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Buildings with helicopters in foreground.
Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek
The Albert P. Crary Science and Engineering Center at McMurdo Station, with the chalet administration building at right and helicopter pad in the foreground. Antarctic sciences would receive more than $76 million under President Obama's proposed budget.

NSF FY2012 budget

OPP request focuses on polar oceans and agency-wide initiatives

The National Science Foundation (NSF) External U.S. government site presented President Barack Obama’sExternal U.S. government site fiscal year 2012 budget request of $7.767 billion last week, an increase of nearly $900 million, or 13 percent, over last year.

In addition, if approved, NSF will receive $1 billion over five years for research on improving access to wireless broadband through the Wireless Innovation Fund proposed under the White House’s Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative.

New NSF Director Subra Suresh said in a press release that the request is “designed to maintain the agency’s position as the nation’s engine of innovation in science, engineering and science education.” [For more information, see FY2012 Budget Request External U.S. government site.]

The agency has been operating under a continuing budget resolution since 2010, meaning funding did not increase in 2011, though the agency’s budget was bolstered by $3 billion in money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) External U.S. government site beginning in 2009.

NSF’s Office of Polar Program (OPP) External U.S. government site would receive $477.41 million under the 2012 fiscal budget plan, a 5.8 percent increase over the last two years. Antarctic sciences External U.S. government site would receive $76.65 million, a nearly 8 percent increase, while Arctic sciences External U.S. government site would account for nearly $113 million.

Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek
LC-130 and Twin Otter airplanes parked at Pegasus airfield.

Antarctic Infrastructure and Logistics External U.S. government site would tip in at $280 million, a boost of 5.2 percent.

Research money would be focused in three areas of OPP.

A total of $16 million would be allocated to a relatively new program called Discovery and Understanding in Polar Oceans, with $7.7 million for Antarctic sciences. The Southern Ocean that surrounds Antarctica plays a significant role in the global ocean system, according to NSF OPP budget documents, and understanding its influences on the ice sheet and response to increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will be important for understanding climate change in the future.

Of the nearly $1 billion slated for the NSF’s Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability, or SEES, a portfolio of programs launched in 2011, OPP will receive $83.65 million, a jump of more than 28 percent. The SEES program “advances climate and energy science, engineering and education to provide a sound scientific basis for shaping policies for environmental and economic sustainability and sustainable human well-being.”

Another NSF-wide program, Cyberinfrastructure for 21st Century Science and Engineering, or CIF21, represents a new investment “designed to develop and deploy a comprehensive, integrated, sustainable and secure cyberinfrastructure framework to accelerate research and new functional capabilities in computational and data-intensive science and engineering.”

Total NSF budget for CIF21 is $117 million. Four-million-dollars of this money is earmarked for OPP.

OPP is expected to fund 352 proposals in the coming fiscal year. In addition, funding will continue for the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) External Non-U.S. government site, a Science and Technology Center based at the University of Kansas External U.S. government site, devoted to developing innovative radars for determining ice sheet thickness and the related glaciology questions for creating models of ice sheet behavior.

Diver with hose at surface.
Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek
A diver enters the water to make repairs to the Palmer pier.

The logistics arm of the U.S. Antarctic Program External U.S. government site will continue to address energy efficiency issues, with a $5.75 million allocation. At McMurdo Station External U.S. government site, investments will focus on alternative and renewable energy production and smart grid technologies, with an anticipated savings of 10 percent of current consumption. At South Pole Station External U.S. government site, testing and development involves alternative power solutions such as wind and solar panels.

“Once fully implemented, these enhancements will have a cascading effect through the entire Antarctic resupply chain by driving down the amount of fossil fuel transported to Antarctica,” according to OPP budget documents.

OPP is also seeking $3 million to begin stabilizing the Palmer Station External U.S. government site pier, which was built in 1967 by U.S. Navy Seabees. In recent years, divers have worked on the pier, welding braces in an effort to extend its shelf life, but the work is akin to putting a band-aid on a shark bite.

To help balance the books, OPP has proposed reducing airlift support for new deep-field research by about 15 percent, as it continues efforts to consolidate aviation operations at Pegasus Airfield External U.S. government site next year at a cost of $3 million.  

While the Obama’s proposed 2012 fiscal year budget emphasizes investments in science and technology, the proposals are expected to face stiff opposition in the GOP-dominated House of Representatives.

The appropriations committee in the House recently proposed cutting $62 billion from current spending across the government, including large reductions at the NSF and other agencies funding basic research. The House committee has proposed slashing nearly $400 million from the NSF.  

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