At the request of the Advisory Committee for Geosciences of the NSF, a review of the GS of the AGS was undertaken in 2015. The GS PRC was charged with reviewing all facilities, programs, and activities funded by GS, a portfolio of $43.6 million in fiscal year (FY) 2015 dollars. (See the full charge to the PRC in Appendix A.) In brief, the PRC was asked to “recommend the critical capabilities needed over the period from 2016 to 2025 that would enable progress on the science program articulated in the Decadal Survey for Solar and Space Physics”1 (hereafter, “the decadal survey”) and to recommend “a balance of investments in new and in existing facilities, grants programs, and other activities that would optimally implement the survey recommendations. . . .” The PRC was asked to be mindful of the “effects of its recommendations on the future landscape of the U.S. Geospace community” and to ensure that the recommended portfolio is “viable and lead[s] to a vigorous and sustainable future.” Such an exercise must proceed with care, considering not only what capabilities were necessary for future success but what “capabilities and activities will be potentially lost in enabling new activities and discontinuing current activities.” The PRC’s ICCGS report2 was presented to the Advisory Committee for Geosciences in April 2016.
NSF asked the SSB of the National Academies to provide an independent assessment of the ICCGS report. The statement of task for the Committee on the Assessment of the National Science Foundation’s 2015 Geospace Portfolio Review (hereafter, “the assessment committee” or “the committee”) is as follows:
The committee will structure its assessment around how well the PRC report’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations:
1 National Research Council (NRC), 2013, Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
2 National Science Foundation (NSF), 2016, Investments in Critical Capabilities for Geospace Science 2016 to 2025, Geospace Section of the Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Science, February 5, https://www.nsf.gov/geo/adgeo/geospace-review/geospace-portfolio-reviewfinal-rpt-2016.pdf.
- Align with the science issues and priorities highlighted for NSF-GS and the Geospace scientific community in the NRC’s Decadal Survey: Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society (hereafter called the Survey);
- Adequately take into account issues such as:
- actions already taken by the NSF-GS in response to the Survey priorities;
- the current challenging outlook for the U.S. Federal budget—in particular the expected evolution of the NSF-GS budget;
- interdisciplinary aspects and the overall scientific balance of all NSF-GS-funded activities;
- the alignment of the capabilities of the Geospace Facilities Program with the current science needs of the community—in particular how well the Facilities Program is specifically designed to enhance educational opportunities, diversity, and international participation;
- the integration of technology development with the NSF-GS science program, and
- the balance of investments between the new and existing facilities, grants programs, and other activities.
- Provide—considering the value of funded activities in terms of both intellectual merit and broader impacts—a forward-looking focus on the potential of all NSF-GS funded facilities, programs, and activities for delivering the desired science outcomes and capabilities; and
- Provide a clear set of recommendations on how the NSF-GS should implement the Survey’s priorities within the context of the NSF/Geosciences strategic planning process.
The committee’s report will also discuss the general readability and clarity of the PRC’s report and in particular its recommendations, as well as offering commentary on other issues relevant to the assessment of the PRC report, as determined by the committee. Any recommendations the committee may make will be focused on options and considerations for NSF’s implementation of the PRC recommendations.
In addressing its statement of task, the assessment committee did not evaluate each of the more than 100 specific findings and recommendations made by the ICCGS (reprinted in Appendix B), although some of the ICCGS findings and recommendations are referenced and discussed. Rather, the committee considered the ICCGS recommendations within the broader context of decadal survey priorities, GS portfolio balance, and future needs of the scientific community. The assessment committee was mindful of the limited scope and budget within which the PRC addressed its charge while at the same time considering GS as a component of the larger solar and space physics enterprise, which spans divisions and directorates within NSF, as well as other agencies—NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Defense (DOD). The committee also considered the impact of the NSWS,3 released by the Office of Science and Technology Policy in October 2015, when the PRC’s work was largely complete.
Science priorities defined by the 2013 decadal survey report Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society served as the “primary touchstones” for the ICCGS’s recommendations. The survey lays out a broad blueprint for the nation’s scientific program in solar and space physics for the decade 2013-2022 that will
. . . improve scientific understanding of the mechanisms that drive the Sun’s activity and the fundamental physical processes underlying near-Earth plasma dynamics; determine the physical interactions of Earth’s atmospheric layers in the context of the connected Sun-Earth system; and greatly enhance the capability to provide realistic and specific forecasts of Earth’s space environment that will better serve the needs of society.4
3 National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), 2015 National Space Weather Strategy, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Washington, D.C., October.
4 NRC, 2013, Solar and Space Physics, p. 1.
The decadal survey recommendations are addressed primarily to the NASA Heliophysics Division; to NSF, in both the geosciences and astronomy; and to NOAA and other agencies.5 The GS program supports critical components of the solar and space physics program, but controls less than 5 percent of the U.S. investment in the discipline. Consequently, the scope of the survey is much larger than the mandate of GS and provides little specific guidance for individual elements of the GS program. Furthermore, the program recommended by the survey was crafted in 2013 with certain assumptions about the funding available to carry out the program. The GS budget has not grown as the survey expected, nor is it anticipated to grow at a rate more than inflation. Except as noted below, the specific implementation of the survey recommendations was left to the agencies.
The decadal survey acknowledges that new and important science can be accomplished with contributions from existing ground- and space-based observing facilities (e.g., the Heliophysics System Observatory; HSO), but it should be recognized that the survey science program focuses primarily on new instrumentation and the science that new observations will enable. The survey’s baseline priority for both NASA and NSF is to complete programs in advanced stages of development, while continuing support for key existing program elements of the HSO in the near term. The survey does not judge the value of existing facilities, particularly for long-term studies, nor does it evaluate the contributions of any one facility to the HSO. NASA periodically considers extending the operational lifetime of its various space-based elements with a rigorous process known as the senior review.
The top-priority research recommendation in the decadal survey is the most relevant to GS. It calls for the implementation of the multiagency DRIVE6 initiative. Directly motivated by the scientific imperatives, DRIVE consists largely of programmatic recommendations to more fully develop and more effectively employ the scientific assets of NSF, NASA, and other agencies. Briefly, the DRIVE recommendation includes the following: (D) diverse observing platforms including microsatellites and midscale ground-based observing systems; (R) adequate funding for operations and data analysis; (I) integration of observations from multiple sources and analysis of data across disciplines; (V) support for concentrated efforts to address major research problems and for the development of new instrument technology; and (E) investment in the education, empowerment, and inspiration of the next generation of space researchers.
As part of the DRIVE initiative, a specific decadal survey recommendation to NSF is to implement a competitively selected midscale project funding line. The survey enumerates several examples of candidate projects that were prioritized by survey panels.7
The decadal survey makes a strong case that progress in solar and space physics depends on understanding the system as a whole—that is, the science discipline requires more than independent investigations of a collection of simply interacting physical domains. Hence, cross-cutting science is emphasized, as are Heliophysics Science Centers. The recognition that the coupled system elements must be studied holistically is a guiding principle of the survey,8 one that demands a balanced approach. In this case, “balance” refers to appropriate investments in facilities and programs that reflect an awareness that scientific investigations transcend traditional subdiscipline boundaries, that measurements are needed in multiple regimes, and that a diverse approach to facilities and programs is required.
The decadal survey has a number of recommendations regarding professional development, education, and training. It is positive about the FDSS program and, furthermore, recommends extending the program to 4-year institutions as well as supporting development of complementary curriculum development. The survey is also positive about the educational opportunities afforded by CubeSats, graduate student and postdoctoral mentoring programs, workshops that focus on professional development skills, and programs that target increasing diversity within the solar and space physics community.
5 See Tables S.1 and S.2 in NRC, 2013, Solar and Space Physics, p. 4.
6 DRIVE: Diversify, Realize, Integrate, Venture, Educate (see NRC, 2013, Solar and Space Physics).
7 NRC, 2013, Solar and Space Physics, pp. 118-119.
8 Ibid., p. 3.
This assessment of the ICCGS report is organized as follows: Chapter 2 summarizes the “boundary conditions” imposed on the PRC in terms of the scope of the portfolio review and the GS budget guidance. Chapter 3 places the GS portfolio in a broader context of the solar and space science enterprise across AGS and NSF, in other agencies, and the NSWS and the SWAP.9Chapter 4 considers the processes used by the PRC to gather information, prioritize facilities, and align their recommendations with survey priorities. Chapter 5 discusses the GS program recommended by ICCGS, and Chapter 6 addresses the clarity and completeness of the ICCGS recommendations as well as the planning and resources needed for their implementation.
9 NSTC, 2015, National Space Weather Action Plan.