so much of the data are what the National Science Board (NSB, 2005) describes as “research collections,” that is, custom datasets collected by individual investigators and research teams. As opposed to community or reference collections, research collections are the most diverse, least standardized, and least accessible type

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

of data; and they are generally at the greatest risk of loss (Heidorn, 2008). These issues can be substantially mitigated by including curators or “data wranglers” in the planning and collection of the data from the outset (Parsons et al., 2004).

Antarctic and Southern Ocean research is increasingly interdisciplinary: improving the interoperability among disciplinary datasets requires bringing researchers and data scientists together to address specific research problems (Benedict et al., 2007). There is a need for increased standardization of data formats, descriptions, and collection protocols, along with a need for communities to better use the standards that currently exist. Disciplinary communities need to work together to create or use standards that are best for them (see, e.g., work done by the in situ sea ice observation community in Fetterer [2009]), while also working with international organizations such as SCAR to ensure that their work is broadly relevant and not duplicative or contradictory to other efforts.

There is a long history of international collaboration within the Antarctic research community, for instance, under the Antarctic Treaty and through mechanisms such as SCAR and its Standing Committee on Antarctic Data Management. But data scientists within Antarctic research must also engage in broader-based data-sharing efforts such as the Research Data Alliance and the World Data System, as well as disciplinary-specific efforts such as the International Oceanographic Data Exchange and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. Although challenging, it is essential for data scientists to operate at local, regional, and international scales simultaneously (Khondker, 2004). Pundsack et al. (2013) suggest some specific mechanisms to advance these efforts.

The Antarctic and Arctic Data Consortium1 is an encouraging development, but financial incentives and long-term strategies are needed to overcome the current competitive atmosphere across U.S. polar data management institutions. It is also important to build on the community-led Polar Data Coordination Network effort (Pulsifer et al., 2014). The Antarctic data landscape is evolving quickly and requires innovative, adaptive solutions to accommodate and achieve flexible collaboration among domain-specific data communities. Southern Ocean observing systems are in a more nascent state, with SOOS providing a plan, but with the OOI Southern Ocean and Argentine Basin observatories and the SOCCOM program now collecting substantial new datasets. It would thus be timely for NSF to formulate plans for Southern Ocean as well as Antarctic data management.

These are data stewardship challenges facing almost all fields of research. NSF/PLR cannot address all of these challenges alone or immediately, but there are several key

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1http://www.a2dc.org.

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

steps such as those listed below that could improve NSF/PLR’s efforts to realize its scientific objectives:

  • Plan for and archive what is collected. None of the priority science recommended in this report can be done well or efficiently if the underlying data are not preserved and accessible. Ensuring the preservation and accessibility of valuable data collected thus needs to be a top priority of NSF’s Antarctic research program. This means that not only do individual proposals need a data management plan, but PLR overall needs a data management plan, including a long-term (7+ years) archive funding strategy. An effective strategy would be for every PLR/ANT program to identify (and, if necessary, fund) relevant archives to manage and preserve the data collected as part of that program, and for all proposal data management plans to identify a funded archive willing to accept the data generated as part of the project (with demonstration of safe archiving of past data as a prerequisite for continued funding).

    This may include specific NSF-funded Antarctic data archives such as the Antarctic Glaciological Data Center, the Polar Rock Repository, and others in A2DC, or disciplinary archives that reach beyond the poles (e.g., the Biological and Chemical Oceanography Data Management Office). They need not be NSF-funded archives, but financial support for handling the data must be explicit, and ideally would be funded through cooperative agreements with periodic community review (with memoranda of understanding drafted as needed to formally clarify expectations).

    The EarthCube Council on Data Facilities could coordinate some of this activity. The USAP Data Center at Columbia University currently provides a valuable service in helping the community identify appropriate archives, but likely cannot steward all data from all disciplines currently without an archive. NSF/PLR needs a long-term archiving strategy developed in conjunction with other agencies. All data need not be archived or managed with the same level of service, but all must be considered in the strategy. Funders have an important role in the development of evolving archive certification criteria (see, e.g., Callaghan et al., 2014).

  • Support data science and curation as an integral component of research. Having every funded project identify and support professional data scientists or curators (not necessarily full time) to ensure data are preserved and reusable should not be seen simply as an additional cost, but as an investment in efficiency. Data management must be embedded in the planning and execution of any research project, as an ongoing effort, not only in a one-off data management plan. It is best if projects include data professionals in the
Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×
  • field and in the actual collection of data, and have someone charged with continually thinking of how the data may be reused beyond their original application.

  • Support targeted data/cyberinfrastructure initiatives that explicitly advance polar science in a global context. NSF/PLR’s cyberinfrastructure (CI) program needs to develop those elements of CI that uniquely benefit Antarctic research, while also working within larger NSF initiatives such as EarthCube and the Research Data Alliance. CI programs can support projects that address concrete Antarctic science needs while also advancing data access, interoperability, or reuse in a broader context (avoiding “one-size-fits-all” solutions).
  • Require and support collaboration at all levels, but do not define the nature of collaboration. We encourage projects that collaborate across disciplinary and national boundaries, and that demonstrate collaboration with relevant national, regional, and international data initiatives such as EarthCube and the Research Data Alliance. But rather than requiring projects to collaborate in particular ways or with particular initiatives, it is better to pursue a grassroots-style approach that helps ensure that collaboration occurs in areas where the community actually sees a need. Small amounts of seed funding (e.g., to support the salary and travel necessary to facilitate collaboration) can do much to motivate enthusiastic volunteers. The key is to focus on supporting initiatives that have strong community commitment and leadership, rather than top-down mandates.

Recommendation: NSF should pursue the following steps to ensure preservation and accessibility of the valuable data collected under the U.S. Antarctic Program: Identify specific archives to manage and preserve data collected in all the core programs; encourage all funded projects to include personnel specifically trained to address data management needs throughout a project’s planning and execution; and work to both advance Antarctic-specific data management activities and advance cooperation with broader NSF-wide, national, and international data management initiatives.

EDUCATION AND PUBLIC OUTREACH

The integration of scientific research and education is essential to NSF’s central mission. In 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology projected a shortfall of 1 million students over the next decade who will graduate in science,

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Fewer than 40 percent of all college students who intend to major in a STEM field complete a STEM degree. One of the major reasons cited by students who leave STEM fields is uninspiring introductory courses, in which the culmination of repetitive, standard problems and routine laboratory sessions have left little room for discovery. On the other hand, retention in STEM fields improves when standard laboratory courses are replaced with discovery-based research courses (PCAST, 2012).

Given the broad allure of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in providing opportunities for discovery and delivering a one-of-a-kind platform for interdisciplinary research, this science represents an enticing but underutilized element in the K-12 and undergraduate curricula. It remains largely untapped as a resource for attracting students to STEM disciplines in higher education and career pathways. Just as the space program sparked national interest in STEM fields in the last century, well-placed studies of Antarctic science in K-12 and undergraduate curricula could help attract and retain future generations of STEM students. NSF/PLR thus has a unique opportunity to cultivate the next generation of Antarctic specialists and to help the nation build a strong STEM workforce more generally.

A considerable barrier to broad incorporation of Antarctic and Southern Ocean science in STEM courses however, is that most faculty (beyond polar researchers themselves) lack sufficient experience and familiarity with datasets and research findings that make the Polar sciences relevant to standard K-12 and undergraduate courses of study. NSF could have a major impact in overcoming this shortcoming through targeted support that encourages incorporation of Antarctic topics in curricular development across the disciplines.

The development of the next generation of researchers does not end with undergraduate education. There must be defined pathways that could lead to further research and educational opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, as well as developmental opportunities in teaching and research for early-career Antarctic scholars. Given the swift pace at which Antarctic and Southern Ocean research develops, and the rapid advancements required in technological innovations, the next generation of Antarctic scholars will need to be especially competent in integrating new technologies with interdisciplinary research. This will require an ongoing effort to engage a wide range of talented students in Antarctic science. The priority research initiatives recommended in this report may offer excellent opportunities for entraining and mentoring early-career scientists across a large array of disciplines.

In times of flat budgets and rising costs for logistical support of field work, there are always temptations to pursue immediate cost-saving measures such as reductions

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

in the number of graduate and undergraduate participants in field programs, and decreases in funding opportunities for postdoctoral researchers and early-career scholars. NSF must remain wary of the pitfalls such measures can present, in terms of potentially decreasing the number and quality of next-generation Antarctic and Southern Ocean scientists.

In addition to these important opportunities for expanding Antarctic science and training in formal K-12, undergraduate, and graduate education, NSF has a unique role to play in supporting the development and dissemination of high-quality education and public outreach materials to a wide array of “informal” educational institutions, including libraries, museums, zoos, aquariums, youth organizations, educational radio programs, parks, nongovernmental organizations and private corporations—all of which help advance the goals of creating an informed, scientifically literate public, and informed decision makers and policy makers at all levels of government. (see Box 4.7).

BOX 4.7
IceCube Education and Public Outreach Efforts

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory offers a good example of a project that developed a wide array of education and outreach efforts, for instance:

  • Reaching motivated high school students and teachers through IceCube “Masterclasses. The 2014 pilot IceCube Masterclass had 100 participating students at five institutions. Students met researchers, learned about IceCube hardware, software, and science, and reproduced the analysis that led to the discovery of the first high-energy astrophysical neutrinos. Ten institutions are participating in the 2015 Masterclass.
  • Providing intensive research experiences for teachers and undergraduate students. PolarTREC teacher Armando Caussade, who deployed to the South Pole with IceCube in January 2015, kept journals and did webcasts in English and Spanish. Support from the NSF International Research Experiences for Students program enabled 18 U.S. undergraduates to have a 10-week research experience working with European IceCube collaborators. Support from the NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates program is allowing 18 more students to do astrophysics research over the next three summers. At least one-third of the participants for both programs are from 2-year colleges and/or from underrepresented groups.
  • Supporting IceCube communication through social media, science news, web resources, webcasts, printmaterials, and museum programs and displays (Figure 4.2).
Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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image

FIGURE 4.2 Left: AGU 2013 exploration station.SOURCE: Polar Educators International, http://polareducator.org/. Right: IceCube education display. SOURCE: James Madsen.


Misconceptions about Antarctica abound in the public, for instance, regarding the belief that polar bears co-exist with penguins, regarding the ways in which Antarctica affects and is affected by climate change, and even regarding the location of the continent itself. The protection and preservation of Antarctica will depend on how people value and revere this continent as a “place.” Societies work hard to protect places they feel connected to, but given its remoteness and inaccessibility, it is difficult for much of the general public to feel a sense of connection to Antarctica.

Education and public outreach efforts can provide powerful, engaging experiences that help people feel this sense of connection—a critical foundation for making the public aware of the essential need for continuing research in Antarctica and its role in broader Earth systems that ultimately affect everyone’s lives. Making these connections is also critical for ensuring that wise and thoughtful decisions will be made about Antarctica’s future. Emphasizing the mystery and uniqueness of Antarctica (for instance, through stories about new discoveries) is a powerful tool to engage people in learning activities and experiences, and ultimately to increase the public’s support for protection and continued support of research in Antarctica.

In the community outreach efforts for this study, and in discussions among the Committee members themselves, numerous suggestions were raised for how NSF/PLR can best contribute to these formal and informal educational goals, working with other

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×

parts of NSF, and other federal agency and nongovernmental organization partners. For instance, for meeting the education and public outreach goals discussed above, potential steps include:

  • Developing a “council” of scientists and educators at the forefront of research and teaching, who could provide guidance in leveraging and implementing Antarctic and Southern Ocean science into STEM curricula and education and public outreach materials;
  • Developing programs that leverage NSF funding with other governmental, private, and philanthropic foundations whose shared goal is also to increase STEM education and public literacy;
  • Continuing support for “Antarctic Clearinghouse” websites where education providers and the public can find curriculum, resources, media releases, researcher webpages, journal articles, videos, photos, and more (e.g., the Polar Hub2 and PolarTREC3 websites);
  • Promoting and disseminating Antarctic research by engaging educators in new data and findings and stories that convey the excitement of new learning as it develops;
  • Developing materials for K-12 classrooms (especially material that can contribute to Next Generation Science Standards related to earth science and global climate change4), and ensuring that these materials are easily accessible to learners, in terms of practical access and appropriate readability of diagrams, charts, graphs, pictures, and text;
  • Encouraging and supporting Antarctic and Southern Ocean research teams to include efforts and personnel to develop quality educational materials that connect the public to their research (including the successful PolarTREC model of involvement); and
  • Prioritizing the widespread dissemination and coordination of education and public outreach efforts by Antarctic research teams.

For meeting the career development goals discussed above, potential steps include:

  • Promoting international collaboration and institutional exchange for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in Antarctic science, especially for field research at other countries’ national bases;

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2http://thepolarhub.org/.

3http://www.polartrec.org.

4http://www.nextgenscience.org.

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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  • Encouraging further development of NSF’s research experiences for undergraduates, graduates, postdocs, and educators through targeted funding opportunities;
  • Developing and highlighting career pathways in Antarctic science though workshops and events designed for undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, early-career scientists, and educators. (Such efforts could be led by the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists and Polar Educators International.)
  • Increasing effort to expand diversity in polar research by outreach to minority-serving institutions that are currently not well integrated into the mix of academic institutions in polar research, and organizations such as the Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, Society of Black Engineers, Society of Hispanic Engineers, and Society of Women Engineers.
  • Expanded development of CAREER grants to early polar scientists (e.g., assistant professor level), which can help fill a gap between postdoctoral fellowships and award of full proposals to more-established mid-career scientists.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

As the discussions throughout this report illustrate, NSF support for Antarctic and Southern Ocean research is vital for advancing the frontiers of human knowledge across many disciplines, for developing new insights about the workings of the planet, and for informing critical choices about how society might respond to major environmental changes over time. Although there is an endless reservoir of exciting questions that Antarctic and Southern Ocean research could potentially address, in the face of limited budgets for research and logistical support, the need for prioritization in allocating resources is real.

Here we have recommended a strategic vision for NSF’s Antarctic and Southern Ocean research program for the coming decade. It includes continued support for a wide array of basic, curiosity-inspired research across the existing core programs. And it includes three major areas of research that, in the Committee’s view, should rank as high priorities for investment over the coming decade. These are research directions that we believe will offer a large payoff of new fundamental understanding about the past, present, and possible future evolution of three very different systems—of the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet that may drive global sea level rise, of the unique biota that survive in Antarctica’s extreme environment, and of the very universe that envelops us all. And finally, this strategic vision includes a set of foundational elements that enable and provide lasting value to the entire spectrum of scientific research (see Figure 4.3).

Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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We hope the ideas raised here, which were richly informed and inspired by the input of researchers across the country, will provide a useful basis for helping NSF leadership and staff make wise planning choices for the coming years.

image

FIGURE 4.3 A schematic illustration of the main components of the Committee’s overall strategic vision for NSF’s investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean research.


Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×
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×
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×
Page 105
Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
×
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Suggested Citation:"4 Foundations for a Robust Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research Program." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21741.
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Antarctic and Southern Ocean scientific research has produced a wide array of important and exciting scientific advances. Spanning oceanography to tectonics, microbiology to astrophysics, the extreme Antarctic environment provides unique opportunities to expand our knowledge about how our planet works and even the very origins of the universe. Research on the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic ice sheets is becoming increasingly urgent not only for understanding the future of the region but also its interconnections with and impacts on many other parts of the globe.

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) provides U.S. researchers with broad access to the continent and its surrounding ocean. A Strategic Vision for NSF Investments in Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research identifies priorities and strategic steps forward for Antarctic research and observations for the next decade. This survey presents a decadal vision for strategic investments in compelling research and the infrastructure most critical for supporting this research. This report makes recommendations for high-priority, larger-scale, community-driven research initiatives that address questions poised for significant advance with the next decades. This report also outlines a roadmap through which the vision and these priorities can be met.

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