The following is a letter from NSF-MARGINS Program Officers Bilal Haq (bhaq@nsf.gov), Rodey Batiza (rbatiza@nsf.gov) and David Fountain (dfountai@nsf.gov), summarizing results and recommendations from the NSF-MARGINS five year review. Contact the program officers directly with questions or comments about the review process or report.


August 17, 2004

Dear Julie:

We thank you and the MARGINS Steering Committee for your early comments on the NSF MARGINS Review Committee Report (MRCR). The MRCR was, in general, quite complimentary of the MARGINS Program and its Steering Committee, though they also pointed out several areas where more emphasis may be appropriate. Although this Report is an advisory document to NSF, you are welcome to quote from it for the benefit of the wider MARGINS community in the MARGINS Newsletter.

The MRC noted that MARGINS Program is a unique and effective approach to studying dynamic Earth processes. They lauded the joint funding of the Program by Earth and Ocean Sciences Divisions of NSF and the efforts at community building on a broad, interdisciplinary scale through workshops, database development and long-term commitment. They suggested that the Program provides a model for how synergistic science could be conducted in the 21 st Century. The MRC also endorsed the strategy adopted by MARGINS of concentrating on two end-member focus sites for each of the four initiatives, as well as the focus areas selected, and did not see any reason at this stage for additional focus sites (unless an existing site is suspended for some reason).

The MRCR made both general and specific recommendations for each of the initiatives. Work at the two focus sites for Rupturing of the Continental Lithosphere (RCL) initiative has so far been hampered due to various reasons, but the MRC saw no practical alternative to the Red Sea as a focus site that involves active rupturing of cratonic lithosphere with an along-strike transition to sea-floor spreading. They recommended continuing negotiations for access to the area. If these do not bear fruit in a reasonable amount of time then this site could be replaced with a different type of end member (e.g., a robustly magmatic margin). They recommended that the work at the Gulf of California focus site continue even if additional seismic work there is not possible.

The MRC recommended that MARGINS should work towards a balance in funding of various initiatives and increasing emphasis should be placed on integration of results across various disciplines and across initiatives. The Steering Committee was seen as playing a guiding role by continuing the process of identifying both accomplishments and gaps in various initiatives and by stimulating integrative efforts.

The MARGINS Program, in principle, accepts all of the recommendations made by the MRCR and, together with the MARGINS Steering Committee, would endeavor to implement as many of these as possible. Some of the specific issues are briefly enumerated below:

  1. The MRC acknowledged the problems associated with full deployment of resources at the two RCL sites, especially at the Red Sea/Gulf of Suez area. The Program recommends that the RCL community continue to negotiate proper access to both the land and at-sea sites in the area with surrounding countries, but if it becomes clear that this cannot to be achieved in a timely manner, the Steering Committee should explore the alternative of selecting a different end-member site as recommended by the MRC.
  2. The MRC pointed out that so far the Source to Sink (S2S) focus has been geared towards flux of solids in the system, while attention to dissolved load/nutrients as well as biologic aspects has been lacking. To make the results from the two focus sites more universally valuable, they urged the S2S community to also incorporate theoretical consideration of all signals that might be transmitted through these sedimentary systems. Other gaps identified include climatic forcing in the source area of the Fly River and its shelf carbonate realm. The Program recommends that the Steering Committee draw attention of the community to these gaps. They should encourage coverage of similar time scale studies both on land and on the shelf, as well as potential rapid response studies following cyclonic events.
  3. The MRC thought the Seismogenic Zone initiative was headed in the right direction and much progress has been made, especially in evolving the conceptual model that underlies the SEIZE seismic plan. They also identified high priority gaps in the current research plans that need to be undertaken, including, the need for continuous GPS monitoring at Costa Rica site as well as deployment of long-term offshore seismometers to complement the displacement measurements, and a new, detailed seismic reflection study at Nankai site to find a suitable site for drilling the seismogenic zone. The Program agrees with the MRC that more sophisticated thermal models that incorporate fluid flow are needed for improved characterization of the thermal structure of the subduction slabs.
  4. The MRC was of the opinion that the Subduction Factory initiative is relatively mature with an ambitious agenda that has benefited greatly from various workshops and community-building efforts within this community. It is addressing many intrinsically important issues, some with high relevance to other MARGINS initiatives. They were concerned, however, that under the current plans the historical perspective on tectonic and magmatic evolution of the arc crust and lithosphere is being ignored and recommended such research through “Margins-related” investigations and syntheses. The Program recommends that the Steering Committee encourage the community to undertake such studies through competitive proposals to the “core” programs.
  5. The MRC lauded the past and current chairs and membership of the MARGINS Steering Committee for generally doing a very good job, and made some recommendations for more efficient monitoring, integration and organization. The Program agrees with these recommendations and suggest the following actions: i) Assignment of a subgroup within the Steering Committee to oversee each initiative. This group will monitor the progress, identify gaps, suggest new workshops and theoretical institutes as needed and proactively liaise with the particular sub-community; ii) The Steering Committee as a whole should actively foster integration within and across the initiatives and begin to plan for a synthesis workshop for the SubFac initiative; iii) The Committee should ensure a diversity of expertise and mix of established leaders and new blood on the membership of the Steering Committee.
  6. The MRC pointed out that currently there is no apparent plan for archival of raw, physical samples other than providing meta-data through the data center. The Steering Committee should look into the issue of archiving and distribution of raw samples (are the currently available institutional repositories adequate and working well for the needs of the community?).
  7. To encourage interaction among MARGINS investigators and with the broader geosciences community and to provide valuable learning experiences for secondary education the Program endorses the following MRC recommendations: i) The Steering Committee should promote workshops and town meetings that engender greater integration within and across the various disciplines and initiatives; ii) Continue to encourage topical theoretical institutes open to wider spectrum of scientists than those in the MARGINS community; iii) In addition to current educational outreach plans in development by the MARGINS Office, it could promote outreach through a “speakers program” and develop web-based educational modules, including MARGINS illustrative materials for presentations and other pedagogic purposes.
  8. The MRC also underscored the continued effort to collaborate with the international community, especially the scientists from the countries within the focus site areas.
  9. The Steering Committee should be mindful of the fact the MRC repeatedly emphasized the need for cross-discipline integration, which they felt has been lacking so far. The Committee should put into place all organizational and management tools necessary to ensure such integration (e.g., integrative workshops, theoretical institutes, town meetings at AGU and other society meetings, and PI meetings focusing on integration, etc.).

Once again, thank you to your Committee for all your back ground work that made this review efficient and meaningful. We hope to work closely with the Committee and the MARGINS Office to implement as many of these recommendations as possible.

Yours truly,

Bil Haq
Rodey Batiza
Dave Fountain
(For the MARGINS Program)

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