April 1, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • Congress: Draft Legislation To Ease Research Regulatory Burdens Released
  • NSF: Science and Engineering Graduate Enrollment Increases Dominated by Influx of Foreign Students
  • DOE: Funding Opportunity Announced for Bioenergy Research Centers
  • Weather Research: National Academy Released Report on Next Generation Weather Prediction
  • Climate Science: Antarctic Ice Sheet Collapse Linked to Past Sea Level Fluctuations


Congressman Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), ranking Democratic member of the Subcommittee on Research & Technology of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has developed draft legislation to relieve scientists and administrators from regulatory burdens that are hindering research at universities and labs. The bill, University Regulation Streamlining and Harmonization Act of 2016, has been released for comment from interested parties.

Based on a large number of past reports and recommendations on reducing regulatory burdens, the bill would establish a Research Policy Board to act as standing advisory body to Federal research agencies. Among the other specific provisions, the bill would provide relief from sub-recipient monitoring for Universities, and would raise the purchasing dollar amount threshold that would obligate universities to formally solicit multiple bids.

Read More: Optimizing the Nation’s Investment in Academic Research


The NSF and NIH have released the 2014 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering. This year’s report shows the continuing trend in the increase in the number of science and engineering students enrolled in US institutions, which rose by 3% between 2013 and 2014. Underlying this trend is an increase of over 13% in foreign student enrollment, which offsets a decline of 2% in domestic US student enrollment.

The report also shows a continuing shift in the sources of support for granduate students. Since 2011, the number of students receiving Federal support has steadily declined, while the number of students who are on institutional or self-support has increased.


The DOE Genomic Science Program, in the Office of Biological and Environmental Research, has released solicitation DE-FOA-0001540 for the establishment of multidisciplinary Bioenergy Research Centers. These are intended to address the cost effective production of biofuels and other bio products from plant biomass. Integrating diverse disciplines, such as sustainability, feedstock development, and deconstruction and conversion of non-food plant mass will serve as the basis to enable a more bio-based economy. This is part of the White House Grand Challenge for a future bio economy.

The solicitation envisions that these multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional centers operate at the interface between basic and applied research. Applications should focus on breaking down the remaining fundamental science barriers that have inhibited commercial development, and at the same time transitioning mature technologies to industry.

Read More: National Bioeconomy Blueprint

Weather Research

A long standing goal for the weather research community has been to extend the predictive ability from daily forecasts, to seasonal time scales of weeks to months. This would fill the gap between daily weather forecasts and long term climate models. Some societal decisions, such as emergency management and energy planning, depend critically on such advanced information. This becomes especially true in anticipation of a possible increase in extreme weather events due to climate change.

At the request of the Office of Naval Research, NASA and the Heising-Simons Foundation, the National Academy of Science has released a report entitled Next Generation Earth System Prediction:  Strategies for Subseasonal to Seasonal Forecasts.  Although the quality of long term forecasts has been steadily increasing, major breakthroughs in data collection and modelling are necessary, and possible with increased investments.

The report recommends four specific strategies: engage users in the process of developing forecast products by both Federal agencies and the private sector; increase the basic skill of forecasters; improve the prediction of extreme events; and, include more components of the Earth System, such as the troposphere, stratosphere, ocean, cryosphere, biosphere, and land surface in forecast models.

Climate Science

It has proven difficult to model the past epochs of sea level rise with polar ice melting alone. A study published in Nature this week, entitled Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise links past fluctuations in sea level to the stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet. In that model, relatively small changes in atmospheric and deep oceanic temperatures can affect the structural integrity of the ice sheet and lead to a disintegration. Displacement by the ice mass, combined with a redistribution in the Earth’s gravitational field can, in turn, explain major corresponding increases in sea level in the past. The model suggests that such dramatic chain of events may take place on a time scale of decades rather than centuries. This scenario suggests a substantially greater sea level rise, sooner, than that contained in assessments from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Read More: New York Times , Climate Central


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