Arctic System Science Program Update

By: Robert ‘Max’ Holmes and Neil R. Swanberg, NSF’s Arctic System Science Program Directors

Change. This is perhaps the key word that describes the trajectory of the arctic system. It also applies to the Arctic System Science program (ARCSS), as it continually adapts to the changing conditions in the Arctic, in the research community, and at NSF. One recent change is that ARCSS has welcomed a new Program Director, Robert 'Max' Holmes from the Woods Hole Research Center, who will work alongside Neil Swanberg in managing ARCSS over the coming year or so (see accompanying article). Max has a long history studying the rivers in the U.S., Canadian, and Russian Arctic, as well as other large rivers globally. He is particularly interested in how climate change is impacting the discharge and chemistry of arctic rivers, what these changes tell us about their watersheds, and how these changes impact the receiving ocean waters. He is excited to be part of the NSF arctic team and looks forward to working with the research community to help shape and achieve ARCSS research priorities.

Another relatively recent change is that most ARCSS funding is now going to proposals submitted to the annual arctic competition instead of more narrowly focused special solicitations. Given the complexity of developing ARCSS proposals, which must contribute explicitly to the understanding of the arctic system as a whole, the reliability of a stable annual funding opportunity should facilitate the development of the ideas and research teams that are needed to prepare successful ARCSS proposals. We think this greater emphasis on the annual competition frees the research community to propose their best ideas to ARCSS, and thus improves our understanding of the current arctic system and our ability to predict its future states. Special calls will still occur and ARCSS will still participate in foundation-wide solicitations such as those for Earth System Modeling (EaSM) and Arctic Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES), but in the next few years ARCSS-generated special solicitations may become more the exception than the norm.

How will ARCSS identify research priorities? We will continue to listen to the discussions ongoing in the research communities and strive to identify strategic areas in which additional study is likely to lead to the greatest advances in our understanding of the arctic system. Fortunately, a number of recent activities involving scores of academic and government scientists have identified key near-term priorities for arctic research. For example, significant reports have recently been released by the Interagency Arctic Research and Policy Committee (IARPC) and the Study of Environmental Arctic Change (SEARCH). These and other community planning efforts will continue to influence ARCSS priorities. As before, synthesis to achieve system-level understanding will be central to ARCSS, and new priorities will emerge from synthesis activities.

How will ARCSS communicate its funding priorities to the research community without special solicitations? Although ARCSS will welcome any ARCSS-appropriate proposal to each of its annual competitions as detailed in the Arctic Research Opportunities solicitation, from time to time we may want to draw attention to topics of particular interest in a given year. One way that we may do this is through the use of "Dear Colleague Letters," which will be posted on the NSF website at least three months prior to the proposal deadline. These Dear Colleague Letters can also be distributed electronically, such as through the ArcticInfo mailing list. In addition, we will continue to meet with and discuss research priorities with the research community at conferences, workshops, during university visits, and at NSF.

Both Neil Swanberg and Max Holmes encourage current and prospective ARCSS researchers to talk with them about their ideas for future proposals. We want to facilitate top-quality proposals that will lead to research to achieve arctic system understanding. We recognize that these are often complex multidisciplinary proposals and we are committed to fostering their development to the extent we are able. In a future issue of Witness the Arctic, we intend to explore some common elements of successful ARCSS proposals and how they may differ from those submitted to other programs in NSF's Arctic Section. In the mean time, talk to us—your ideas can help shape future ARCSS priorities.

For more information, contact Robert ‘Max’ Holmes (rholmes [at] nsf [dot] gov) or Neil R. Swanberg (nswanber [at] nsf [dot] gov).