July 29, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • National Academy of Sciences: Gulf Research Program Funding Opportunity Announced
  • NIH: Proposals Requested for Center of Excellence for Integrative Health
  • NASA: GAO Issues Warning on Space Launch System, Orion Crew Capsule
  • Climate Research: NRC Releases Report on Climate Variability
  • Elections: Democratic Campaign Platform Unveiled

National Academy of Sciences

In 2013, in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) established a special Gulf Research Program to provide research grants, fellowships and carry out other related activities activities in order to increase the safety of oil systems and mitigate risks to the environment and communities.  Now, together with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, NAS has announced the availability of grants for Enhancing Coastal Community Resilience and Well-being in the Gulf of Mexico Region.  The program is seeking proposals to build integrative teams, community involvement initiatives, information dissemination, and scientific research.  A webinar outlining the intent of the program and this competition will be held August 11.

NIH

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) has issued a request for proposals for Centers of Excellence for Research on Complementary and Integrative Health.  The mission of the centers will generally be to advance the NCCIH strategic plan which outlines five major objectives and a number of research priorities.  Up to three awards will be made to teams that can address unifying themes that encompass multi-project, multi-disciplinary collaborations.  Awards are limited to $1.25 million per year in direct costs.

NASA

In 2009, the incoming Obama Administration made the decision to cancel NASA’s Constellation launch vehicle program in reaction to the substantial cost overruns and schedule slips that were emerging. Now, the next Administration may face the same issue for Constellation’s replacement, the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion crew capsule. Together, SLS and Orion are estimated to cost $23 billion through the first SLS flight. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued warnings on both the SLS and Orion.

At the direction of the House Appropriations Committee, the GAO examined the budget reserves for both programs and the likelihood they would achieve their stated schedule milestones. Noting the substantial technical progress made to date, the GAO concluded that the goal of achieving first launch SLS by November 2018 and of Orion by 2021 were unrealistic and both would require additional funding to achieve their schedule goals.

These major funding decisions will confront the transition team as the next Administration takes office. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing on July 13 on reasserting US leadership in space exploration warning against major changes in policy and priorities during presidential transitions.

Read More: Space News, SpacePolicy Online , Washington Post

Climate Research

Between weather, which changes on a daily basis, and climate change, which takes place on a centuries basis, there is climate variability, which refers to changes on the scale of years to decades. Our understanding and prediction of climate variability is important for decision making in sectors such as infrastructure, water resources, agriculture, and energy.

An ongoing debate within the climate research community has been whether or not there has been a slowdown, or hiatus, in global mean surface temperature between 1998 and 2014. This slowdown was not predicted by most models and researchers have proposed a number of explanations. These have included changes in aerosol emissions from human activity, shifting ocean currents, volcanic eruptions, and solar variability. However, such potential causes and changes on the decadal time scale are poorly understood. In addition, there are uncertainties in the treatment of the satellite or sea surface temperature data itself, which could affect model results.

A workshop held in September 2015 brought together leading scientists to share their research and current understanding of climate variability on decadal timescales of 10 to 30 years. The workshop report, Frontiers in Decadal Climate Variability, has now been released.

The participants agreed with the current consensus that over the long term, the planet as a whole is warming steadily. Climate variability, however, can cause the rate of warming to shift over periods lasting from years to a few decades. A key finding of the workshop is that “A slowdown in the rise of GMST (global mean surface temperature) is not equivalent to a slowdown in global warming. Viewed over long time periods (50+ years), there is a persistent increase in GMST. However, it remains important to understand the decadal variability in GMST that is observed over shorter time periods.”

The workshop concludes that addressing the gaps in knowledge of decadal climate variability and improving predictions could lead to better-informed climate change attribution studies and a better informed decision-making process.

Elections

As a part of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, the Democratic party has released its 2016 campaign platform.  Throughout the document, the concept of science-based decision making receives prominent attention.

The platform statement focusses a great deal on climate science and climate related actions and policies.  The platform includes a section entitled Combat  Climate Change, Build a Clean Energy Economy, and Secure Environmental Justice extending many of the initiatives begun under the Obama administration.  It affirms the validity of the science underpinning climate change and pledges to build a clean energy economy.

A section entitled Pursuing Our Innovation Agenda: Science, Research, Education, and Technology links investments in research to economic gains, and emphasizes information technology and high-speed internet access.  It also gives special attention to NASA and its achievements in understanding our place in the universe, and its ability to inspire and educate.

Finally, as part of its health care plank, the platform includes a section on Enabling Cutting-Edge Medical Research. It advocates a “fully funded” National Institutes of Health, the only clear reference to science funding.

Read More: Carbon Brief , The Daily Dot , NASA Watch

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