opinion Challenging Times Ahead: What's Going On? By Steve Bohlen, President of Joint Oceanographic Institutions Observers and participants of the programs JOI manages have been hearing a lot of talk recently, but unfortunately not much by way of solid, specific details telling the whole story. A rumor of budget cuts in IODP, reductions in scope of the JOI's facilities construction efforts for NSF, shifting responsibilities of senior JOI staff, and virtual silence about progress toward a new U.S. drill ship for IODP. What is going on? This message is an attempt to bring the community up to date and to give some perspective on the challenges ahead. Business and Political Environments: Challenges that Impact Everything We Do The Division of Ocean Sciences at NSF faces a difficult position with respect to the balance between research grants and the costs of infrastructure the drill ship, seismic vessel, UNOLS vessels, and ocean observatories. This is the result of dramatic increases in ship operations and maintenance costs, the business environment for ocean activities and slow growth of the NSF budget. NSF has committed to curbing the continued erosion of the success rate of individual research grants by firmly managing a balance between research grants and the infrastructure operations and maintenance (O&M) costs that support them. This approach, developed over the summer, has significant direct impacts on the programs and facilities JOI manages on behalf of the oceans research community. 22 MTR Steve Bohlen, President of Joint Oceanographic Institutions What Does This Mean For: Scientific Ocean Drilling Vessel for IODP Good news: NSF made the decision to use the JOIDES Resolution and its existing hull size as the basis for a complete overhaul and enhancement that will produce the new U.S. drilling vessel for IODP. The IODPU.S. Implementing Organization, in close cooperation with the ship owner, has worked to redesign laboratory and sleeping and living spaces so that all of the objectives of the science community outlined in the Conceptual Design Committee (CDC) report will be met within the prescribed budget. We negotiated the conversion of additional hold spaces to living and science space, providing nearly all of what we wanted in initial design plans. Laboratory space will increase by 34% and has been designed for greater efficiency and effectiveness in handling cores and workflow. We will have 16 more berths than in the original JR, all staterooms will be double occupancy, and the galley has been moved above the waterline. Ship stability will be enhanced as will drilling capabilities. Conversion work has been progressing at a shipyard in Singapore. The drilling equipment has been removed for refurbishment and upgrading. The laboratory stack has been removed and sold for living quarters in Thailand. In all aspects, the ship is being prepared for dry dock and conversion. Bad news: You may recall initial plans were to add a section to the ship, stretching it by 30 feet, which could have led to even more berths and lab space. As we heard at AGU, the 'stretch' is no longer an option due to budget restraints. The business environment in which we are operating is as hostile as experienced hands have ever witnessed. Shipyards are able to demand a premium for all aspects of their work and time in the yard as drilling companies worldwide compete for scarce shipyard capacity. The global drilling companies are willing to pay whatever it costs, placing us at a distinct disadvantage. We are therefore facing severe budget and schedule challenges, the resolution of which are not clear, but should be soon. Ocean Observatories Initiative Good news: Funding to build a research-driven ocean observatory was included in the Continuing Resolution for FY 07 passed by the Congress in February and is also in the President's budget request to the Congress for FY 08. The Observatory Advisory Committees have worked effectively and diligently to prepare a conceptual design that to a first order meets the NSF limit for operations and maintenance (O&M), though further design work and costing will be necessary. The program office has May 2007
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