April 4, 2004

Dr. Don Forsyth
Members of the NSF-MARGINS Review Committee

Enclosed are materials prepared by the MARGINS Steering Committee (MSC) and Office, which we hope you will find helpful in preparing for the NSF-MARGINS review. Our intention is to provide a succinct guide through the abundance of materials in the Science Plans and on the website (www.margins.wustl.edu), and also to allow MARGINS science to speak directly in the form of research summaries (“nuggets”) prepared by the scientists themselves. We include a hard copy of much of the material, for easy browsing. We also include a mini-website on CD-ROM, in which browsable links make it easy to go from introductory to more detailed information and back again. Instructions for opening the website are on the CD cover. Please note that these materials were prepared prior to release of the results from the 2004 NSF-MARGINS panel meeting to the MSC and public.

First in this document are summaries, prepared by the MSC, of research activities in each initiative, and of MARGINS Office activities. Each initiative has a different effective start date on which research funding commenced. For example, the first funding for Source to Sink (S2S) studies in New Guinea was just within the last year, while SEIZE and SubFac have been well established for a while. We also emphasize international collaborations that maximize the scientific return for MARGINS and MARGINS-related science. Links within the summaries on the mini-website make it easy to go to specific parts of the Science Plan that provide more detailed information. Links also allow you to go to summaries of NSF-MARGINS funding, MARGINS sponsored or co-sponsored meetings/workshops, presentations and publications, and the nuggets.

What you won't see in the documents is any discussion of “the MARGINS process” for identifying scientific themes and focus areas, or of the relationship between NSF-MARGINS funding and the MSC. So let me take a minute here to address those topics.

The initial MARGINS workshops that established the initiatives generally followed a common format. A group of proponents submitted a proposal to NSF, and often JOI, to support the workshop. Wide advertising and open applications, together with conveners' identification of essential participants, led to a large group of potential attendees. Also included were international participants, often funded by their own countries to attend the workshop. The list was pared down by the conveners, with input from the MARGINS Office and NSF, to a level consistent with effective discussion. The first 1-2 days of the workshop were typically focused on science questions, and on observational, analytical, theoretical and experimental approaches to the questions, with the goal of providing a common basic background to a broadly interdisciplinary group. The next 1-2 days focused on identifying the most compelling scientific drivers for the initiative, and on developing an extended set of criteria necessary for a region to be deemed scientifically and logistically suitable as a potential focus area. On the following day, participants (advised of the opportunity in advance) made the case, with reference to these criteria, for specific places as focus areas. Straw polls identified strong support for specific regions over others. Further discussion, and sometimes subsequent meetings, led to a majority endorsement of two focus sites per initiative, with Central America jointly targeted by SEIZE and SubFac. Workshop summaries were published in newsletters and on the MARGINS website, and community comment was invited. These workshop reports were used as a base for building the science plans, which were also published in draft version on the website before finalization.

The MARGINS community is very aware of the potential for conflict of interest in the MSC role, or the perception thereof. One way in which the potential is minimized is by strict separation of the MSC and MARGINS Office from the NSF-MARGINS review and funding process. No member of the MSC or Office (including the Chair) sits on the MARGINS-NSF panel; nor do we know the membership of the panel. Once funding decisions have been finalized and the proponents notified, the MSC is informed of the results when they become public. These are summarized in the section entitled NSF-MARGINS funding, and reflect decisions prior to (i.e., not including) those of the March 2004 MARGINS panel meeting. The vehicle through which we remain informed of the scientific progress of MARGINS is through NSF public information, the literature, personal contact with proponents and PIs, and the nuggets.

A word about the nuggets. As we began preparing for this review, we sent out a letter to scientists working on MARGINS-funded and Margins-related projects. We asked if they would be willing to provide a brief summary of their results to date, realizing that many projects were in the early stages. Many, but not all, responded, and their summaries are in the section titled “Nuggets.” With the contributors' permission, these research summaries will also be posted publicly on the MARGINS website, under a new section on research activities.

We look forward to your review and its guidance. We feel proud of the role of MARGINS in helping to build strong interdisciplinary communities and international collaborations, and in the science being done. We're deeply concerned about environmental impact issues, the pacing of multiple projects and initiatives, and the overall timeline and funding levels for MARGINS. We're excited about the accelerating pace of development of the MARGINS database, and developing a MARGINS plan for education and public outreach.

Your response to these and other issues will be helpful and much appreciated. I look forward to meeting with you at the end of the month. In my presentation, I'll plan to develop more fully the integrated science that is emerging from MARGINS. Please let me know if there are other specific topics you'd like me to come prepared to address.

With best wishes,
On behalf of the MSC,

Julie Morris