An Introduction to Polar Cyberinfrastructure at the National Science Foundation
By: Allen Pope, Polar Cyberinfrastructure Program Director, Office of Polar Programs, National Science Foundation
What do you think of when you hear the term, "Polar Cyberinfrastructure?" Whatever you thought of, worry not, because even experts agree that, "cyberinfrastructure is a word commonly used, but lacking a single, precise definition" (Stewart et al., 2010).
Breaking down the jargony mouthful, we have three parts:
- Polar—"relating to the North or South Pole"
- Cyber—"relating to or characteristic of the culture of computers, information technology, and virtual reality"
- Infrastructure—"the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities needed for the operation of a society or enterprise"
Stewart et al. (2010) continue to cite a broad definition that, "Cyberinfrastructure consists of computational systems, data and information management, advanced instruments, visualization environments, and people, all linked together by software and advanced networks to improve scholarly productivity and enable knowledge breakthroughs and discoveries not otherwise possible." This definition includes interoperability and collaboration as key features of cyberinfrastructure, including a range of technologies which are connected together to facilitate a full range of scientific activities. Other aspects of cyberinfrastructure, or CI, highlighted by Atkins et al. (2003) and "What is Cyberinfrastructure?" include sharing of common resources, as well as lowering the barriers to entry to use the cyberinfrastructure itself. In addition to technical aspects, it is important to recognize that cyberinfrastructure includes human aspects such as training, exchanges, and community organizations.
Polar Cyberinfrastructure (Polar CI) brings the above systems and technologies to bear on Arctic and Antarctic applications. Polar CI is, and should be, embedded in the way polar scientists work, supporting the full range of polar research requirements and goals. At the National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of Polar Programs (OPP), Polar CI has alternated between having a dedicated program officer and being shared among those with other duties.
Today, Polar CI is included in the main Arctic Research Opportunities solicitation. Through this solicitation, the Polar CI program considers proposals that promote effective collaboration between polar and cyberinfrastructure researchers and aims to support proposals that provide significant benefit to the polar research community. This benefit could be realized in a variety of ways, spanning the full breadth of cyberinfrastructure.
The Polar CI program also helps build collaborations between OPP and the NSF Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure (OAC), aiming to incubate and encourage polar submissions to relevant solicitations across NSF. There are several potential solicitations that might be of particular interest to polar research. The Cyberinfrastructure for Sustaining Scientific Innovation (CSSI) program emphasizes addressing scientific community needs to enable new science, as well as the Training-based Workforce Development for Advanced Cyberinfrastructure (CyberTraining) program, which facilitates a range of different types of data and computing-related training for CI professionals and CI users—which could include Arctic researchers or residents! Data-focused researchers might also be interested in exploring a range of opportunities available through NSF's Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR) initiative.
NSF, through OAC, also sponsors a range of computing and training resources related to high performance computing (e.g., XSEDE), cloud computing (e.g., CloudBank), and distributed computing (e.g., PATh). Some or all of these may be available to Arctic researchers, depending on needs, applications, and funding situation.
As a tentpole of the Polar Cyberinfrastructure program, the interdisciplinary Arctic Data Center (ADC) is the primary data and software repository for NSF-funded Arctic research. The ADC provides data management tools, training, outreach, customizable data portals, and other research community support services.
The Polar CI program also supports the Polar Geospatial Center (PGC), which provides a range of freely available datasets like the Arctic Digital Elevation Model, aerial photography, and maps, as well as training and materials for building geospatial data skills. PGC also provides high-resolution satellite data, tasking, and support for NSF-funded Arctic researchers.
In addition to these large initiatives, the Polar CI program supports more focused activities, services, workshops, and research projects at a wide range of different sizes and scopes! You can read more about the current and past Polar CI portfolio in the NSF award search.
In the Dear Colleague Letter: Supporting Data and Sample Reuse in Polar Research, OPP also encourages submission of proposals that leverage existing data, physical and non-physical samples, facilitate the reuse of existing data, and projects that leverage and make publicly available data or samples that are currently unavailable or inaccessible (i.e., data rescue and reuse).
As you can see, Polar Cyberinfrastructure cuts across many disciplinary boundaries, facilitating and potentially transforming how Arctic knowledge is built. The NSF Arctic research community is encouraged to explore the opportunities included above to think about how cyberinfrastructure can help build understanding of the changing Arctic. As always, you are encouraged to reach out to your NSF program officer(s) to talk more about your great ideas!
For more information, see:
- Polar Cyberinfrastructure Webinar Page
- Polar Cyberinfrastructure Webinar Recording
- NSF GEO Cyberinfrastructure Information
Or contact Allen Pope, NSF apope [at] nsf.gov and @PopePolar
About the Author
Allen Pope joined the Office of Polar Programs as the new Program Director for Polar Cyberinfrastructure in September 2020. Prior to NSF, Allen served as the Executive Secretary of the International Arctic Science Committee. Allen is also a glaciologist and remote sensing scientist—most recently tracking lakes on the surface of the Antarctic and Greenland Ice Sheets, studying ultra-cold surface temperatures in Antarctica, tracking ice-shelf velocities and fractures, contributing to a glacier inventory of the Mongolian Altai, and researching and teaching on the undergraduate-focused Juneau Icefield Research Program.