8.24.12 Hurricane Isaac and Coastal SEES


A Day in the Life

Hurricane Isaac and Coastal SEES Solicitation

Hurricane Isaac, which is not quite a hurricane yet but is expected to be within the next 24 hours, is headed for Haiti and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.  Potentially impacted areas will be Haiti, Cuba, Key West and the Gulf coast of Florida. There were no tropical cyclones (hurricanes) in the Atlantic basin during July, which isn’t unusual.  Storm severity and intensity increases in late August and September.  Accumulated cyclone energy, which is the combined strength and duration of tropical storms is a little bit higher than average over the period between 1981-2010. 

NAME                DATES         MAX WIND (MPH)


TS ALBERTO      19-22 MAY        60

TS BERYL           26-30 MAY        70

H  CHRIS            19-22 JUN         75

TS DEBBY          23-27 JUN          60

Hurricanes, or “tropical cyclones” as they are properly referred to, are storm systems that have low-pressure centers that are warmer than their surroundings (i.e. warm cores).  They strengthen when ocean water evaporates and releases heat from the condensation of water vapor.  In many ways, a tropical cyclone can be thought of as a giant vertical heat engine driven by the physical rotation and gravity of Earth.  The inflow of warmth and moisture from the underlying ocean surface is critical to the strengthening of tropical cyclones.  You can find out more about the current hurricane season at the NOAA website:


Coastal SEES Solicitation

In response to the growing pressure on coastal systems, that include the long-term effects of hurricanes, NSF has developed a new initiative as part of the SEES (Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability) portfolio, called Coastal SEES.  Like the name implies, Coastal SEES is focused on the sustainability of coastal systems, which is defined for our purposes as the swath of land closely connected to the sea, including barrier islands, wetlands, mudflats, beaches, estuaries, cities, towns, recreational areas, and maritime facilities; the continental seas and shelves; and the overlying atmosphere. These systems are subject to complex and dynamic interactions among natural and human-driven processes, and are crucial to regional and national economies, hosting valued human-built infrastructure and providing ecosystem services that sustain human well-being.  

There will be two tracks to this competition:

Track 1: Incubator Research Proposals. These proposals bring new or emerging inter/trans-disciplinary teams together to develop ideas and approaches. Projects could, for example, do one or more of the following: mine, integrate, and synthesize existing data sets; collect new data; conduct modeling experiments, test new integrative approaches, and/or identify new conceptual ideas and key gaps in knowledge and methods. It is anticipated that some funded incubator projects will lead to mature teams and ideas that will be submitted as full research proposals in a later round of Coastal SEES, pending availability of funds. However, the emphasis of a Track 1 proposal should be the conduct of research and its outcomes, not preparation of plans and proposals. Incubator proposals should be in the range of $200-600K over 2 years.

Track 2: Research Proposals. These proposals support inter/trans-disciplinary teams to conduct major new integrated coastal systems research. These may include theoretical, field, laboratory and/or modeling activities. Research proposal budgets can be up to $3 million over 5 years.

The deadline for this competition is January 17, 2013. 

For more information, check out the NSF website:








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8.23.12 GSA and AGU information and AISL–a new opportunity for STEM education

A Day in the Life

Today, I registered and arranged my travel for two scientific meetings—The Geological Society of America meeting to be held November 4-7 in Charlotte, North Carolina and the American Geophysical Union meeting to be held December 2-7 in San Francisco, California.  Both meetings are the annual meetings for these two major geosciences organizations.  Meetings are a critical component to the scientific process.  They are a way for people to present and communicate their research to their peers and colleagues and allow for feedback and networking within the community.  Typically, people submit abstracts several months prior to the meeting and those abstracts get vetted by a committee that puts together the meeting agenda.  Each author or presenter is given a time slot in a session for making an oral presentation (usually 15 minutes) or a poster location and time for presenting.  Most meetings have oral and poster sessions that are organized in topical themes.  There are usually many different sessions co-occurring and so it often is the case, that people are going from room to room to hear specific talks.  I used to have the job of organizing all of the paleontology abstracts (~600) for the Geological Society of America.  It was a tricky job because you had to fill sessions with 16 abstracts each, while balancing topics and times.  The upside was that I always knew everything that was going to be presented at the meeting because I had read all of the abstracts!

GSA typically moves its location every year, with every 3rd year, returning to Denver, Colorado.  AGU is always held in San Francisco, in early December.  These meetings are an important part of life as a scientist because not only do you present your research but you also meet other people in your field and see what other people are doing in their research area.  I will be blogging from GSA, so people can follow me.



AISL–Changes in STEM Outreach and Informal Learning Grant Programs

For those familiar with the Connecting Researchers and Public Audiences (CRPA) and Informal Science Education (ISE) programs, they have now been replaced by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program. 


Because NSF wants to encourage new advances in science, technology and education, we often revise and recast solicitations to encourage growth and development of science in different directions.  This new program (AISL) has a budget of $20 million and anticipates giving approximately 34 awards that will include 6 Research (projects with budgets up to $1.5 million for 5 years), 6 Pathways (projects with budgets up to $250,000 for 2 years), 13 Full-Scale Development (projects with budgets up to $2.5 million for 5 years), 2 Broad Implementation (projects with budgets up to $2.5 million for 5 years), plus approximately 7 conference, EAGER, and Rapid awards.  A preliminary proposal round, whose deadline has passed (August 14) was encouraged but not mandatory.  The full proposal deadline is January 14, 2013.  To find out more about it, please see the website:


And for administrative questions contact the Program by e-mail at DRLAISL@nsf.gov or phone at (703) 292-8616

The final thing that is worth noting is the new frozen yogurt shop that is located next to NSF.  My fellow program officer, Jennifer Wade and I went there on our lunch hour. On our way, we saw a very adorable Bernese Mountain Dog.  Talk about the “Dog Days” of summer!

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8.22.12 The Dog Days of Summer

Washington is a bit of a ghost town these days, as Congress is in recess and most politicians are out campaigning for re-election.  Everyone is gearing up for the party conventions, which begin next week.  Within NSF, people are getting review requests out, new Program Officers are coming in, and people are putting together solicitations for new initiatives.  Budget close-outs are almost completed for most people.  Our EAR Division got our FY12 budget committed and closed-out first of all Divisions, which demonstrates the efficiency of our staff and the commitment of our program officers. 

As for me, I have been watching Tropical Storm Isaac as it builds over the southwest Atlantic ocean.  It is classified as a TS or Tropical Storm, which means its wind speeds are only 39-73 mph.  It isn’t supposed to get up to hurricane force winds (>74 mph) until Friday, when it is expected to be near or over the Dominican Republic and Haiti.  Talk among the political class here is whether or not it will disrupt the Republican National Convention that will be held in Tampa, Florida, starting on Monday, August 27.  It looks like the storm might hit there at about the same time, but whether or not it will be a hurricane or not, is still up for debate.  Hurricane scientists that work in the National Hurricane Center typically have 5 different models which they use to predict the storm’s track.  These are based on prevailing winds, previous hurricane tracks and other parameters that go into their probability models.  I study hurricanes and climate change in the Bahamas, so my interest is how this storm will impact those islands and be recorded in the lakes that I core on them.


Another thing that has been the topic of conversation around the office and elsewhere has been another hazard—climate change.  This summer has been the warmest on record and July was the hottest month ever recorded for the continental US.  The average temperature across the 48 states was 77.6 degrees F (25.3 degrees C) which was 3.3 degrees F (1.7 degrees C) above the 20th century average. The previous warmest July, was in 1936, and averaged 77.4 degrees F (25.2 degrees C).  This was during the “Dust Bowl” and which was known for drought and crop failures.  Drought has become a huge problem across the nation’s breadbasket this year and people are beginning to be concerned about food and fuel prices because of crop failures.  The Farm Bill still hasn’t passed Congress and one begins to realize that climate has become really politicized.  This is unfortunate, not just for science but for farmers and others that rely on natural systems for their livelihoods.  As a scientist, I advocate letting the science speak and encourage efforts to educate the public, journalists and lawmakers about climate change science and how we know what we know and how well we know it.


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8.8.12 SEP Section Meeting; AGU Info; Vinny Update


A Day in the Life

SEP Section Meeting

Today, we had a Surface Processes Section (SEP) staff meeting.  These meetings tend to last about two hours and are similar to the faculty staff meetings that I used to attend back at Akron.  We discuss issues related to our SEP Section, which is comprised of Hydrological Sciences (HS), Geobiology and Low Temperature Geochemistry (GG), Geomorphology and Land Use Dynamics (GLD), Education and Human Resources (EHR) and my program—Sedimentary Geology and Paleobiology (SGP).  Our Acting Section Head is Lina Patino, who is also the program director for Education and Human Resources.  She is stepping in for Jun Abrajano, who is now Acting Deputy Assistant Director for Geosciences.  There has been a lot of reshuffling around the GEO Directorate this year, with the departure of our EAR Division Director, Robert Detrick in February and our Assistant Director for GEO, Tim Killeen in June.  We will be welcoming a new Division Director, Dr. Wendy Harrison at the end of August.  We are all looking forward to Dr. Harrison’s arrival.  She is from the Colorado School of Mines where she is a Professor of Geochemistry.  She has served as Associate Provost at Mines from 2008-2011 and has held a variety of other administrative positions there in the past 10 years.  You can read more about her and her background and accomplishments here:


AGU Info

Today I also submitted an abstract for the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting that will be held in San Francisco December 3-7.  This meeting typically has 20,000+ participants and covers different science areas, including atmospheric science, planetary science, ocean science and the geosciences.  It is usually held in December in San Francisco.  The abstract that I submitted was about my REU Bahamas project, comparing the different pedagogy models that we have used in the two years that we have run the project.  In addition to presenting this abstract at the meeting, I also will be organizing a Navigating NSF Workshop, which I did at last year’s meeting.  This is a 3 hour workshop on various aspects of NSF—including the merit review process, new initiatives and funding opportunities and how to connect with your NSF program officer.  I will be blogging about this meeting in the coming weeks and months.  You can find out more about the AGU fall meeting here:


Vinny Update

In order to submit my abstract, I had to go back into the office around 9:00 pm because I was having trouble doing it from my apartment.  Since I live right next to NSF, this was no big deal.  But, when I came into my office I saw Vinny and his mom outside on the ledge.  Vinny had ‘flown the coop’ earlier that day so I was glad to see that he was back and able to come and go as he pleased.  A number of people have commented on the symbolism of having a vulture on my window sill, and the jokes have been endless.  References in the literature suggest that the vulture is an ambiguous symbol of both death and rebirth.  In some mythologies and ancient cultures, it was a symbol of death because it eats dead flesh or carrion.  But in others, it is a powerful totem because it skillfully soars above Earth using the air currents to fly and feeds on dead animals for its food, thereby recycling Earth’s energy.  Obviously, I prefer the latter symbolism, and note the irony that one thing can have such a dichotomous meaning.  I find it refreshing that a little bit of nature can still exist in our concrete world.  In fact, birds singing is one of the things that I miss most about my house in Ohio.  Waking up to birds in the morning and listening to them when I sit on my patio is such a treat.  I cannot hear anything but car and city noise from my balcony patio here in DC.  There is interest from the architectural community to design buildings that are more ‘bird friendly.’  Concern has been placed on the fact that birds do not have places to nest and they are often confused by the windows in skyscrapers and fly into them.  You can read more about that here:



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8.7.12-Vinny the Vulture’s mom visits

Vinny’s Mom Finds Him

Today, Vinny the Vulture was still on my window sill and I found out that the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs (OLPA) at NSF had posted some things about Vinny back in July.  Seeing Vinny as a young fledgling made me realize that these birds mature quite quickly since he seems to already have most of his flight feathers.  Having only one egg in the clutch also made me realize that limited offspring means more resources need to be expended by the parents to ensure their survival.  This became apparent when one of the adult vultures found its way down to the window sill and spent most of the day there.  At times it (not sure if it was the male or female parent) stuck its beak into Vinny’s mouth and fed him (again—I am only assuming Vinny is a male).  It was rather touching to see these giant birds perform such nurturing activities, challenging one’s notion of “cute” and “heart-warming.”  It also made me realize that even in this cityscape, nature can still exist, something that I have been thinking about lately as I try to grow tomatoes and peppers on my 18th floor apartment patio.

Stay tuned for more Vinny updates in days to come!  I am expecting him to be able to fly for himself soon.  Let’s hope!



NSF and the Olympics

The Olympics have been the topic of most peoples’ conversations around the office here.  People have been enthused about all of the swimming (of course), including the local teen sensation, Katie Ledecky.  She is the daughter of a local prominent DC family and at 15 years old, promises to have a long, successful career ahead of her.


Speaking of swimming, the pool in London is said to be very fast.  But what does that mean?  What makes a “fast” pool?  Basically, it is designed to minimize water turbulence and waves that can drag a swimmer and slow them down.  The bottom of the pool will be adjusted to 3 meters deep to dissipate waves and along the sides there are troughs to keep the water from coming back into the pool.  The pool is wider and the lane lines turn to help absorb the wave energy.  You can view a really great video about this on the NSF website:


Whether you think that Michael Phelps is the best athlete of the Olympics or Usain Bolt, you have to admit that both men are awfully fast in their chosen sport.  They have biomechanics in their favor. Phelps’ body is almost the perfect physique for a swimmer, as is Bolt’s for running.  He is taller than most sprinters at 6’5”, so a 100 meter dash only takes him 41 steps rather than 45 like his competitors.  Other things that make him faster are the way in which he runs—he is literally in the air longer in his flight phase of his stride than other runners.  View a video about him at:


All 10 stories about the science behind the Olympics can be seen at this site:


And—for you statisticians out there—realize this—that the country with the most per capita medals wins is not China, the US or the UK.  It is…..Grenada!  with New Zealand and Slovenia in second and third place.  Check out the “normalization” of the Olympic medal count on this website:


And now, it is time for a run myself—and a stair climb—all 18 floors of my apartment building!

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A Day In the Life


My Vulture Vinny

Mondays always are busy here at NSF, just as they are at most places, I guess.  I’ve tracked my email over the week a few times and Monday usually has the most emails for the week, followed by Friday and then Thursday.  Today was a little quieter than usual since last week was “close-out”—the end of our FY12 fiscal year, when all the money from this past year needs to be committed.  Throughout the Foundation, Program Officers have been busy this entire last month closing out their budgets—making their final awards for the year and doing budget analyses for their programs.  Since most of our budget information is confidential, I cannot really talk about anything more specific than that.  But, suffice it to say, it is a busy time of year here, which is rather ironic since summer is often a time for vacations and relaxing—but definitely not here!

So, imagine my surprise as I was starting to get re-organized after last week’s hectic activity to see a baby vulture on my 6th floor window sill!  He came from a nest that is on the 10th floor—a single hatchling from this past Spring.  According to a woman who works on the 12th floor who came down to see him, he has been missing from the nest since Saturday and the parents are flying around looking for him.  I had several visitors throughout the day to see him.  The Assistant Director from the BIO Directorate, John Wingfield, an ornithologist by training, even came by to see him.  So “Vinny” as I have called him, has raised quite a stir here at Stafford I (our office building).  In fact, he has been watched since he hatched.  Here are some “baby pictures” of him from July.



Other interesting things that have people talking is the landing of Curiosity on Mars! 


NASA is a sister agency to NSF and we often work in close cooperation with some of what they do.  NASA, like NIH and NOAA is considered a “mission agency”.  These agencies have their own labs and scientists as well as making grants to individual scientists (PIs).  NSF is an independent federal agency that was created by Congress in 1950.  Its mission is “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…” We have an annual budget of about $7.1 billion (FY 2012).  We are the primary funding source for ~20 percent of all federally supported basic research in US colleges and universities.  Some of our supported scientists participated in the Mars Curiosity Mission.  More blogging about that in the coming days!  Suffice it to say, we all cheered when it landed.  It was a good day for Science!

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