As noted in Section 1.3 of this report, NSF’s GS represents a relatively small investment compared to the total U.S. investment made in solar and space physics. Yet it serves an important constituency for scientific discovery in geospace. The ICCGS report1 emphasizes the transformation of the geosciences community over the past decade with the emerging understanding that geospace is a key component of a complex, coupled system comprised of Earth’s upper atmosphere and ionosphere, its magnetosphere and the near-Earth environment, the interplanetary medium, the heliosphere, and the Sun. In considering the GS portfolio, it is therefore important to understand the larger domain in which geospace science is funded and to establish a strategic framework within which geospace science priorities are established.
A clear understanding of strategic priorities in the coming decade is necessary to establish the broader landscape on which GS priorities are considered. The assessment committee notes that it would be particularly helpful to have a strategic vision and plan for the AGS and GEO that not only includes GS, but also planning mechanisms for midscale infrastructure, Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) projects, and potential projects for the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account (see Section 3.2, below). The 2013 solar and space physics decadal survey2 is not very specific regarding smaller elements of GS and does not serve as a strategic plan for GS in terms of providing a focused vision for GS facilities and science. NSF has an agency-wide strategic plan,3 and among the materials made available to the PRC and to the assessment committee were a 5-year plan for GEO—“Dynamic Earth: GEO Imperatives and Frontiers 2015-2020”4—and the 2014 NRC
1 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.
2 National Research Council (NRC), 2013, Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
3 NSF, 2014, Investing in Science, Engineering, and Education for the Nation’s Future: National Science Foundation Strategic Plan for 2014-2018, https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2014/nsf14043/nsf14043.pdf.
4 NSF, “Dynamic Earth: GEO Imperatives & Frontiers 2015-2020,” Advisory Committee for Geosciences, https://www.nsf.gov/geo/acgeo/geovision/nsf_acgeo_dynamic-earth-2015-20.pdf, accessed December 19, 2016.
review of the “Division on Atmospheric and Geospace Science Draft Goals and Objectives” document.5 The AGS goals and objectives document was not intended to constitute a strategic plan, but the NRC review believed that it “could serve as a first step toward the development of a formal AGS-wide strategic plan.”6 It appears that further planning along these lines has been modest, at best. Neither AGS, GS, nor the cross-directorate geospace sciences programs at NSF have presented a vision and a set of strategic goals. The assessment committee notes, however, that since the release of the ICCGS report, GS and NCAR/HAO jointly sponsored a community workshop in May 2016 and released a report7 to consider a dedicated end-to-end space weather research facility, one that would be of sufficient size and require sufficient resources that it would need to be central to GS and AGS planning.
Finding: GS and AGS do not currently have a clear strategic plan or a visible process for developing one. The portfolio review would have benefitted from a clear strategic vision for an integrated geospace, solar, and space physics program within NSF.
The GS portfolio exists within the broader context provided by relevant facilities, programs, and activities overseen by other directorates and divisions in NSF as well as those in other agencies, such as NASA, NOAA, DOD, DOE, and international programs. The PRC was fully aware of the broader context (ICCGS Chapter 8), but it was outside their remit to consider it in detail, other than the possible impacts of its recommendations on domestic and international partnerships.
Nevertheless, ICCGS included certain recommendations that encourage GS to be diligent in cultivating and maintaining partnerships across NSF and with other agencies, and to encourage and plan for opportunities that will potentially emerge from community initiatives that exploit the MRI and MREFC budget lines, as well as potential midscale projects (see ICCGS Section 5.2).
While components of the NASA heliophysics program were considered—the CCMC, Collaborative Space Weather Modeling, and Grand Challenge Projects—no attempt was made to anticipate synergies between GS capabilities and the current Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission and Van Allen Probes, the soon-to-be launched Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) and the Global Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) instrument,8 as well as the notional MEDICI and DYNAMIC missions recommended by the survey. Consideration of these components of the wider program is needed to understand the full suite of current and planned capabilities in order to optimize programmatic balance.
Finding: Geospace sciences include interfaces to facilities, programs, and activities across NSF, other federal agencies, and foreign agencies. These interfaces evolve over time. They present a challenge because of the need to periodically update the GS portfolio balance as considered within this broader context. They also represent opportunities for partnerships in areas of mutual interest, such as MRI, midscale, and MREFC projects as well as through the CCMC, space weather modeling, and Grand Challenge Projects.
5 NRC, 2014, Review of the National Science Foundation’s Division on Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences Draft Goals and Objectives Document, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
6 Ibid., p. 2.
7 High Altitude Observatory, “Exploring the Geospace Frontier: Quo Vadis?” https://www2.hao.ucar.edu/events/GeospaceFrontier2016. Accessed December 7, 2016.
8 The NSF Geospace Section sponsored a workshop on September 27-28, 2016, in Boulder, Colorado, titled “Observation and Analysis Opportunities Collaborating with the ICON, GOLD, and COSMIC-2 Missions.” COSMIC-2 is the second Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate, an international mission to be launched in 2017 (see High Altitude Observatory, “Observation and Analysis Opportunities Collaborating with the ICON and GOLD Missions,” https://www2.hao.ucar.edu/geogoldicon, accessed December 1, 2016).
In October 2015, at about the time work concluded on ICCGS, the National Science and Technology Council of the Office of Science and Technology Policy released the National Space Weather Strategy (NSWS)9 and the Space Weather Action Plan (SWAP).10 The NSWS and SWAP were developed in recognition of the increasing need to protect the nation’s infrastructure from space weather impacts. The SWAP identifies NSF, in collaboration with other agencies, as being responsible for enhancing “fundamental understanding of space weather and its drivers to develop and continually improve predictive models.”11 In addition to AGS, the Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST), the Division of Polar Programs, the Division of Mathematical Sciences, and the Division of Physics participate in solar and space physics and aeronomy at NSF.
The SWAP also tasks U.S. government agencies with establishing benchmarks for space weather events. An important scientific challenge associated with these benchmarks is to estimate the theoretical maximum level of specific geospace disturbances with consequences on national infrastructure. Furthermore, the SWAP identifies the need to establish baseline, operational observing capabilities. NSF is asked to participate in identifying opportunities to leverage international partnerships to sustain these observations.
These developments, and the potential for new legislation in response to the NSWS and SWAP, have significant implications for the GS portfolio, as well as for the programs of many other agencies. Recognition of the importance of space weather further emphasizes the need to consider geospace science within a system-science context and to understand the underlying science of space weather to address strategic objectives.
Finding: NSF has an important role in supporting national space weather policy that may pose additional challenges to GS in a fiscally constrained environment, but may also present new opportunities for fundamental systems science.
Geospace sciences are fundamentally a complex and interconnected system, the understanding of which represents both a scientific challenge and an urgent need, in order to address the societal requirement of predicting space weather events. It is an integrative and cross-disciplinary enterprise that includes facilities, programs, and activities within NSF as well as other U.S. agencies and international programs. As GS strives to meet the challenge of leveraging limited resources to maximize their impact on geospace sciences, it is important to understand the place GS occupies within the wider geospace sciences landscape and the scientific and societal priorities in geospace sciences, such as the growing national emphasis on space weather understanding and prediction. It is therefore imperative that NSF-AGS and GS develop a strategic vision and plan.
Recommendation: The lack of a strategic plan for the Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences (AGS) and the Geospace Section hinders the ability of the Geospace Section to act fully upon the recommendations given in Investments in Critical Capabilities for Geospace Science 2016 to 2025. AGS should develop a strategic vision and a strategic plan that recognizes all components within its portfolio relevant to geospace and interfaces to other programs across other National Science Foundation (NSF) divisions and directorates and across the agency. The plan should be aligned with the 2013 solar and space physics decadal survey, demonstrate awareness of the evolving capabilities outside NSF, and should be regularly updated with close community involvement in response to emerging discoveries, evolving budgets, new imperatives, and developing partnerships.
9 National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), 2015, National Space Weather Strategy, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Washington, D.C., October.
10 NSTC, 2015, National Space Weather Action Plan, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Washington, D.C., October.
11 Ibid., Section 5.5.