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major programs), particularly ones that are interdisciplinary. These intermediate-size projects could be solicited, funded, and executed in a way that would ensure a regular turnover of new ideas and opportunities for different investigators. Federal agencies sponsoring oceanographic research programs, especially NSF/OCE, should make every effort to encourage and support a broad spectrum of interdisciplinary research activities, varying in size from the collaboration of a few scientists to programs perhaps even larger in scope than the present major oceanographic programs.

There is no one procedure by which principal investigators with good ideas can start new programs. The sponsoring agencies, especially NSF/OCE, should develop well-defined procedures for initiating and selecting future major ocean programs. Successful ideas should be brought to planning workshops that are administered by an independent group to ensure that the process is inclusive.

In the past, major oceanographic programs have been administered by a Scientific Steering Committee (SSC) with a chair and sometimes an Executive Committee. However, there is no one ideal structure that should be used for all programs, and it is important for NSF/OCE and other agencies to maintain flexibility to consider a number of options regarding the design and execution of future programs. Some factors to be considered include the following:

  • The structure of the program should be dictated by the complexity and nature of the scientific challenge it addresses.

  • The nature and support of program administration should reflect the size, complexity, and duration of the program.

  • The structure should encourage continuous refinement of the program.

  • All programs should have well-defined milestones, including a clearly defined end.


Better communication, planning, and coordination among major oceanographic programs would serve to maximize the efficient use of resources; facilitate interdisciplinary synthesis; and enhance the understanding of ocean systems, their interaction with each other, and with those of the atmosphere and solid earth. In the past, communication among major ocean programs has been ad hoc, and coordination of field programs has been hampered by funding. Beyond field programs, synthesis activities will benefit from coordination. When appropriate, joint announcements of opportunity for inter-program synthesis should be issued. Communication and coordination can be facilitated among the ongoing major ocean programs by considering joint appointments to SSCs, and annual meetings of the SSC chairs. Greater involvement and appreciation for the accomplishments and challenges facing these programs by scientists not funded through the programs can occur if non-program scientists are recruited to participate as members of the SSCs and in other activities when appropriate.


The large-scale global scientific challenges of the future will continue to require major oceanographic programs. At the same time, the scientific research conducted by individual investigators in the core disciplines must be healthy. The pursuit of these two goals should include complementary activities that strengthen the overall national and international program of ocean science. The strength of many of the major programs and individual initiatives can be directly attributed to the NSF peer-review system and the flexibility of the agency and program managers. Some tools for federal agencies and the scientific community to use to balance these two often competing needs, based on scientific requirements, are presented in this report. In addition, there are opportunities for some course corrections that will enable the federal agencies, including NSF, to better respond to the growing need of the ocean sciences community to conduct multi-investigator and interdisciplinary research. The need to carry out interdisciplinary research through multi-investigator projects will continue to increase in recognition of the emphasis placed on global environmental and climate issues, issues that have largely displaced national security as an underlying motive for funding research in the geosciences.

The committee's recommended approach for achieving the goals described above would be to create a new interdisciplinary unit within the Research Section of NSF/OCE, charged with managing a broad spectrum of interdisciplinary projects. The large-scale global and integrative nature of some of the present scientific challenges, such as environmental and climate issues, will require greater coordination, as will the need for shared use of expensive platforms and facilities. The creation of such a unit could alleviate many of the real and perceived problems identified throughout this report related to coordination, collegiality, and planning, and thus help maximize the scientific return on the considerable investment this nation makes in ocean-related research.

Ocean sciences must reach a new level in order to successfully meet the emerging needs for environmental science. Doing so will require more integration and greater emphasis on consensus building. If the challenges can be met, a new interdisciplinary unit would be well positioned to aid in building partnerships among the agencies, and play a leading role in helping to create focused national efforts in future global geosciences initiatives.

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