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Blue and green map of Antarctica.
Photo Credit: Tobin Isaac and Georg Stadler, Institute for Computational Science & Engineering (ICES); Omar Ghattas, ICES, Jackson School of Geosciences, and Department of Mechanical Engineering; The University of Texas at Austin.
A computer simulation of Antarctic ice sheet dynamics on the new Stampede supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Part of the support for the project came from NSF's Polar Cyberinfrastructure Program.


NSF program seeks to promote technologies for polar regions

Marco Tedesco External Non-U.S. government site was recently appointed the Polar Cyberinfrastructure Program director at the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs External U.S. government site. The Polar Cyberinfrastructure Program, in partnership with the Division of Cyberinfrastructure External U.S. government site, is part of a cross-foundation initiative called Cyberinfrastructure Framework for 21st Century Science and Engineering (CIF21) External U.S. government site.

CIF21 will offer a comprehensive, integrated, secure and sustainable cyberinfrastructure with the intent of accelerating research and education, as well as supporting new functional capabilities in computational and data-intensive science and engineering. Tedesco responded to an email interview about the Polar Cyberinfrastructure Program and its potential impacts to the U.S. Antarctic Program External U.S. government site.

1. You were recently appointed program director of the Polar Cyberinfrastructure Program. What is the purpose of this program and what is your role?

My role is to manage existing awards, select new awards through solicited and unsolicited solicitations, work collaboratively with other programs, divisions and agencies to provide service to the scientific community, and in particular the polar community. I am committed to support ideas and initiatives of scientists and engineers involved in Antarctic studies that could benefit from the collaboration and interaction between polar research and cyberinfrastructure. I am thinking, particularly but not exclusively, to early career scientists and those who grew up when “cyber” was not a concept from the future but a fact from the present.

Person operates remote-controlled helicopter.
Photo Credit: Michael San Clements
Marco Tedesco operates a remote-control helicopter in the McMurdo Dry Valleys that sports a camera and GPS that can allow him to geo-reference images.

2. What was the impetus behind the creation of a Polar Cyberinfrastructure Program?

The program was created a few years ago to increase the benefits of a coordinated and synergic interaction between cyberinfrastructure and polar research.

3. What sort of opportunities are available for grantees of the U.S. Antarctic Program? How can scientists and engineers get involved?

Scientists and engineers should submit their ideas through the annual Antarctic solicitation External U.S. government site, identifying Polar Cyberinfrastructure as the program for their submission. I am also open to receive proposals and discuss ideas outside the Antarctic solicitation, and I encourage those interested in contacting me via email. There are many aspects and issues within polar and cyberinfrastructure, and I am really looking forward to receiving input from the community about previous and current activities and suggestions for future directions. A driving mechanism for the program to succeed will be the close interaction between domain and computer scientists and the shaping of a community capable of breaking the current barriers and walls separating the two fields. Initiatives such as ad hoc workshops, sessions at major conferences and other similar initiatives can partially address this.

4. How has polar research benefited in the past from advances in cyber technology?

Cyber technologies have been positively impacting polar research in many ways: an increasing number of sophisticated sensors have been deployed in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions; enhanced computational power has allowed polar scientists to portray the present state of the polar regions, to unveil past trends and project future changes of process-driving quantities; and sharing of information, data, publications through virtual networks has allowed interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary research and has expanded the boundaries of education.

5. What sort of advances in cyber technology and infrastructure do you see coming in the next five to 10 years?

I like to think that for modern-day scientists and engineers, cyberinfrastructure can be thought in the same way that we, as citizens, think about physical infrastructures providing us electricity, water, transportation, etc.  I hope that over the next five to 10 years the program will be able to support innovation and education through the integration of updated computing, data management, information, networking, sensor and software technologies into polar research. Data-enabled discoveries, the storage and distribution of large complex data sets and the continuity to access long-lived publicly accessible data sets are some examples of potential long-term outcomes. The program will interact with other NSF ongoing cyberinfrastructure activities, such as EarthCube External Non-U.S. government site. I sincerely hope that the program will provide the basis for building an infrastructure that would be for polar science as revolutionary as the coming of water and electric power was for our cities.

Person stands near large hole in ice.
Photo Credit: CUNY
Marco Tedesco in Greenland.

6. What is your scientific background, and what sort of research have you done in polar regions?

I graduated in electronic engineering in Italy and took my PhD in theoretical electromagnetic modeling of snow-covered surfaces for remote sensing applications. I spent my PostDoc and early career years at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center External U.S. government site, where I worked on retrieval schemes for estimates of snow parameters at large spatial scale (including techniques such as genetic algorithms and artificial neural networks). I moved to City University of New York (CUNY) External Non-U.S. government site in New York City in 2008, where I am associate professor in the Earth and Atmospheric Department External Non-U.S. government site of the City College of New York External Non-U.S. government site. Over the past years, I have been focusing on fieldwork in Greenland, Antarctica, and the continental United States, on improving estimates of surface mass balance of the Greenland ice sheet through combination of remote sensing and regional modeling, as well as studying teleconnections between melting in Antarctica and major climate drivers, always with an eye on cyber technologies.

7. Anything you’d like add?

Sure: questions concerning the program can be addressed to mtedesco@nsf.gov or call 703.292.7120.

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