The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) Program aims to create a modern and effective research infrastructure critical to maintaining U.S. leadership in science and engineering. The $400 million provided to NSF for this program will support three major facilities: the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST), the Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV), and the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI).
ATST: As a national facility, ATST would enable training of the next generation of solar physicists and instrument builders at the undergraduate and graduate levels. ARRA funding for ATST will support a larger project team (staff retentions and new hires) at the National Solar Observatory and the issuance of large contracts for the construction of the telescope and its building, support facilities, as well as the procurement of components for its complex optical systems and instruments. As the first new large solar telescope constructed in nearly 30 years and because of the new range of scientifically compelling questions that ATST can address, its construction is expected to rejuvenate the solar research community in U.S. universities.
ARRV: The vessel will provide a technologically-advanced, safe, and highly effective oceanographic platform to enable multidisciplinary teams to conduct field research at the ice edge and in seasonal sea ice. The Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska sustain more than half of the total annual national fish catch and supports one of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world, as well as rich and varied marine mammal populations. The Alaska region is also seeing significant impacts from climate change. Perennial sea ice has been estimated to be decreasing by about nine percent per decade, potentially leading to a summer ice-free Arctic Ocean by the end of the century or even sooner. The ARRV will provide scientific access to these remote and inhospitable waters surrounding Alaska that are of such great national and international importance. The ARRV will have many advanced capabilities including a modern suite of satellite communications to link the ship to educational facilities ashore giving them virtual access to the Arctic. With 26 dedicated science berths, the ARRV will be able to accommodate over 500 researchers and students annually while spending as many as 300 days at sea.
OOI: Recent science advances have highlighted the role of the ocean in climate change, the impact of carbon cycling on ocean acidification and ocean carbon sequestration, and the degradation of coastal marine ecosystems. These advances and the national attention they have garnered emphasize the multiple stakeholders in OOI. Additionally, the magnitude and mechanisms of air-sea exchange, the fundamental processes that control turbulent ocean mixing on all scales and the biophysical consequences thereof, and the impact of plate tectonics on the sea floor and society underpin these topics. These science drivers are also part of a national ocean research effort, the Ocean Research Priorities Plan, which provides a framework for research investments to advance our understanding of critical ocean processes that tie to societal need. The OOI will also include educational infrastructure that will support “free choice” learning in a variety of both physical and virtual settings with a focus on raising public awareness about ocean science, climate change, and enabling technology, while also supporting online post-secondary career, technical, and educator training programs.