Institutional Issues for the New Agenda in Geoengineering
In previous chapters we gave an overview of the current state of geoengineering knowledge and its applications, the knowledge needs and gaps that must be addressed to advance the profession, new tools and scientific advances relevant to geoengineering, and the emerging discipline of Geoengineering for Earth Systems (GES). These topics constitute an agenda for advancing the field of geoengineering to enhance its contributions to our society in the beginning of the twenty-first century. This agenda for the field reflects recognition of both the expanded scope and complexity of the problems geoengineers must address in the future and the new and powerful tools that are available to geoengineers to address these problems.
This chapter examines some of the institutional issues that must be dealt with by the National Science Foundation (NSF), universities, and the geoengineering industry to advance this agenda and create a new vision for geoengineering. In some cases these institutions may have to change the way they do business to advance this agenda (i.e., to resolve critical knowledge gaps, advance the use of new tools in geoengineering, and expand geoengineering practice to address the complexity of current problems). This chapter first discusses how the committee believes that NSF can better foster the innovative, interdisciplinary, and cross-disciplinary work necessary to achieve these objectives. Second, this chapter considers the institutional issues associated with enhanced university support
for interdisciplinary research and education relative to geoengineering. The third set of institutional issues relate to the geoengineering industry, including both private engineers and constructors and government agencies. This chapter also presents the case for development of a more diverse workforce to achieve our new vision for geoengineering.
5.1 NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION ISSUES
5.1.1 Investigator-Driven Research
The committee discussed at length the merits of sole investigator and small investigator projects versus large directed research (research initiatives) and large collaborations to accomplish research advances in geoengineering. The committee was deeply concerned about what it perceives as a continuing trend in NSF toward more foundation-directed research initiatives and away from investigator-driven research. At least in geoengineering the funds available for unsolicited investigator-driven research appear to have diminished almost to the point of disappearance. In fiscal years 2003 and 2004, the geomechanics and geohazards programs at NSF funded only 29 and 14 unsolicited proposals, respectively, with a success rate of 16.1 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively, for unsolicited proposals. This is among the lowest success rate of any program in the engineering directorate and NSF as a whole. The diminishing of resources available for unsolicited proposals is counter to the general trend of increased funds for engineering directorate research over those two years and reflects an overall trend in NSF toward foundation-directed research initiatives (e.g., sensors, nanotechnology, and biotechnology). Geoengineers should participate in these initiatives. In fact, one of the major initiatives that has drained funds from the unsolicited proposal program is the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) initiative, in which geoengineers play a major role. The committee believes that the balance between directed and investigator-initiative research has become inappropriate and a larger portion of civil and mechanical systems resources must be committed to the unsolicited proposal program.
The committee believes strongly that NSF funding of research projects initiated and conducted by individual investigators and by small groups of investigators is an essential mechanism for maintaining and enhancing strength in all engineering disciplines, including geoengineering. This position is entirely in keeping with the 1987 NRC report Directions in Engineering Research, which states that “the very nature of engineering research is such that many long-range advances have been made only through the vision of individuals who are not allied with the mainstream of the industrial process or the current conventional wisdom. This type of research is a key to the health of the overall engineering research environment, and it is not likely to be sustained by ‘trickle-down’ support filtering through the large, heavily funded activities. Consequently, the Board urges that the general scheme of NSF sponsorship should continue to provide a major explicit emphasis on encouraging the individual engineering researcher, in balance with the new thrusts emphasizing cross-disciplinary research” (p. 62).
5.1.2 Interdisciplinary and Cross-Disciplinary Research
Advancing our agenda for geoengineering, particularly with respect to development of new tools and the emerging discipline of GES, clearly requires integrated, interdisciplinary problem solving. We begin with the position that funding proposals that use new tools and integrate knowledge from different scientific disciplines can maximize the likelihood of research breakthroughs. The committee also echoes the finding from the NRC report Basic Research Opportunities in Earth Science (NRC, 2001a) that “strict disciplinary divisions are recognized to be artificial, and an increasing number of investigator-initiated ‘small science’ projects span two or more disciplines” (p. 91). While various NSF programs are formulated to cross disciplinary lines, and while cross-disciplinary research is encouraged by NSF, cross-disciplinary activity does not appear explicitly as a proposal evaluation consideration. The geoengineering research agenda presented in this report will be enhanced to the extent that NSF can provide evaluation guidelines that encourage
both proposers and reviewers to consider integration of knowledge and research approaches from different disciplines in proposal preparation and evaluation.
Cross-disciplinary research is also more likely to be recommended by reviewers if multidisciplinary review panels are assembled by inviting panelists from associated but nongeoengineering disciplines to join geoengineering proposal review panels. There is a perception among some committee members that cross-disciplinary work is sometimes downgraded because of a lack of understanding or the absence of an advocate for the cross-disciplinary work among panelists. Composition of cross-disciplinary panels may also create new opportunities to coordinate both panel reviews and funding with other related NSF programs. It may be beneficial to include program directors from other federal research-funding entities in panels as this could facilitate leveraging NSF program funds by cofunding research with other federal and state agencies. These enhancements to panel composition offer an added potential benefit in that NSF-funded basic research in geoengineering will become more visible to those agencies and their associated researchers, opening new doors now all but shut to geoengineering researchers. Committee members recognize the difficulties in assembling qualified panels to review proposals in a timely fashion, and thus offer these suggestions as guidelines rather than mandates.
5.1.3 Collaborative Research
It is clearly in the interest of NSF and of the geoengineering community to promote collaboration in research. The committee’s perspective is that the most effective forms of sharing and collaboration grow out of personal exchanges, which can be encouraged through workshops and private investigator meetings. Organizations such as the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense regularly organize meetings to describe current research programs and progress, and these provide a model of success. To mitigate costs the workshop could be a virtual workshop, with an abstract
and presentation slides submitted electronically and published on the Internet. The committee feels that person-to-person interaction provides added value to such a workshop, and personal exchanges and research cooperation of all sorts, including sabbatical visits and research cooperation between researchers and with practitioners, should be encouraged and viewed favorably in the proposal review process.
Opportunities to build on the research of other researchers could also be improved if NSF were to set out expectations or even requirements for researchers to share their findings in a timely, accessible manner. This could include a requirement that researchers make available to other researchers their data, analytical models, and in certain circumstances, their equipment. The protocols for archiving and sharing experimental data being developed for the NEES initiative (http://www.nees.org) provide a template for such sharing of data. Specifics of data availability could be required to be spelled out in proposals, and “results of prior research” documentation could be required to indicate whether that had been achieved in previous research awards. Specifics could include, for example, dates by which data would be available, procedures for accessing results, formatting of data, and incidental or overhead costs associated with such transfers or access. NSF expectations, standardized data dictionaries and formats, and other protocols to facilitate sharing of data should be defined, including development of incentives for encouraging such exchanges and procedures for accountability.
The trade-off between large-team collaborative research, including collaboratories (see Sidebar 5.1), and small projects that might have smaller impact but lower individual funding requirements, was one of the more controversial topics in the committee’s deliberations. The committee recognizes that collaboratories have proven useful in various disciplines, particularly where they enable the sharing of large, expensive, centralized equipment and facilities. Such collaboratories may also increase the visibility of the research effort and broaden public support for NSF-funded research. In fact, through both the National Geotechnical Experimentation Sites (NGES; http://www.unh.edu/nges/) and NEES, the geoengineering community has been a leader in develop-
Collaboratories are a concept formally introduced at NSF in 1989 to cultivate collaborative research. The concept of co-laboratory, or collaboratory, is a laboratory without walls built upon distributed information technology. As stated in the NRC report on collaboratories, “The fusion of computers and electronic communications has the potential to enhance dramatically the output and productivity of U.S. researchers. A major step toward realizing that potential can come from combining the interests of the scientific community at large with those of the computer science and engineering community to create integrated, tool-oriented computing and communication systems to support scientific collaboration. Such systems can be called collaboratories” (NRC, 1993).
The earliest example of a shared-use collaboratory in geotechnical engineering is the National Geotechnical Experimentation Sites (NGES) program. NGES comprises six sites available to geoengineering for the purposes of large- or full-scale field testing in areas such as in situ testing, field instrumentation, prediction of soil behavior, and foundation prototype testing. The several well-characterized sites will stimulate the development and evaluation of new geotechnical tools and techniques, improve geotechnical practice and research, and promote educational opportunities. The NGES database (http://www.unh.edu/nges/) is designed to search and retrieve test site data, such as generalized soil conditions and representative soil properties; test data; site conditions and services; and published references. Creation of that database was accomplished principally through NSF funding. The database is continuously updated with data supplied by the site managers and users. Remote testing and data sharing in real time were not designed to be part of the system. Sites are maintained by individual site managers with little or no outside maintenance funding. A fee is negotiated for researchers to conduct a field test at a site. Researchers may budget for testing fees in NSF proposals.
A more recent example of a larger collaboratory, in which geoengineering at NSF has taken a leading role, is the George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), initiated in 1999. NSF notes that
when fully operational in October 2004, the NEES program will provide an unprecedented infrastructure for research and education, consisting of networked and geographically distributed resources for experimentation, computation, model-based simulation, data management, and communication. Rather than placing all of these resources at a single location, NSF has leveraged its investment and facilitated research and education integration by distributing the shared-use equipment among nearly 20 universities throughout the United States. To insure that the nation’s researchers can effectively use this equipment, equipment sites will be operated as shared-use facilities, and NEES will be implemented as a network-enabled collaboratory. As such, members of the earthquake engineering community will be able to interact with one another, access unique, next generation instruments and equipment, share data and computational resources, and retrieve information from digital libraries without regard to geographical location. (http://www.nees.org)
Features of NEES include telepresence (the ability to control and monitor an experiment from a remote location), public-access data archives that will use a common data dictionary, and provisions for piggy-backing by secondary investigators on NEES experiments, in which secondary investigators can install instrumentation packages and collect data for their own purposes on a primary experiment. In return for providing substantial funds for facility development, NSF requires that there be no fee for using NEES sites. At this stage NEES is itself an ambitious experiment in big science research that will educate the community regarding pitfalls and successes in both current and future collaboratory development and management.
ment of this collaboratory concept. However, because of the large commitment of funds required to maintain the NEES collaboratory (an annual overhead cost of approximately $20 million, much of which was diverted from other civil and mechanical systems programs, including geomechanics and geohazards), the committee was divided on whether these were positive developments in an age of limited resources for geoengineering. In fairness, it must be noted that overhead costs for the NGES sites is significantly less than for NEES and does not come entirely from NSF funds.
In light of these observations, it seems prudent for NSF to establish a set of criteria to evaluate when collaboratories are appropriate compared to other methods of fostering collaboration and to generate reports on successes and opportunities for improvements in their development. The following questions should be included when evaluating the benefits of funding investigator-driven research versus funding a collaboratory:
Is solution of the research problem important enough to society that it merits the required funding and focused efforts of some significant portion of the research community by formation of a collaboratory?
Is a collaboratory feasible? Do the key components already exist, such as a distributed computing infrastructure?
Would the development of a new, complex collaboratory distract researchers from making progress on the research problem to be solved?
Is a collaboratory an optimal way to address the research problem?
Is the research problem well defined at present? Research challenges and the ways to address them that are well defined are better candidates for collaboratories than ones that are emerging, with paths of research concentration that are not yet established.
Does the project require large, expensive, or unique equipment or facilities? If not, then institution of a collaboratory may be unnecessarily constraining.
Will a collaboratory lead to better and faster advances than alternative methods of collaboration at a lower cost?
Is the project multidisciplinary? Will it benefit from creation of large research teams drawn from different disciplines using these facilities? Will those researchers want to use the collaboratory?
How will it affect research in the research community in general?
Will the collaboratory create opportunities for many investigators, or only a few?
Will it eliminate or substantially diminish support for other important research addressing the same research problem?
Will the collaboratory stimulate development and use of new tools, techniques, and improved practice?
Will it build capacity by creating new educational opportunities?
How will the collaboratory be managed?
Is there a realistic plan for management that facilitates the research objectives? Does the plan include a vision of how to achieve effective integration of capabilities developed by other disciplines such as computer science? Does it include a realistic time schedule?
Is there a realistic vision of a mechanism to share and to maintain equipment, facilities, data, and results both during and after the project?
Will use of the collaboratory be affordable to researchers and do the operational costs justify the benefits?
NSF has an opportunity to advance the development of new tools, including both laboratory devices and sensors, essential to realizing our agenda for geoengineering. One way to accelerate this process would be to include both the developer of the device and participants from the user community on projects for developing new tools. For example, a sensor developer working in isolation from potential users increases the probability that an innovation in sensor technology will go unused and that the needs of experimentalists and practitioners may go unmet. While
recognizing that the role of NSF is basic, rather than applied research, panel members felt that NSF should include collaboration between new tool developers and tool users as a discriminating criterion in proposal evaluation. This collaboration could extend beyond the pure development phase into actual application and testing, whether funded by NSF or some other entity.
5.2.1 New Approaches to Geoengineering Education
The challenges the geoengineering profession faces in reforming geoengineering education should not be underestimated. The best and brightest students will be attracted to areas of science and engineering where they believe they can make new discoveries and inventions. Increasing the breadth of disciplines integrated into geoengineering education at both the undergraduate and graduate levels will be an important first step in attracting top students to the field. The profession also needs to work through education to “aspire to a future where engineers are prepared to adapt to changes in global forces and trends and to ethically assist the world in creating a balance in the standard of living for developing and developed countries alike” (NRC, 2004c). For this to be achievable there must be greater flexibility in engineering education that engages previously untapped populations of university students. Educational expectations have changed for both the new postsecondary school attendees and the traditional college attendees and the engineering profession and engineering educators should capitalize on these expectations.
At the undergraduate level, issues surrounding changes in curriculum are complex. The report The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century (NAE, 2004) states that the expanding role of engineers in dealing with more complex problems requires additions to an already full curriculum:
The options would seem to be: (a) cutting out some of the current requirements, (b) restructuring current courses to teach them much more efficiently, or (c) increasing time spent in school to become an engineering professional. All three may need to be done to some extent, but it is worth noting that all professions except engineering—business, law, medicine—presume that the bachelor’s degree is preceded by a nonspecialist liberal arts degree, so it is also not clear that just adding two years or so to a traditional engineering B.S. degree will raise engineers to the professional status of managers, lawyers, and doctors. Nonetheless, while it cannot be mandated instantly and could require radical restructuring of the present approach to engineering education, by 2020 engineering could well follow the course of the other professions. Doing so may be part of the competitive advantage of U.S. engineers. (NAE, 2004, p. 41)
This sentiment is not out of line with the current movement in the profession to recognize the master’s degree as the first professional degree. In the geoengineering field this is already recognized de facto in most parts of the country. Despite the American Society of Civil Engineer’s (ASCE) recent endorsement of this concept, this remains a controversial topic, with many civil engineers, particularly in the municipal sector, opposed to it.
Students who begin their undergraduate programs without a commitment to study engineering already in place or who are reluctant to forego the intellectual excitement and freedom of a general education are at present simply dismissing engineering as a career choice. The options adopted by the architecture profession (see Sidebar 5.2) present one possible model to offer different paths to professional practice in engineering. Expansion of options that engage the most educated portion of the population, a portion that is both inclined and trained to think across disciplines, is encouraged. The profession can also benefit from the influx of more mature and potentially more broadly educated students. This can be attractive in particular to women and underrepresented minorities who are more likely to choose engineering later in their academic careers.
In the United States there are three usual educational avenues through which one may approach professional registration and practice as an architect. These include a bachelor of architecture degree, typically a five-year program; a two-year master of architecture degree, which is designed for those students who possess a bachelor of science in architecture degree (distinct from the bachelor of architecture degree); and a three to three-and-one-half year master of architecture degree, which is designed for those students who possess a baccalaureate degree in a discipline other than architecture. The emphasis in these three degrees is preparation for professional practice and registration. Students who know as they begin their undergraduate educations that they wish to practice architecture are provided with a clear, and highly focused, five-year educational path to professional practice in the bachelor of architecture program, although it is frequently the case that even these students still plan to complete a program of study that includes a master of architecture degree. Students with different academic and life backgrounds, arriving at the decision to begin architectural training at later stages in their lives, are readily accommodated by this system, and their other degrees are respected by this system; students are not required to forego the freedom of a liberal arts and science undergraduate education as they emerge from high school.
In addition to these architecture degrees, there are two other, nonpractice degrees. The bachelor of arts in architecture degree and the bachelor of science in architecture degree are designed to familiarize students with architecture but do not train them for registration and practice. These students may choose to continue on to graduate studies in architecture, but students who do not intend to practice architecture may nonetheless undertake undergraduate study in architecture that they can use as a foundation for other careers. The benefit of this system to the profession is that architecturally inclined students who choose not to practice as architects can carry into their other professional lives both an understanding and an appreciation of the discipline.
Innovation in the undergraduate curriculum even in the traditional four-year undergraduate program faces impediments to implementing change. In 2000, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET, 2000) asked that engineering programs specify their own goals and objectives and provide evidence that they were continually improving their attempts to meet these goals. Accreditation of engineering programs is jointly managed by ABET and traditional professional societies, for example, by the American Society of Civil Engineers for geotechnical engineering and the Society for Mining Metallurgy and Exploration for geological engineering. These two participants in accreditation are designed to complement each other, but they also conflict in that engineering programs need both to define themselves to meet the ABET standards and to fulfill prescriptive requirements to satisfy the professional societies. Although the recently completed American Society of Civil Engineers report Body of Knowledge (ASCE, 2004b) addresses undergraduate curriculum, it is still developed in the context of a traditional four-year undergraduate program.
It is beyond the scope of this report to address accreditation problems in engineering. However, NSF is encouraged to keep opportunities open for experiments in education, beginning with convening roundtables to generate truly innovative concepts. NSF could also work to support interdisciplinary undergraduate programs much as they do graduate programs with the Integration Graduate Education and Research Traineeship and might consider developing an Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Engineering Education program. A number of universities have general engineering degrees that are accredited by ABET but are not required to satisfy the special criteria determined by professional societies. Most universities consider this a less desirable degree, but it may well be the easiest path to achieving truly interdisciplinary education and become a much more valuable degree.
Transitioning undergraduates in their thinking from learning textbook material to beginning to ask and answer unsolved questions is encouraged already through undergraduate research opportunities supported by most institutions, although not required of all students.
Research Experiences for Undergraduates, among other NSF programs, has played an important role in facilitating that connection. The Engineers Without Borders program is another way to cultivate new approaches to engineering, in addition to developing appreciation of the critical importance of sustainability in engineering design. New and innovative approaches are required to make geoengineering more enticing and more accessible to students.
5.2.2 Interdisciplinary Studies
In the last 20 years or so, many university faculty members have recognized that solving the high-level problems we face requires more than a single traditional discipline, however most interdisciplinary efforts have been ad hoc arrangements. These ad hoc arrangements often carry with them problems associated with financial and scholarly credit for the resulting research. Junior faculty members attempting to cross disciplinary boundaries run the risk of lack of recognition for their efforts and contributions, while university financial systems are often not set up to properly account for shared overhead for laboratory facilities.
To address the agenda for geoengineering we have laid out, it is important for universities to find ways to go beyond traditional and ad hoc arrangements for interdisciplinary research. It may be fairly straight-forward for a civil engineering department to grant a Ph.D. degree to a candidate who has discovered a way to use microbiology to remediate a contaminated site. It may require more imaginative innovation to create a program that can accommodate students crossing traditionally less compatible disciplines, for example, a Ph.D. program in Earth Systems Engineering (ESE) that requires integration of policy, economics, and engineering to address a problem of renewing infrastructure in urban environments. These programs also have the potential to attract different sorts of students: students who are interested in pursuing engineering science in their careers but will not practice engineering; and students who are interested in engineering as a first degree but who will choose nonengineering degrees for a second degree.
5.3 INDUSTRY’S ROLE
There are two issues related to the role of industry in meeting the challenges of advancing the state of the practice in geoengineering. The first issue is that the current state of the practice does not match the current states of knowledge and understanding. The second issue is that industry, in general, does not play a very active role in advancing either the state of practice (at least from a technological viewpoint) or the states of knowledge and understanding. There are several seemingly simple and straightforward measures that can address these issues, but institutional inertia and a perceived lack of economic benefit create powerful barriers to implementation. For instance, continuing education plays an important role in facilitating the incorporation of new knowledge and technology into practice, thereby closing the gap between the state of the practice and the states of knowledge and understanding. Because they fail to perceive any economic benefit for their firms, many employers are reluctant to pay the total cost of continuing education for their employees, including both the direct cost of registering for courses and workshops and indirect costs associated with release time from work, travel, and other associated expenses. In the absence of any regulatory mandate for continuing registration (e.g., in order to renew a professional license), many employers will continue to resist paying for continuing education until it becomes an economic imperative. Professional societies can play an important role in establishing this imperative by continuing to lobby for such best practices as qualifications-based selection (QBS) for engineering services as well as mandatory continuing education for license renewal. ASCE Manual 45, which provides recommendations for QBS for engineering services, is one example of the role professional societies can play in advancing the field (ASCE, 2003). Other important initiatives that professional societies like ASCE, Association of Soil and Foundation Engineers, and American Rock Mechanics Association can use to help close the gap between the state of knowledge and the state of practice include the use of quality criteria in awarding construction contracts and peer review and value engineering design practices.
Geoengineering professionals must also demonstrate the advantages of employing state-of-the-knowledge technologies to their colleagues, employers, and clients.
The support and active engagement of the geoengineering industry, including engineering consulting firms, contractors, municipal agencies, professional societies, and other stakeholders is also essential to continued advancement of the state of knowledge of geoengineering and fulfilling our vision for the future of geoengineering in ESE. Industry must actively endorse the value of geoengineering research from a total life-cycle cost perspective and embrace application of new tools developed in geoengineering research. If industry does not embrace the new tools developed by researchers, their efforts will be wasted. GES, by its very nature a hybrid of public policy and technical analysis, requires the support of the geoindustry. However, there are long-standing structural and cultural barriers that impact the ability of industry to embrace the new agenda. Traditional design-bid-build contractual arrangements are widely acknowledged as a barrier to innovation, particularly in public works contracting that makes up the largest segment of the civil construction industry, and geoengineers are often unable to participate fully in newer design-build and build-operate-transfer arrangements. Many engineers still embrace the ethic that their job is not to influence public policy directly but merely to provide impartial analysis and present the facts and let the decision makers guide the course of public policy.
Because NSF’s role is to fund basic research and innovations but not necessarily the implementation of new technologies, industry must be relied upon to bridge the gap between technology development and its implementation. Implementation of new technology often requires research and development in its own right, and spending on applied research by the geoindustry in the United States lags behind many other industrialized countries, due in large part to the failure of the industry to perceive any benefit from funding the research. One role NSF can potentially play in furthering the implementation of new technologies in geoengineering is by funding studies that demonstrate the direct and
indirect benefits of the application of advanced technology in geoengineering.
Specialty contractors have been a significant source of industry support for research and technology innovation in the United States. While specialty contractors have been a source of several important developments in geoengineering practice, commercial imperatives understandably tend to focus contractor-funded research and development on the downstream end of the process (i.e., on ready-to-be-commercialized processes). Midstream technological developments that do not have readily apparent commercial advantages, such as advanced methods for site characterization, and wider noncommercial applications, such as satellite-based monitoring of landslide activity, are typically not funded by this sector of industry. Even with respect to commercially viable innovation in geoengineering, the United States lags behind Europe and Asia in research and development of new technology.
Financial support for geoengineering research and development from the engineering design and consulting sectors of U.S. geoengineering industry is at best insignificant. This subject has been discussed at length in recent years in panel discussions at conferences (e.g., at the recent Pan American Soil Mechanics Conference in Boston in 2003) and in professional journal papers (Goodings and Ketcham, 2001). The consensus seems to be that financial pressures on consulting firms forced to compete for work on a low-bid basis and the design-bid-build contractual arrangements, wherein risks associated with a failed design innovation are passed on to the innovator without commensurate reward for success, are the primary hindrances to innovation under this contractual arrangement.
In design-bid schemes the designer and constructor are separate entities with sometimes conflicting interests. A different model is used in Europe and Japan, where the designer and constructor are often the same entity. There is now a trend toward more design-build and build-operate-transfer arrangements in the United States as a means of encouraging innovation. While this trend has met with some notable success, it
is still prohibited by law for many public works and infrastructure development projects, requiring special enabling legislation to use this approach (see Sidebar 2.4), and geoengineers are often not in a position to capitalize on their innovation or assumption of risk by virtue of their role as an owner’s representative at the initiation of a project or because they do not have a direct financial interest in the project. Thus, a geoengineer who comes up with an innovative means of supporting an excavation or constructing a foundation that saves an owner millions of dollars may have had to assume all the risk associated with its implementation and may be rewarded solely with a thank-you and an invitation to bid competitively on the next project. For this reason geoengineers who do come up with innovations invariably form construction firms to capitalize on their commercial potential.
Significant structural changes in the way risks and rewards are shared by innovators, constructors, and owners are required to spur innovation in geoengineering industry in the United States. The logical agents for such changes are the professional societies that represent the geoengineering community (e.g., ASCE and its Geo-Institute, American Rock Mechanics Association, Deep Foundations Institute, and the Association of Soil and Foundation Engineers). NSF can facilitate these changes by funding studies and workshops on barriers to innovation and by leveraging research funds to engage design and consulting engineers in geoengineering research and development projects. These societies themselves must all become advocates for changes that are required to spur research and innovation in geoengineering practice. The committee urges ASCE to coordinate this important effort and for practitioners to press them to do so.
Traditionally, most industry-supported geoengineering research in the United States has been through public and quasi-public entities, including the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Highway Administration, Transportation Research Board (through the National Cooperative Highway Research Program), and various state transportation departments. However, many of these agencies, faced with decreasing budgets and an increasing backlog of projects, have dramatically reduced
their research and development efforts. For instance, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Mississippi, once a key source of funding for geoengineering research on infrastructure development projects through the Casagrande Geotechnical Laboratory, has essentially eliminated all external sponsored research in geoengineering, cut back internal research in geoengineering, and now must seek funding from other sources (e.g., the Environmental Protection Agency) to sustain some of its staff and facilities.
The mineral extraction industry is a major end user of geotechnology, but its involvement in geoengineering research has been restricted to development of equipment and technology for the sole purpose of reducing the cost of mineral extraction. The increased emphasis on sustainable mining (see Sidebar 4.3), along with lingering environmental issues associated with past practices, may make the mineral extraction industry more amenable to supporting broader geoengineering research initiatives. The geoengineering community must find a way to engage the extractive industries in broad research relevant to their concerns.
Public agency support for research and development becomes all the more important in noncommercial activities, such as GES, which have no direct financial benefit. Support for geoengineering research on regional and global environment issues is more a public policy issue than a commercial issue (as opposed to support for geoengineering research on infrastructure construction). In fact, the essence of ESE, of which GES is a component, is the marriage of public policy with environmental science and engineering technology. Thus, for the vision of ESE to become a reality, engineers must become engaged in public policy debates on regional and global environmental issues. Once again, the professional societies that represent the geoengineering community must play an important role in engaging geoengineers in these debates and mobilizing support for geoengineering research in ESE and sustainable development.
The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) provides perhaps the best example of how a professional society can influence public policy and mobilize support for investment in research and
development. EERI played an essential role in the creation and reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP), a primary means of support for earthquake engineering research for over 20 years, and in the allocation by Congress of $88 million for initial funding of the NEES program. EERI and NEHRP include social scientists as well as engineers and focus on societal issues of response, recovery, disaster planning, and community resilience, as well as hard engineering technology and geological science issues. The success of EERI and associated societies (e.g., the Geological Society of America) in mobilizing public support for earthquake engineering research and hazard mitigation efforts is a model for both integration of technology and public policy and for mobilization of public support for research and development.
There are also some excellent models for integrating research with practice in traditional infrastructure development. U.S. transportation research infrastructure serves as one impressive example of a successful model. One important component of this model is the National Academies’ Transportation Research Board, which creates in its annual meetings opportunities to focus on research and its implementation in practice. In these meetings practitioners can define their engineering challenges in terms that make sense to researchers, and at the same time researchers can come to appreciate the practical constraints practitioners face in implementing research. After the development of research ideas, and ideally of research partnerships, there must be a follow-up in the form of research funding. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the National Cooperative Highway Research Program define and fund research programs that are developed from these forums. Transportation research is also conducted by 33 university transportation centers created by the 1998 passage of the Transportation Equity Act for the Twenty-first Century. These centers, 23 of which are earmarked for funding in the bill and 10 of which are awarded competitively, are eligible for up to $500,000 per year in federal funding provided matching funds can be raised for the proposed transportation research. In this way the research conducted is dictated largely
by the sponsor providing the matching funds, which is typically a state department of transportation. The Federal Highway Administration has in the past funded geotechnical-practice-oriented research at its discretion.
Key to the continued advancement of geoengineering through research and development is a substantial and continuing commitment of funding. This requires both maintenance of existing sources of funding, which are primarily through government agencies, and development of new sources of funding in both government and industry. With respect to government funding, engineers must be involved in public policy decisions if they are to influence the allocation of funds for geoengineering research. The professional societies may be the most effective agents for engineers to make themselves heard in this respect. However, broad recognition by both researchers and practitioners of the importance of the need to engage in public policy debates and influence funding decisions is equally key to a solution. The professional societies representing the geoengineering community must become involved in a concerted effort to engage industry in supporting research and development.
With respect to industry funding, the financial benefits of geoengineering research, including the benefits of both closing the gap between research and practice and additional research, must be made apparent to the entire geoengineering community. Again, professional societies can play an important role in this task through recommendations and guidance for continuing education, qualifications-based selection for both design and construction services, and best practices such as peer review and value engineering. In addition, design-build and other innovative contracting methods wherein geoengineers can share in the fruits of their innovations without assuming disproportionate risk can play an important role in encouraging industry support of research and innovation. Much of the responsibility will still lie on geoengineers themselves who have a desire to improve the state of practice and provide the best possible solutions to their clients’ problems.
5.4 DIVERSIFYING THE WORKFORCE
Geoengineering faces important professional issues that go beyond redefinition and integration of science developed in other scientific disciplines. These issues are related to the engineering profession’s own sustainability and its ability to develop effective solutions to complex, multifaceted problems. Advancing toward meaningful solutions to technical problems with social dimensions requires that those who will undertake research into these engineering problems and who will implement the solutions in practice are representative of the society that experiences the problems. Whereas the profession has advanced significantly in issues of diversity compared with the situation 30 years ago, the faces of the profession still do not reflect the faces of our population. NSF, historically a key player in invigorating action related to issues of workforce diversity, must work in new ways to remotivate the geoengineering community to address this problem.
NSF has supported and strongly encouraged diversity through its program expectations and its funding priorities for the last 30 years, with a commitment that has exceeded any other federal research funding entity. Nonetheless, career paths of women and minorities through undergraduate and graduate education and through faculty careers in science and engineering have not led to the progress toward equity and representation that had been envisaged (Nelson, 2002). William Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering, argued that it is not merely a case of fairness to open the engineering profession to the full population. Nor is it merely the need to draw from the largest possible pool of high academic achievers in our society. He argued that “one’s creativity is bounded by one’s life experiences” (http://www.brynmawr.edu/womeninscience/keynoteaddress.html). Diversity in the engineering workforce, where diversity is defined both in visible measures (racial and gender diversity) and in invisible measures (through diverse life experience), is key to optimizing engineering solutions to increasingly challenging problems. If engineers expect to be the creative leaders in addressing society’s problems, it is imperative that society draw from and
retain the broadest possible pool of engineers, enriching its traditional pool of students, and ultimately practitioners, with the nontraditional engineer, its educational practices, its professional registration practices, and its commitment to invest in diversity.
The competitive edge of a diverse engineering workforce has been established by Land of Plenty, the Report of the Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology Development (CAWMSET, 2000), but commitment both by the engineering profession and by educational institutions has waned. That report, confirmed by results of Cook and King’s study (2004, pp. 14-15, 39) identifies broad action items to advance this agenda. Two things are clear: (1) continuing the efforts in effect now will not advance us to the next level of success; and (2) passive acceptance of these presently underrepresented groups in the profession is not sufficient to attract and retain them, nor does it maximize their contributions to the profession. In terms of maximizing results from measures undertaken in colleges and universities, the data of 30 years of NSF programs may be a rich resource to begin to understand what new measures should be undertaken to support advancement toward those goals, especially if evaluation of programs in other agencies and in other developed countries is included in that study. It is beyond the scope of this report to evaluate and recommend measures to be implemented, however the urgency for new efforts is clear. The composition of the industry workforce still does not represent the composition of society as a whole. Renewed effort and innovative approaches are required to create a diverse geoengineering workforce representative of the general population.
5.5 INSTITUTIONAL ISSUES FOR A NEW AGENDA IN GEOENGINEERING
This chapter spelled out some of the institutional issues associated with achieving our vision for geoengineering in the twenty-first century and makes recommendations for actions NSF can take to overcome some of the barriers created by these issues. The role played by other groups in
realizing this vision, including professional societies and various sectors of the geoengineering industry, is also addressed herein. The leadership of each group has already awakened to the realization that the vibrancy of the geoengineering profession depends on innovation. The 2004 ASCE Body of Knowledge report opens with a quote from William Jennings Bryan: “Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice.” The committee embraces this philosophy for geoengineering.
NSF, the sponsor of this study, is unrivalled in its capacity to explore, support, and lead in initiatives that can (and have) enriched the profession. NSF has been influential in developments in geoengineering and it will have an even greater role in the foreseeable future. Universities are key players because of their responsibility for much of geoengineering research and education. Universities must dedicate themselves to innovation in interdisciplinary inquiry in order to address both continuing and new challenges in geoengineering; and they will need flexibility and resources to experiment with new approaches in education that will not only change what geoengineering graduates know and how they think about problems, but as importantly, who will choose to study and practice geoengineering. Geoengineering practitioners have the opportunity to make geoengineering a leadership profession in engineering. Bold projects that address pervasive societal imperatives will attract excellent practitioners and daring students.
This agenda requires fresh thinking and serious commitment to change on the part of each group. The first step has already been achieved: The leadership of each group has recognized that more of the same will not move the profession forward. The catalysts for change are new opportunities for breakthroughs and new compelling problems on which to work.