With plans for a new floating dock at McMurdo Sound and robotic transportation to the South Pole, there's a kind of change in climate coming to the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP). Last July, a panel organized by NSF, and led by retired chair and CEO of Lockheed Martin Norman Augustine, issued a detailed report with recommendations for how to upgrade and improve the efficiency of its logistical capabilities.
This week, NSF issued a summary response to that report. In a letter dated 14 March accompanying the document, then-NSF Director Subra Suresh noted some progress already made toward implementing these recommendations, and that the agency is "in the process of developing a longer-range implementation strategy to respond accordingly." NSF, for example, has begun planning to upgrade the facilities and safety regimes (such as the fire-suppression systems) at USAP's primary station, McMurdo, and at Palmer Station. USAP's third outpost on the continent, the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, was overhauled in 2008.
NSF has already taken action on some of the more straightforward concerns expressed by Augustine's panel, such as constructing an improved pier and a floating dock at Palmer Station to allow research and supply ships to avoid an underwater rock ledge and improved health conditions in the stations. Perhaps one of the more subtle, yet significant, changes now in effect are the strengthened requirements for scientific proposals, the next round of which are due this April. The report had recommended that NSF lean on Antarctic scientists to keep a sharper eye on the costs of instrumentation deployment and operation support by considering those costs in the review and selection of science projects. NSF took note and has included "pretty pointed" language about that, says Kelly Falkner, director of NSF's Office of Polar Programs, which includes USAP. It's not enough to think about the scientific requirements; NSF now instructs scientists to consider how well equipment will function in the field, how easily it can be deployed, and what its operational needs will be.
"It might take a little while to develop that [way of thinking] in the community, but there's a part of the community already on board," Falkner says. "Scientists are problem solvers."