Home | Contact ST  

Review&Forecast—January 2010 Issue

Looking Ahead in Basic Ocean Research, Education and Technology

By Dr. Timothy Killeen
Assistant Director for Geosciences
Dr. Julie Morris
Director, Division of Ocean Sciences

Roxanne Nikolaus
Staff Associate, Division of Ocean Sciences
Directorate for Geosciences
National Science Foundation

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) is “where discoveries begin.” An integrated strategy frames our goals of discovery, learning, research infrastructure and stewardship and allows us to advance the frontiers of knowledge, cultivate a world-class science and engineering work force, expand scientific literacy and build capabilities through instrumentation and facilities. The NSF and the community it serves play a critical role now as our nation addresses national and global challenges such as climate change and energy security. The ocean and basic ocean science play a crucial role in responding to these challenges and in pushing the frontier of understanding and technological capability.

Exploring the frontier in ocean science, education and technology is even more important today as recent congressional and executive actions focus on the connection between ocean-related basic science, education and technology and the well-being of our nation.

In June, President Barack Obama called for the nation’s first national ocean policy. The central role of science is evident in the resulting policy recommendations submitted to the president. Congressional attention through the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 highlights the need for action on ocean and coastal issues, including exploration, observation, ocean acidification and mapping.

Because of its unique role in the scientific enterprise—an enterprise necessary to address societal challenges—NSF’s funding levels are projected to double relative to 2006 levels under the president’s Plan for Science and Innovation, sustaining momentum generated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The ARRA increased NSF’s fiscal year (FY) 2009 funding by $3 billion for an FY 2009 total appropriation of $9.49 billion. ARRA funding for the NSF Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) was $601 million, approximately 20 percent of NSF ARRA funding. GEO priorities for ARRA include support for climate research, early career investigators and graduate research fellows, and infrastructure (Cascadia Margin Land-Sea Seismic and Geodetic Observatory, EarthScope); an increase in overall proposal success rates; and maintenance and upgrade of the academic fleet and ocean drilling operations.

The NSF budget request for FY 2010 reflects a total investment of $7.05 billion, 8.5 percent over the FY 2009 level. This includes $359.07 million for the Division of Ocean Sciences (OCE), an increase of almost nine percent over FY 2009.

Climate Change and Clean Energy
Climate change and clean energy are the focus of significant new and enhanced investments across NSF in 2010. The goal of a new foundationwide investment in climate research is to reinforce U.S. leadership in understanding the causes and consequences of climate change and to develop effective strategies to respond to it. Major themes under GEO consideration are forecasting thresholds in environmental changes; balancing the carbon budget; expanding observational and modeling capabilities for water, ice and ecosystems; understanding the impact of ocean acidification; and developing energy-efficient computing and networking capabilities and other infrastructure. In 2010, NSF will launch a climate change education program to broaden climate learning and increase public understanding of climate change and its impacts.

As part of the president’s New Energy for America plan, the NSF will join with the U.S. Department of Energy to increase public awareness of the benefits of clean energy and inspire the next generation of clean energy scientists and engineers. The NSF will also continue a robust research program to address fundamental scientific and engineering challenges that plague next-generation energy systems.

Supporting Research
Beyond these NSF-wide investments, the foundation, primarily through the OCE, provides approximately 70 percent of the federal support for basic ocean research at U.S. colleges and universities. During FY 2009, the OCE funded more than 600 new awards—from single-investigator projects to teams of multiple researchers, institutions and disciplines—using both ARRA and FY 2009 funds.

The NSF made its first major award under ARRA to construct the Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV). The ARRV is designed to conduct ocean research at the ice edge, which will greatly improve our ability to monitor and assess changes taking place in the Arctic region. The shipyard contract was awarded in December. Construction is expected to begin in early 2010, with scientific operations beginning in 2014.

On March 5, the NSF delivered the converted and upgraded light drillship JOIDES Resolution for scientific operations under the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. With improved science facilities, living quarters, cyber-enabled communications, coring and logging, the JOIDES Resolution provides more efficient and effective operations, with a life expectancy beyond 2023. This vessel is currently conducting the sixth scheduled expedition since its delivery. These very successful expeditions have focused on critical climate-related questions.

Observation and Exploration
The Ocean Observatories Initiative is designed to provide continuous data flow, openly available to the public, through a network of undersea sensors integrated by a sophisticated computing network.

ARRA funding allowed the NSF to start the project on an accelerated path. In the first year of the five-plus-year construction phase, the NSF will oversee production engineering and prototyping of key coastal and open-ocean components, award the primary seafloor cable contract, complete a shore station for power and data, and develop software for sensor interfaces to the network. In 2010 the program will add an education and public engagement team. Initial data flow is scheduled for early 2013 and final commissioning of the full system is expected in 2015.

Long-term observations will also continue in the Pacific. With ARRA funds, the OCE was also able to fully fund the Hawaii Ocean Time Series for four years, extending time-series observations at this site to 25 years and better integrating biological and biogeochemical observations.

The Replacement Human-Occupied Vehicle Project has made significant progress with the first successful forging of two titanium hemispheres in more than 30 years. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the NSF are pursuing a phased construction approach that will merge the new sphere into the existing Alvin frame as a Phase 1 Alvin Upgrade vehicle capable of a 4,500-meter operating depth. A future Phase 2 upgrade would provide a 6,500-meter depth capability. The Alvin is scheduled for decommissioning in May 2011, at which time construction of Alvin Upgrade will begin. Field trials and science testing are expected in the spring of 2012.

Additional success in deepsea exploration has been made with the hybrid remotely operated vehicle Nereus. Designed to operate in both tethered and autonomous modes, Nereus dove to 10,902 meters on May 31 in the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench.

Within the academic research fleet, ARRA funding supported equipment maintenance and upgrades, allowing FY 2009 base funds to be put toward several significant efforts for the fleet. These include a fleet broadband pilot project to provide a backup for HiSeasNet and improved Internet connectivity at sea, a technician pool pilot project to improve sharing of technical personnel and a multibeam support pool to coordinate upgrades to multibeam swath bathymetry systems. Additional academic research fleet activities include continued progress on the Regional Class Research Vessel Project with an outside panel review of designs in October.

Strategy and Mission
A long-range view of ocean infrastructure will be provided by the National Research Council (NRC). Through the National Science and Technology Council Joint Subcommit-tee on Ocean Science and Technology, the NSF is joining with 11 other agencies to fund an NRC study on the types of U.S. ocean infrastructure that will facilitate research in 2030.

Education has always been part of the NSF’s mission. Specifically within the OCE, the Centers for Ocean Science Education Excellence continue to be an important contribution. Program ac-complishments include new courses on how to better communicate ocean sciences and identifying and instituting effective practices in implementing activities with broader impacts. In addition, GEO and the NSF Directorate for Education and Human Resources will initiate collaborative activities to broaden participation in and enhance understanding of the geosciences.

Last year also brought publication of GEO Vision, a long-range strategy document for the GEO directorate.

GEO Vision highlights three challenges: understanding and forecasting the behavior of a complex and evolving Earth system, reducing vulnerability and sustaining life, and expanding the geosciences work force of the future.

With the connection between the ocean and society made so clear, the NSF stands ready to support the basic research, engineering and educational needs of our nation. NSF-funded ocean science is rich with innovative research and educational opportunities that will advance national goals and continue to move us from great plans to even more exciting outcomes.

-back to top-

-back to to Features Index-

Sea Technology is read worldwide in more than 110 countries by management, engineers, scientists and technical personnel working in industry, government and educational research institutions. Readers are involved with oceanographic research, fisheries management, offshore oil and gas exploration and production, undersea defense including antisubmarine warfare, ocean mining and commercial diving.