LTER at 30

Network News Fall 2009, Vol. 22 No. 2
NSF News

This is a busy period for LTER, both within the community and at the National Science Foundation (NSF). There were nine site reviews in 2009 and there are 12 projects with renewal proposals due in February for review by a panel next spring. In addition, NSF is in the process of commissioning the third decadal, external review of the LTER program.

But of more immediate importance is the new, one-time, 5-year award made recently to the LTER Network Office using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ("stimulus") funding. Although made to the LNO, this award provides a unique opportunity for the entire community to move LTER toward becoming the type of integrated network envisioned by ISSE. Arguably the most critical part is the support provided to move the LTER Network Information System to a new structural and functional level - essentially to completion. This is an opportunity for LTER to make major advances in its scientific capabilities through advances in its capacity to handle (collect, store, communicate, and use) large, complex datasets-not just from across the LTER network, but beyond-through effective linkages with the emerging observatory platforms such as the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and Ocean Observatory Initiative (OOI), the International LTER (ILTER), the new network of urban science seeded by the ULTRA-Ex (Urban Long-Term Research Areas: Exploratory Research Projects) competition, and through more complete participation of the social sciences and other non-traditional LTER disciplines, sites, and scientists.

As the LNO works to complete the operational plan for the use of the stimulus funds, it is essential that the whole LTER community come together to support one direction for NIS development. These are not research moneys in the usual sense, provided for experimentation, or leading to several different products. Rather, they were provided for the development of one truly functional NIS to enable the LTER network, as a whole, to make a major leap forward in the level of its future science and education. It will be particularly important to mobilize the LTER Information Managers and their counterparts outside LTER for this effort, so that the results meet functional expectations at the site level, multi-site, and full network levels and beyond.

At the same time, NEON has now successfully completed the Final Design Review and OOI has entered the construction phase--two national observational programs that will complement the LTER research program and lead to synergistic results. Also, NSF/BIO now funds four different centers for the support of synthesis. As NCEAS moves into the final two years of its highly productive and sustained run, NSF is working to define a new competition to meet the ever expanding and clear need for synthesis in the ecological sciences, while also recognizing the very different state of science and environmental issues facing society today as compared with 1995, when NCEAS was established.

This changing landscape also requires increasing involvement of NSF in LTER management. In particular, Dave Garrison from the Bio-Oceanography program in the Geosciences Directorate is now leading mid-term reviews of most of the coastal and marine projects. The Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorship has also increased its involvement, making available substantial supplement support for further integration of social sciences and LTER (Rita Teutonico and Deborah Winslow joined Tom Baerwald at the recent LTER All Scientists Meeting in Estes Park, CO). Also at the meeting were DeAndra Beck, who represented the Office of International Science and Engineering and attended a very exciting two day ILTER workshop on ecosystem services; Todd Crowl, who will replace me as the LTER Program Director for the year; and Matt Kane, who will back Todd up.