Back in February as we were getting ready to leave Birmingham I wrote a short entry about how far ahead we have to plan to get all the things we need down here (“Preparing for Palmer: Scientific Supplies and Equipment”). One of the things I talked about was having to have a detailed list of materials and equipment ready the April before we leave.
As you know, it is now April. So guess what one of the things is that I’m doing? Even though we are only about half way through this season’s stay at Palmer, I am already spending a lot of time at the computer in my office working via e-mail with Jim and our colleague Bill Baker on the list of things we will need next year. It is technically called our “Support Information Package” but everyone refers to it as the “SIP” for short.
Our SIP for this field season was 86 printed pages long. The one we are working on for next season will be about the same. It includes a detailed description of what we will be doing in terms of the nuts and bolts kinds of things. Then it lists pretty much every nut and bolt. The longest lists are the things we will be using in the lab. Every single instrument we need from the station. That goes from microscopes to balances (for weighing things) to freeze driers for preparing our samples. Moreover, every piece of glassware, from beakers to flasks, has to be listed. Same thing with every plastic bottle for samples or experiments. Some of our chemicals are supplied from the station and we have to list exactly how much of each of those we will need. And the list goes on and on.
For diving we have to specify how many divers are coming, who they are, and what their level of training is. You’ve already read about the diving requirements in Ruth’s last blog (“How I became a polar diver”) as well as in earlier entries from Kate and from me. We also have to request tanks, weights, and weight belts. And a boat to go diving in!
The US Antarctic Program is very concerned about environmental impacts of our work. There is an extensive section on this to make sure that any impacts are minimal. Some things that we do require special permits, and there is quite a bit of information there about those. We also have to detail any kinds of hazardous wastes we’ll be generating in the lab so that the waste specialists can be prepared to store it and safely transport it back to the US for processing and ultimate disposal.
Then there are our cargo needs north and south, and needs for our samples going north, and any things we need to have constructed for us. That list goes on too, but you get the point. There is a lot of very detailed planning going on!
All this planning I’ve been describing is for our next year’s field season that is already funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). As much time as that process takes, it is nothing compared to the time involved to secure grant funding to come down here in the first place.
At the same time as I’m sitting here in the office working on the SIP, I’m also working with Jim and our UAB colleague, Rob Angus, on a proposal to come back in 2012 and 2013 to study the effects of ocean acidification and warming temperatures on the marine plants and animals here. I won’t go into details of why that is important (we’ve written pages on just that in the proposal).
Writing a NSF proposal that is good enough to be competitive for funding is a big undertaking. Jim, Rob, and I started working on it off and on back in Birmingham last fall. We have continued working on it and refining our ideas and that has gotten more and more intensive as we are approaching the deadline to submit it to NSF in about 10 days. Jim and Rob are spending a huge amount of time on it back at UAB. I’m taking a bit more of the SIP-writing load and Jim more of the proposal load, but it is a significant part of my days right now too.
Why so much time? Well, the success rate for NSF proposals varies from about 1 in 10 getting funded to about 1 in 5, depending on the program. Having been on the panels that make the ultimate recommendations on them, I can attest that there are many more proposals that are worthy of funding than there are funds available. So to get funded, a proposal not only has to be for important science with a very strong case made for it needing to be done, but the proposal also cannot afford to miss any experimental design details or overlook any potential alternate explanations or problems. Otherwise, it will likely fall out of that fundable percentage.
Detailed planning for a year from now. Detailed proposal planning for two and three years from now. All part of the job. And I really like my job! My job also had me in the water for two dives this morning, and I’ll be going back in about an hour for a short dive off the station. I really, really like that part of my job. But that would not be happening now if not for all the planning we did a year ago, two years ago, and even before.