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Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
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6
Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues

During discussion of the priority areas and the core program, common programmatic issues essential to Antarctic Research were identified as areas for development or improvement. These cross-cutting issues affect the ability of National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded researchers to more fully realize the potential of their research efforts.

RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURE AND LOGISTICS

As discussed in Chapters 2-5, strained logistics support resources and aging infrastructure currently limit the scope of science and the accessibility to remote areas of interest in all priority areas and the core program. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, simultaneously addressing the three NASEM (2015) research priorities, while also maintaining a robust core research program, exceeds the capacity of existing logistical resources (e.g., aircraft [see Box 1-1], research vessels [see Box 1-2], field equipment, and station accommodations). One of the research priorities (I.i), primarily addressed in one location (the Thwaites Glacier region), has been the focus of significant logistics efforts to date. Although advances in Priority I.i are vital to understanding rates of sea level rise, the logistics commitment to that effort has affected other priority areas and core research support. The large demands of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration (ITGC) combined with a ~40 percent reduction in LC-130 flight hours in recent years (2017-2019, compared to 2009-2015) associated with rising flight costs (see Box 1-1) have delayed other field efforts (see Chapters 2 and 5). One example of these delays is Hercules Dome (Priority I.ii), which will not begin drilling until at least 2024. Priority III researchers expressed concerns that similar delays lie ahead for the Cosmic Microwave Background Stage 4 (CMB-S4) project due to logistics and infrastructure issues (see Chapter 4). According to input during community meetings, individual researchers and small teams of scientists feel at a disadvantage for securing logistical support in Antarctica (see Chapter 5).

Marine research logistical support is also overtaxed, and the two research vessels, the Laurence M. Gould and the Nathaniel B. Palmer, are technologically outdated for their missions (see Box 1-2). Based on existing research and transit demands, proposals for oceanographic cruises to regions beyond the Amundsen and Ross Seas have been actively discouraged. The U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) research vessels lack heavy icebreaking capacity, which restricts their access to the inner continental shelf, greatly limiting the capacity to address Priority I science goals. The vessels also lack equipment required to safely operate marine geophysical technology and geological drilling capacity to recover marine sediments older than

Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
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18,000 years (see Chapter 2). Expanding seasonal and geographic access to biological resources and ecosystems would benefit Priority II objectives (see Chapter 3), but lack of heavy icebreaking capacity limits seasonal accessibility. Geographic expansion of research, such as high-priority climatically vulnerable targets in East Antarctica (e.g., the Sabrina Coast shelf, Wilkes Land margin, and Recovery Basin/Weddell Sea shelf), as recommended in Chapter 2, is not possible with existing NSF marine logistics. Merely sustaining the current breadth of research becomes more difficult if a vessel must be removed from operation as both vessels are reaching the end of their expected lifetimes. The recent announcement of formal planning for a new U.S. icebreaker research vessel is good news, indicating potentially an improved research infrastructure in the future. NSF announced, “if the design is approved and the project is fully funded, the new vessel would begin operations in 2030.”1

Overall, across multiple priorities and core science, the availability of logistical support appears to be dictating the feasibility of research. The user community remains concerned with respect to the long-term outlook on logistics and how their funded research projects or potential proposal topics could be affected. Antarctic scientists recognize the immense challenges of supporting field research, but researchers expressed that they would like to better understand the logistics outlook and how trade-offs are assessed among scientific opportunities in the context of highly constrained logistics. The time delay between funding and field access can be problematic, especially for early-career researchers, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows.

This committee was not tasked to review the logistical support for NSF Antarctic Sciences, and recommendations of specific logistics funding or infrastructure needs were beyond the scope of this committee. However, in this section, the committee proposes a transparent analysis of logistics constraints and recommends low-cost opportunities to improve logistics for all strategic priorities as well as investigator-driven research beyond the three priorities.

A Transparent Logistics Review

To ensure that NSF has the logistical support capacity to substantially advance the strategic priorities in the next 5 years, a formal, transparent logistics and infrastructure review should be conducted. This review should include a detailed assessment of confirmed or likely logistics resource demands across the entire Antarctic Sciences program (e.g., transportation, fuel, power, and equipment), logistical support capacity, and expected infrastructure improvements (e.g., to ships, aircraft, ground facilities, and data bandwidth). The review would identify where there are resource constraints and competing demands among the three research priorities (and other broad Antarctic Sciences research efforts) and could propose specific strategies to address these constraints or balance competing demands in a

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1 See https://future.usap.gov/new-antarctic-vessel-approved.

Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×

transparent manner. The importance of this is magnified with the impacts associated with COVID-19 disruptions on planned and postponed expeditions. This review could be conducted by either NSF or an independent committee consisting of members of the scientific community and logistics experts, similar to the role of the Facilities Boards for International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP).2

A Logistics Review Board could routinely provide 5- and 10-year outlooks on Antarctic logistics resource demands and support capacity and serve to evaluate the logistics demands of major developing research initiatives within the Antarctic research community (e.g., East Antarctica; see Chapter 2). This analysis would provide NSF with key insight into what the United States could support, what might be achieved by international coordination or additional U.S. investments, or what research must be deferred due to resource shortfalls. This process would improve understanding among the scientific community about the collective objectives and overall priorities of the Office of Polar Programs (OPP) Antarctic Sciences program. Transparency regarding current and future logistical capabilities available for science would also encourage research proposals from the science community grounded in logistical realities.

Enhanced Logistics Communication with the Research Community

Improving communication between the scientific community, logistics operators, and OPP would help ensure that the important science questions are informing the allocation of existing finite logistical resources. One approach to address existing communication gaps would involve creating a forum to discuss logistics in the context of community research goals. The committee envisions a forum for logistical communication that would bring researchers back into a three-way logistics conversation involving NSF, the support contractor, and the research community. Such a forum would empower researchers to provide input on science priorities and logistics issues and to offer suggestions for enhancing efficiencies. This forum could also assess the overall successes or weaknesses for a given field season, allowing all parties to address and correct issues more quickly.

The proposed forum would also provide an opportunity for NSF to be more transparent with the science community about the process by which difficult decisions are made about prioritization of science in the context of finite logistics resources. This transparency is especially critical to early-career researchers trying to understand the complex nature of logistical support for Antarctic science. Being part of the conversation will allow the scientific community to be more informed of the logistical limitations associated with a given field season and have a better understanding of the basis of logistically tough decisions.

The former Area Users’ Committees (e.g., McMurdo Area Users’ Committee, South Pole Area Users’ Committee, Palmer Area Users’ Committee [PAUC], and Antarctic Research Vessel Oversight Committee) were highly effective in integrating

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2 See https://www.iodp.org/boards-and-panels/facility-boards.

Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
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the needs of their respective scientific communities and in some cases were helpful with respect to logistical planning. User committees met annually and provided a mechanism for effective input to and feedback from both NSF and the logistics contractor on priorities, strategies, and necessary trade-offs to enhance station and ship operations for the benefit of science. At some point, the Area User Committees were disbanded. Additionally, formal outbrief of researchers on completion of the field season appears to have declined. Logistical planning in support of science thus has largely become a two-party consultation between NSF and the support contractor, and the role of scientists in logistics conversations has been diminished.

The former PAUC provides an example of the value of engaging the science community in logistics and infrastructure planning. During its existence (1996-2012), the PAUC solicited its user community annually to obtain recommendations for multiuser equipment acquisitions and boating needs and generated prioritized lists, which the logistics contractor then presented to NSF for consideration. The result was a community-coordinated enhancement of research infrastructure. For example, the new rigid-hull inflatable boats, which greatly expand regional access out of Palmer Station, were initially brought up in PAUC discussions. Moreover, the PAUC played an important role in the renovation of the major Palmer Station buildings. Quality of life improved greatly with the separation of entertainment and berthing spaces (a major community priority), and the safety and ergonomics of the science laboratories were substantially improved by user input. Nevertheless, the committee’s vision for a renewed communication forum differs from the Area Users’ Committees model. The committee envisions forward-looking discussions about science planning and logistics coordination, engaging a broad representation of the Antarctic science community, including early-career researchers.

Another opportunity to improve communications between OPP and the science community would be enhanced engagement with investigators whose proposals were rated highly on scientific grounds but were declined due to lack of sufficient logistical support. Members of the scientific community noted that proposers would welcome additional opportunities to iterate on project scope and logistics requirements with OPP without the necessity to resubmit for another review cycle. When assessing whether a science project is logistically supportable, the Antarctic support contractor may apply rigid assumptions about project logistical requirements that could be rescoped in consultation with proposers. An enhanced consultation process could be implemented to address this community concern and ensure continuity of messaging by program officers regarding future opportunities and pathways for that project.

Enhanced Coordination

Sharing of resources and grouping of field teams focused on a common science goal or in a common geographical region can create efficiencies in logistics resources but require advance planning. By bringing together investigators with

Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×

research interests in a common location (perhaps using the forums previously suggested), resource sharing and trade-offs in logistics strategies could be discussed. These discussions would allow scientific perspectives to be fully considered in these logistics decisions.

One opportunity highlighted by the scientific community is to have logistics-based (i.e., location-based) research calls for deep-field locations. To identify geographic regions currently of broad scientific interest, OPP could issue a call for letters of intent/interest. This could provide a means to coordinate group proposals and help gauge broad community interest in joint efforts in remote locations. This could also provide a means to facilitate coordinated initiatives by individual researchers or small teams linked by location. A successful precedent is the series of Transantarctic Mountains Science and Deep Field Camp Planning workshops,3 which led to the Shackleton Glacier Camp in 2016-2018, and aims to provide community science and site priorities for deep-field science to NSF. NSF could discuss the outlook for logistical support in coming field seasons through community update webinars or announce potential future field support in a specific area if a sufficient number of compelling research proposals are submitted.

The lack of advance coordination among funded scientists also may limit logistical efficiencies, preventing potential collaborations. In many cases, scientists do not know who else has been funded to do research in a field season until the research is ongoing. There are some international portals4 that are providing tools to connect science teams, and similar efforts by NSF could be explored. Virtual meetings of funded researchers in advance of the field season would provide an opportunity to introduce science projects planned for the coming season, allow science groups to learn about the location, and provide a means to find synergies on both science and logistics. Such meetings can also build the U.S. Antarctic research community interface between disciplines, which is crucial for developing future interdisciplinary science programs.

The NSF-funded Ice Drilling Program (IDP) and IODP workshops provide additional models to help foster research collaborations for scientists working in similar areas and identify increased opportunities for smaller-scale, potentially interdisciplinary, partnerships while reducing logistical burdens. Both the IDP and IODP have Science Advisory Boards tasked with gathering community input for prioritizing the use of drilling tools for the ice and sub-ice communities and setting the ship track. Area User Committees or IDP/IODP-like advisory boards would allow scientists to consider clustering around particular locations that might assist in streamlining logistics and equipment usage.

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3 See http://tamcamp.org.

4 See, for example, https://www.soos.aq/activities/about-duesouth.

Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
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Expanding Access to Other Research Areas

Alternative strategies to support deep-field access in the Antarctic interior and coastlines would enhance all research priorities and NSF’s broad research program, given the limited number of aircraft (e.g., LC-130s) and high demand for those resources (see Box 1-1). Many members of the scientific community across different priority areas argued that developing research traverses, including for direct science support and moving fuel to deep-field locations, could help open access to regions not commonly supported by the USAP and enable new science, while offsetting the strain on limited LC-130 resources. Traverses could provide access to West Antarctica, and traverses based out of South Pole Station could be used to support coring efforts, such as Hercules Dome. The West Antarctic Support traverse, the 88S Traverse, and the successes of the U.S.-Norway traverse and the New Zealand traverse across the Ross Ice Shelf have proven the utility of traverses for deep-field sciences. The South Pole Overland Traverse and the Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access (SALSA) traverse have also proven the utility of traverses for overall science support operations.

Similarly, work with coastal or shallow marine organisms is limited largely to the regions within close proximity to Palmer and McMurdo stations because oceanographic vessels are restricted to deep water for safety reasons. Accessing new coastal regions could provide significant opportunities for understanding organismal adaptation to the Antarctic (Priority II, see Chapter 3). NSF should evaluate the potential costs and benefits of additional logistical capabilities to access new regions.

COLLABORATION AND PARTNERSHIPS

Foreign partnerships offer a promising path to expand geographic access for research. The agreement with UK Natural Environment Research Council for the ITGC has been a substantial benefit in terms of both logistics and science to help address Priority I.i questions, although the program is still affected by constraints on deep-field logistics and limited research ship capacity. Additional collaborations with Germany, South Korea, and Sweden have also facilitated advancements in this research area. The International Polar Year showed the scope of science that can be accomplished with extensive international collaboration (NRC, 2012).

NSF should lead the effort to establish partnerships with other international programs to support large experiments such as the ITGC or to enhance access to remote locations to facilitate all sizes of research efforts—not only large initiatives. For example, NSF could build additional collaborations and partnerships to advance work in East Antarctica with countries such as Australia, China, France, Italy, and South Korea, all of which have robust Antarctic science programs. NSF could incentivize proposals from investigators for science that would be logistically supported by other nations. Given the considerable investment made in the

Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×

Antarctic program, NSF should seek to provide opportunities to Antarctic investigators to be scientific leaders on the international stage.

In support of enhanced foreign partnerships to improve research access, NSF should offer a process and path for U.S. scientists to develop proposals that require such access and collaboration, including cost-sharing mechanisms between nations to support programs, beyond in-kind bartering of logistics assets. Although the U.S. and international science communities have long recognized the need for international collaborative science in Antarctica (see Kennicutt et al., 2014, 2016, 2019; NASEM, 2015), mechanisms beyond the “double jeopardy” pathway of separate proposal submission to each national funding agency are not widely available through NSF. Clear pathways for international collaboration at the individual project level (and not just for large initiatives) would benefit a wide array of researchers, including early-career researchers, who are typically lacking the requisite collegial networks to enter into large initiatives.

Partnerships with other federal agencies, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), could also provide additional resources to support research and help with strained logistics budgets. NSF has a successful partnership with DOE in support of CMB-S4 for Priority III. Another example is the NASA-NSF partnership for integrated efforts on ice sheet model development and airborne geophysics. Interagency collaborations on Priority I.i remote sensing surveys were coordinated with NASA’s Operation IceBridge in 2018 in the Amundsen Sea, which builds on a background of extensive NASA surveys in the region since 2009. NASA has improved remote sensing products as well as ice sheet and ocean models, and interagency partnerships with DOE and NASA could also facilitate developing coupled models. Partnerships with NIH could yield fruitful outcomes in the realm of biodiscovery that can tap the vast reservoir of diversity and underlying products (e.g., enzymes, biomaterials, antibiotics, and anticancer agents), particularly in Antarctica’s microbiota. Some of these interagency partnerships, such as those with NOAA, may also help facilitate future management of marine protected areas and the maintenance of long-term monitoring sites, critical to time-series analysis.

DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION

Polar sciences remains the least diverse subfield of environmental sciences. Geosciences, a major component of polar sciences, has made little to no progress over the past 40 years addressing racial and ethnic diversity (Bernard and Cooperdock, 2018). Progress has been made over the same period toward increasing gender diversity among geoscience graduates, although the percentage of women with geoscience degrees working as geoscientists or in other science and

Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×

engineering jobs has declined over the past decade (AGI, 2020).5 Geoscience is only one component of NSF-supported research in Antarctica, but this situation points to the need for vigilance across all fields of research. NASEM (2015) outlined steps that NSF might consider to enhance diversity and encourage career development in Antarctic Sciences, including:

  • Promoting international collaborations and research experiences for students and postdocs through targeted funding opportunities, and
  • Developing career pathways for students, postdocs, and early-career researchers through field courses, postdoctoral fellowships, and expanded CAREER grant opportunities.

The NASEM (2015) recommendations, however, failed to address the lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in polar sciences and the systemic cultural issues that contribute to this shortcoming in the Antarctic sciences.

In 2016, NSF unveiled Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (INCLUDES) among its “10 Big Ideas”—long-term research and process ideas that reflect areas for future investment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).6 INCLUDES intends to enhance U.S. leadership in STEM fields by focusing on preparing, encouraging participation, and ensuring the contributions of historically underrepresented and underserved groups, resulting in a diverse and innovative STEM workforce. Substantial efforts will be necessary to reach the INCLUDES vision within NSF Antarctic Sciences, from top-down NSF-led to bottom-up investigator-led DEI initiatives that result in cultural change within the Antarctic science community. Such efforts are particularly important in the harsh, remote, and isolated Antarctic field environment, which can accentuate power dynamics and discourage participation of a diverse community of scientists.

In response to several high profile harassment cases within the U.S. Antarctic scientific community, NSF Antarctic Sciences has taken meaningful steps to help ensure a harassment-free work environment for all. In 2018, NSF OPP revised the required Polar Code of Conduct (NSF, 2018a), with the goal of increasing protections for field-based scientists. In 2020, the USAP Executive Management Board affirmed the Non-Harassment Policy and announced the development of reporting and response structures applicable to all UASP participants at U.S. stations and on U.S.

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5AGI (2020) noted that between 2010 and 2017, the percentage of women with geoscience degrees working as geoscientists declined from 17 percent to 11 percent, and those working within other science and engineering occupations declined from 29 percent to 18 percent. Over the same period, there was a slight decline in the percentage of men with geoscience degrees working in the profession and in other science and engineering occupations (25 percent to 23 percent and 33 percent to 31 percent, respectively). Furthermore, since 2010, the percentage of women with geoscience degrees working in nonscience and nonengineering occupations increased from 40 percent to 57 percent.

6 See https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/big_ideas.

Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×

vessels (NSF, 2020). In 2021, NSF Antarctic Sciences announced that it is establishing a required USAP Sexual Assault/Harassment Prevention and Response training program. The committee and community welcome the proactive NSF Antarctic Sciences efforts to ensure a safe working environment for all USAP participants.

The committee applauds these NSF DEI efforts and encourages continued work to improve diversity, equity, and inclusiveness of the field and to enact systemic community change. The committee agrees with community feedback that this is an urgent priority for Antarctic science and recommends more actions to diversify the USAP science community and make it more inclusive and equitable. Specifically, NSF OPP should:

  • Promote DEI within the NSF OPP funding process. NSF could provide specific expectations for DEI in funding announcements, encouraging inclusion of early- to middle-career investigators in large science program leadership teams, and share best practices. Instituting broad DEI goals will require that every community member work to improve DEI community culture both on and off the ice. DEI activities should not be reserved for early-career researchers, women, and other underrepresented minorities.
  • Require that principal investigators report metrics that document the diversity of the scientific community. Reporting requirements would highlight the importance of DEI at all levels of the community. Metrics derived from reports will enable NSF to evaluate the impact of funded DEI efforts on various timescales and focus future strategies.
  • Actively seek to broaden the pool of scientists working in Antarctica. NSF could take several approaches to expand the Antarctic science community, including (1) expanding existing training opportunities and programs that introduce early-career investigators to polar science regardless of their connections to OPP–funded investigators; and (2) creating a small grants program targeting new polar science investigators, including those with diverse backgrounds and from underrepresented groups. Such grants could be provided as stand-alone awards or as an addendum to existing awards to support an individual who could contribute new science.
  • Mentor early-career scientists or others new to polar research through the proposal process. Through concerted and well-publicized mentoring efforts with helpful discussions on logistics and science prior to submissions of proposals, OPP program officers can help early-career scientists or others new to polar science be more successful. The recent proactive engagement of NSF OPP program officers via virtual office hours and participation in smaller workshops and conferences (e.g., West Antarctic Ice Sheet [WAIS] workshops and International Symposia on Antarctic Earth Sciences) is an important step toward this objective. NSF should develop a transparent roadmap for planning future logistically supportable science projects, including ambitious transdisciplinary programs, to encourage the next generation of Antarctic science leaders.
Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×

By prioritizing and incentivizing DEI efforts, NSF can strengthen Antarctic science and progress toward the strategic priorities by bringing together a broad community of scientists with diverse perspectives. The committee, however, recognizes that neither its members nor NSF OPP employees have the expertise to recommend the full course of action required to instigate meaningful cultural change and address the lack of diversity in Antarctic Sciences. As such, NSF Antarctic Sciences should work with DEI professionals, in consultation with the scientific community, to develop and integrate DEI goals into funding and reporting requirements and share robust evidence-based strategies.

SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

As discussed in Chapters 2-5, the level of scientific community coordination and integration has varied across research communities because of a myriad of factors, including the history of collaboration, current organizational networks, and opportunities for community interactions. Development and organization of the scientific community can be critical for fostering the integrative and interdisciplinary opportunities that can lead to breakthroughs or more synthetic understanding. In multiple areas (e.g., Priority II and integration across components i and ii of Priority I), the efforts by the scientific community and NSF Antarctic Sciences program have been insufficient to develop the strong community focus needed to address the scope of the NASEM (2015) priorities.

NASEM (2015) recommended that NSF should “actively look for opportunities to improve coordination and data sharing among independent studies.” Since the 2015 report, NSF has encouraged coordination and development of scientific community through a number of standard channels such as Antarctic Research Program Solicitations (e.g., AR-PS 17-543) or Dear Colleague Letters (e.g., DCL 19-045) that call for conferences or Research Coordination Networks (RCNs). Based on data provided by NSF across the breadth of the Antarctic Sciences program, grants targeting activities such as workshops that build or organize communities did not change in the 5 years after the 2015 report (compared to 2011-2015). Although NSF employs a bottom-up approach to scientific advancement, a more proactive role by the Antarctic Sciences program to encourage organizational and collaborative activities, beyond a general call for conferences or RCNs, may yield more significant advances. Antarctic Sciences could incentivize scientists from a spectrum of career levels to take on organizational leadership roles by providing some salary or postdoctoral fellow support.

Several other directorates at NSF have employed creative programs for community building on various funding scales that may serve as instructive models for helping organize communities of Antarctic researchers (e.g., Computing Community Consortium [NSF 06-551]; Science and Technology Centers: Integrative Partnerships [NSF 14-600]; and Enabling Discovery through GEnomics [EDGE; NSF 21-546]). In these calls, NSF encouraged development in a particular area or in

Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×

building key aspects of infrastructure to help organize the community. A series of more directed requests for community-building activities (e.g., integrating data from ITGC research, building genomic resources, and cross-validation of cosmic data) should be considered.

NSF’s role in community building is especially critical in augmenting interdisciplinary opportunities because researchers can tend to become siloed or lack the perspective to see fertile connections to other disciplines. The agency has shown success in this area with recent programs such as SALSA and the ITGC. However, additional interdisciplinary initiatives could improve progress toward realizing the strategic priorities. For example, the impact of the evolution of marine-based ice sheets on ecosystems is an inherently complex topic and can be understood more effectively via interdisciplinary collaboration that includes glaciologists, physical oceanographers, climatologists, biogeochemists, and biologists. Fostering truly interdisciplinary collaborations to address such issues is challenging, because it requires researchers with different interests and sometimes different vocabularies to come together to work toward a common goal. Frequent workshops and meetings are needed to maintain interdisciplinary collaborations, and special calls for proposals are often beneficial to foster true interdisciplinary research. Unfortunately, most research scientists are not trained to lead broad interdisciplinary efforts. NSF should consider advancing efforts that promote development and training of promising individuals, of all career stages, to have appropriate scientific, as well as management and communication, skills to stimulate community engagement, synthesis, and interdisciplinary research.

The committee’s engagement with the broader community of Antarctic researchers highlighted additional avenues that OPP can pursue to develop scientific communities to enhance progress toward all strategic priorities. For example, NSF can better leverage existing venues to support community organization and growth. The American Geophysical Union (AGU), the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO), and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), among others, are venues for researchers of all career levels to develop international and cross-disciplinary collaborations on Antarctic science. Such venues could be better leveraged by NSF to promote nucleation activities that help organize communities around priority areas. A promising example is the U.S. Antarctic Science Meeting planned for mid-2021, made possible by NSF funding for a U.S.-SCAR office.

Community organization can also be fostered through mid-sized collaborative science programs (i.e., programs larger than two to three principal investigators). However, such efforts have at times been discouraged or not supported by NSF due to the required funding levels (including logistics) or being perceived as having a low probability of success by proposers. Nonetheless, such efforts can improve cross-disciplinary collaboration that is essential to understanding of Antarctic systems. Mechanisms and communication that improve the possibility for individuals to successfully propose mid-sized projects should be explored. The NSF Antarctic Integrated System Science (AISS) program was

Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×

highlighted by the community as an effective program for developing multidisciplinary initiatives, and reinstating something similar would be beneficial.

Finally, development of scientific communities can be encouraged through better coordination of logistical, data, and sample resources. Such efforts might focus on a common interest geographically (e.g., Thwaites Glacier region or Eastern Antarctica) but also might establish shared resources outside of Antarctica (e.g., organismal cultures, sample repositories, well-curated data). Additional NSF communication about these shared resources to the broader scientific communities might increase interest in these materials and encourage both new Antarctic investigators and community diversity. For Priority II, the collection of biological samples was one large opportunity highlighted in the National Academies 2015 report.

ASSESSING CONTINUED PROGRESS IN THE STRATEGIC PRIORITIES

As NSF Antarctic Sciences continues to advance the strategic priorities through at least 2030 and ultimately adopts other strategic priorities, the program would benefit from more refined metrics and a consistent framework to internally assess progress. The committee was surprised that NSF did not have clear metrics in mind for this mid-term assessment of progress. The committee chose to take a broad approach in its assessment (see metrics in Chapter 1) that would work across the different levels of scientific community organization for each the three priorities. Nevertheless, a refined framework for evaluating priorities moving forward would ensure a coherent roadmap and help NSF monitor its progress.

The framework could consist of factors such as (1) a community implementation plan; (2) establishment of the international, interagency, and cross-NSF partnerships; (3) the number of proposals submitted and funded; (4) support of community coordination and engagement; (5) progress toward strategic priority goals; (6) DEI; and (7) preparing the next decadal priorities. A framework such as this would set clear expectations for the scientific community and guide future selections of strategic priorities.

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Across all three strategic priorities and the core science program, logistical considerations are limiting the pace of research and the geographic breadth of science. NASEM (2015) identifies “key needs” including “over-snow science traverse capabilities, ship support for research in ice-covered coastal areas …, and improved aircraft access to remote field locations.” The report also recommended that NSF “prioritize the acquisition of a next-generation research icebreaker, and in the near term … work with foreign research vessel operators to provide critically needed field opportunities for U.S. scientists.” Increasing aircraft

Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×

costs have recently contributed to a reduction in the number of missions and flight hours, creating challenges for deep-field access. The scientific community is deeply concerned about sustaining an adequate Antarctic science program over the next 5-10 years given these logistical constraints, the age of the USAP research vessels, and the lack of a polar-class research vessel. The recent announcement of planning for a new U.S. polar class research vessel, however, indicates a potentially improved capability in the future (by approximately 2030).

NSF should conduct a transparent review of logistical support capacity for the Antarctic Sciences program. A review of anticipated resource demands from the three strategic priorities and other research initiatives relative to logistical capacity and expected infrastructure improvements would identify resource constraints and competing demands. This analysis would support OPP science planning and decision making at a program level while improving transparency with investigators and encouraging proposals aligned with logistical realities. Analyses with a 5- to 10-year outlook could motivate strategies, such as partnerships, to reduce logistical constraints and balance demands.

NSF should improve communication and coordination between OPP, logistics managers, and the scientific community. Logistical considerations and limitations are not fully transparent to Antarctic researchers, affecting projects of all sizes. Clear communication of logistical constraints would enable investigators—and especially early-career researchers—to develop more successful proposals. The recent proactive engagement of NSF OPP program officers via virtual office hours and participation in smaller workshops and conferences is an important step toward this objective. OPP should also consider developing a forum to engage the broad science community in discussions of logistical realities and facilitate scientific community input on priorities, support strategies, and trade-offs. Enhanced coordination efforts by NSF and the research community could also support logistical efficiencies.

To address serious shortfalls in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in Antarctic Sciences, NSF should identify robust, evidence-based strategies and integrate DEI goals into funding and reporting requirements, thereby supporting systemic community change. Ambitious DEI goals will strengthen Antarctic science by bringing together a broad community of researchers with diverse perspectives to address strategic priorities. The committee applauds recent NSF and individual Antarctic science team efforts to address sexual harassment in field-based programs. To further DEI advances in Antarctic science, NSF should work with DEI professionals to promote diversity goals through clear expectations in funding announcements, reporting requirements, and the sharing of best practices. NSF should actively seek to broaden the pool of scientists working in Antarctica and support mentoring of early-career scientists and others new to polar science. Participation from all members of the Antarctic scientific community will be needed to accomplish systemic change in DEI.

NSF Antarctic Sciences should encourage organizational and collaborative activities within the science community to foster integrative and interdisciplinary

Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×

advances. NSF can support community building through increased use of existing collaborative mechanisms such as workshops and focused activities at scientific meetings, such as U.S. SCAR and AGU. Improved opportunities for collaboration will help nurture new integrative research initiatives to address priority science needs. NSF should also reinstate collaborative science funding programs, such as AISS, which supported mid-sized, multidisciplinary, multi-investigator projects.

NSF Antarctic Sciences should continue to develop and leverage international partnerships to increase science opportunities. NSF should lead the effort to establish international partnerships to support large experiments or to increase access to remote locations for small to large research efforts. NSF should develop cost-sharing mechanisms for multinational research and facilitate proposed science programs that would be logistically supported by other nations. Given that the research opportunities exceed current logistical support capabilities, international partnerships will be critical to achieving high-priority science.

Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×
Page 97
Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×
Page 98
Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×
Page 99
Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×
Page 100
Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×
Page 101
Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×
Page 102
Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×
Page 103
Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×
Page 104
Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×
Page 105
Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×
Page 106
Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×
Page 107
Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×
Page 108
Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×
Page 109
Suggested Citation:"6 Cross-Cutting Research-Wide Issues." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Mid-Term Assessment of Progress on the 2015 Strategic Vision for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26338.
×
Page 110
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The Antarctic's unique environment and position on the globe make it a prime location to gain insights into how Earth and the universe operate. This report assesses National Science Foundation (NSF) progress in addressing three priority research areas identified in a 2015 National Academies report: (1) understanding the linkages between ice sheets and sea-level rise, including both a focus on current rates of ice sheet change and studies of past major ice sheet retreat episodes; (2) understanding biological adaptations to the extreme and changing Antarctic environment; and (3) establishing a next-generation cosmic microwave background (CMB) program, partly located in Antarctica, to study the origins of the universe.

NSF has made important progress understanding the impacts of current ice sheet change, particularly through studies focused on the ice sheet and ocean interactions driving ongoing ice mass loss at the Thwaites Glacier and Amundsen Sea region in West Antarctica. Less progress has been made on studies of past major ice sheet retreat episodes. Progress is also strong on CMB research to understand the origins of the universe. Progress has lagged on understanding biological adaptations, in part because of limited community organization and collaboration toward the priority. To accelerate progress during the second half of the initiative, NSF could issue specific calls for proposals, develop strategies to foster collaborations and partnerships, and commission a transparent review of logistical capacity to help illuminate strategies and priorities for addressing resource constraints. Such efforts would also help optimize science and proposal development in an environment of inherently constrained logistics.

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