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Reviewer comments - Panel Summary _1

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					Panel Summary #1



Proposal Number: 0731450

Panel Summary:
Panel Summary

INTELLECTUAL MERITS

Strengths:

The Sagehen Creek Field Station has a substantial history of research and graduate education. There has
been a recent upsurge in usage during the high season, suggesting that adding off-season use would be
valuable. Purchasing (and housing) a snow-cat would give improved winter access and save time for
facilities staff.

Weaknesses:

This proposal has several weaknesses. First, the safety implications are not convincing. It is only 1.8
miles to a plowed road, and under emergency conditions presumably the highway department or a private
contractor could plow the road. Further, the PI suggests early in the proposal that this improves safety, but
currently only scientists with winter survival skills can use the facility. Is it wise to encourage access for
people without winter survival skills? Second, the cost seems high. Would it be more reasonable to hire a
contractor to plow the road as needed? What about other alternatives for access (e.g., snowmobiles, mat-
tracks on 4WD vehicles). Third, the case that there would be increased use in winter is not well-made.
The problem that seems most pressing is a summer one, not winter access. How much more research
would be expected to happen in winter?

BROADER IMPACTS

Strengths:

The station has a history of supporting K-12 activity from inner city schools, and thus, in theory, under
represented minorities. There are also substantial benefits of the station to scientists from around the
country and to the general public.

Weaknesses:

No convincing case is provided that increased winter access would benefit outside user groups. For
example, would K-12 activity be improved in winter? If the area is treacherous in winter, is this a good
idea?

SUMMARY

The Sagehen Creek Field Station proposes to purchase a snow cat and build a garage for housing it. A
less-than-compelling case is made for improved safety, although this may indeed be a benefit of this
equipment. However, the need for winter access and the need for this specific solution for access are not
at all obvious. The station has an excellent history of solid research, education, and outreach to a broad
audience, but the proposal does not show serious advantages in these areas but rather suggests that the
real problem is summer demand.


This summary was read by the assigned panelists and they concurred that the summary accurately reflects
the panel discussion.


Panel Recommendation: Non-Competitive




Review #1



Proposal Number:

0731450

Performing Organization:

U of Cal Berkeley

NSF Program:

Field Stations

Principal Investigator:

Kirchner, James W

Proposal Title:

Sagehen Creek Field Station Snow-Season Access Project

Rating:

Very Good




REVIEW:

What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

Sagehen Creek Field Station has a long history of research activity in biology and has been a significant
site for investigations in geochemistry and geological sciences. Researchers from many institutions use
the facility and it attracts a diversity of field courses from multiple institutions. Activity at the facility has
increased significantly in the past 10 years. Its website is thorough and offers access to geographic,
climatic, and biological data and biological information such as species lists, in addition to extensive lists
of publications and other products resulting from work at the field station. Finally, the station is becoming
integrated into a larger network of field stations and acquiring significant new capacities for
environmental monitoring through state-of-the-art sensors.

The proposed improvement represents a specific implementation of a high priority initiative that emerged
from an extensive planning process involving diverse stakeholders. Specifically, infrastructure
improvements were regarded as a high priority, and access to the station and outlying sensors and field
sites during winter months was one of the highest priorities defined in the publicly available planning
documents that I downloaded from the station web site.

The proposed improvement represents a significant step in the right direction that approaches the goals
established in the planning documents. It would significantly improve the opportunities for station users
to investigate winter processes, which would probably focus in the hydrological, geochemical, and
climatic areas of inquiry. The improvements would certainly allow for greater visitation to the site during
winter, and expand opportunities for researchers and educators to make use of the station.

The argument for the purchase of the Bombardier snow cat appears to be compelling. Its passenger
capacity and utility to rapidly open road access to the station make it an especially helpful asset that
would greatly enhance the accessibility of station facilities in winter. The storage facility also appears to
represent an important support piece of infrastructure that would allow vehicles to be used throughout the
year.

The proposal could present more compelling arguments for the urgency of the need for winter access to
the facilities and natural areas surrounding the station. It was not yet clear which research programs
would benefit most and how they would expand and enhance their efforts through winter access. I can
imagine that the hydrological and geological community would benefit most, but the proposal did not
present concrete research outcomes that would result from the improvement. It was also not clear which
kinds of courses or other educational users would make use of the facility once winter access is facilitated
through purchase of the snow cat.


What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

Results from the investigations that would be generated through winter access could benefit the research
community and public at the local, regional, and national levels significantly. Educational programs can
increase awareness of the interconnection of environmental conditions, economic value and quality of
life. The station clearly already approaches these issues and winter access can enhance outreach
opportunities. In addition, the proximity of the field station to large populations in the American West,
which depend on winter climate and snow pack development, enhances its potential impact as a site for
assessment of environmental conditions during winter. The station's record of involvement with local
educational and outreach programs at the K12 level indicates that the proposed improvements would have
significant impact beyond the scientific community.

Summary Statement

This is a very good proposal and it is worthy of NSF support. The Sagehen Creek Station has been a
useful facility and site for high-quality research for decades. Researchers who lead their fields use the
facility for education, graduate student training, and their own programs, and the work that results from
these improvements can be expected to maintain the high impact that earlier investigations have achieved.
The justification for the proposed improvements (increased access to sites for monitoring, visitation,
evacuation) and the need (reduce time and effort to reopen access to the station after frequent severe
winter storms) appears valid. The improvements also represent a logical implementation of a broad-based,
thorough planning effort that was recently undertaken by station administrators. One of the major assets
of Sagehen is that long-term data on its biological diversity, climate, and hydrology exist and are publicly
available. The station clearly promotes access to this data, and this will definitely help attract researchers
to address questions about the relationship between winter climate and snow pack and biological
processes throughout the year.

The proposal did not address in great detail how the specific improvements will improve the quality and
amount of data. I do not know whether the sensors need frequent maintenance, download, or upgrade
during the winter, or what kinds of information cannot be gained from the planned sensor grid. It is not
yet clear specifically which segments of the research community would benefit most from winter access,
nor how visitation for other purposes (field courses, K12 outreach) would specifically use the facility in
winter.

Nevertheless, it appears that significant research outcomes would result from winter access to a facility of
such great natural value, in close proximity to major research institutions. The site is also well positioned
to take advantage of increasing interest in environmental monitoring of climate and hydrology that we
may expect in the coming years, and it is clearly located in an area of great economic importance to many
people.




Review #2



Proposal Number:

0731450

Performing Organization:

U of Cal Berkeley

NSF Program:

Field Stations

Principal Investigator:

Kirchner, James W

Proposal Title:

Sagehen Creek Field Station Snow-Season Access Project

Rating:
Fair




REVIEW:

What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

University of California-Berkeley's Sagehen Creek Field Station (SCFS) has a solid record of research
and attracts visiting scientists and students from around the country. The PI proposes the purchase of a
snow-cat and the building of a supporting garage.

The need for winter access is not particularly compelling. While summers are full, the "shoulder" seasons
are apparently not. Visiting scientists are less likely to travel to field stations in the winter as a rule, so the
potential user pool seems small. In most cases, the activity would be limited to local scientists. Given this,
I wonder if purchasing a small fleet of snowmobiles, or specialty tracks available for standard trucks
might not make more sense.

The safety argument presented could be more compelling. Presently only researchers with winter survival
skills can move safely through the basin. Buying a Snow-Cat then allows researchers WITHOUT winter
survival skills to move around the basin? What if the Snow-Cat breaks down? What on board couldn't be
carried in a standard pack and allow a skier to get assistance and locate their position? Or on a
snowmobile, for that matter? This aspect of "safety" does not seem reasonable. Consider also the counter-
argument: The equipment allows people to go farther (and thus, run into problems farther) away than in
the past. This has scientific merit, but doubtful safety values. On the other hand, the ability to plow access
roads and liberate snowbound scientists does have modest safety merits. Further, the ability to use the
snow-cat to rescue individuals who ran into trouble might be advantageous.


What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

Valuable K-12 educational activities occur on site, including programs for inner-city schools and other
districts with large populations of underrepresented minorities. These programs would likely benefit from
increased winter access. Beyond this, the case for substantial broader impacts is not well-made.

Summary Statement

University of California-Berkeley's Sagehen Creek Field Station (SCFS) proposes to purchase a snow-cat
and build an appropriate garage, thus allowing increased winter access to the facility. Currently, the
facility is booked in the summer high season, open and available in the "shoulder" seasons, and
effectively closed in the winter. Outside local users and perhaps K-12 groups, it is not clear that there
would be substantial demand in the winter. Even fully accessible, winterized stations typically have a lull
in activity at this time.
Review #3



Proposal Number:

0731450

Performing Organization:

U of Cal Berkeley

NSF Program:

Field Stations

Principal Investigator:

Kirchner, James W

Proposal Title:

Sagehen Creek Field Station Snow-Season Access Project

Rating:

Excellent




REVIEW:

What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

This is a straight-forward request for a piece of equipment that will increase the research and teaching
capacity of a productive field station in a unique environment. Enhanced winter access to Sagehen will
expand the already strong research programs based there, in addition to providing increased access to
other central Sierra Nevada research sites and thereby make research with this network of snow and
hydrological monitoring sites possible year round. Sagehen already has a unique winter ecology
educational program for all levels that is poised to grow with this improved access.

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

The research at Sagehen relates to a major environmental issue in the western US, i.e. water. The Sierra
Nevada snowpack provides water to millions of people in the US but this system is changing with global
warming and research done in this mountain system can provide insights and guidance for other systems
around the country and world that rely on mountains as "water towers" for cities.
The unique winter educational programs that have already been started at Sagehen can be easily expanded
with this improvement also. This mountain station is reasonably close to urban areas that can introduce a
diverse population to this unique environment.
Summary Statement

This is a well-argued proposal for a critical piece of equipment that can increase the value of an already
productive and valuable field station in a unique environment. The proposal has both strong intellectual
merit and broader impacts. The budget is justified and extremely efficient by identifying an ideal used
piece of equipment. The proposed construction is necessary and justified for the new piece of equipment
and also justified for the overall needs of the station. The only minor weaknesses are not clearly
articulating the plans for sharing the snowcat with the other central Sierra Nevada research sites and not
documenting a demand for increased winter research access, although especially this last issue can be
reasonably assumed given the current reserach profile.




Review #4



Proposal Number:

0731450

Performing Organization:

U of Cal Berkeley

NSF Program:

Field Stations

Principal Investigator:

Kirchner, James W

Proposal Title:

Sagehen Creek Field Station Snow-Season Access Project

Rating:

Very Good




REVIEW:
What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

The proposal does a fine job of demonstrating the kind, quality, and range of research and educational
benefits to be derived from providing winter access to the Sagehen facilities. Questions about how alpine
and montane forest ecosystems are responding to changes and variability in climate are among the most
important questions facing ecologists. Expanding the opportunity to investigate how these ecosystems are
responding during the winter season is critical and this increased access could potentially facilitate such
undertakings.

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

The growing importance of understanding how water resources, and in particular, snow pack, are
changing due to anthropogenic activities regionally and globally are among the most important resource
questions facing the west, and California in particular.


The educational and public outreach activities of Sagehen Reserve have been well publicized and very
notable for their success. While I am less convinced that improved winter access will translate to this
area, the important research questions, enhanced data sets, and the important resource policy implications
of increased winter research will likely translate into education and public outreach benefits that are not
entirety obvious at this time.

Summary Statement

This is a very compelling proposal and I can think of few examples where adding a single piece of non-
scientific equipment could potentially yield so many important research benefits.

My one concern is that it is not at all obvious that there will be sufficient budget resources available to
properly maintain either the snow plow or the metal building that will house this and other equipment. It
would be very helpful if there were a letter form the University of California committing to annual budget
augmentation that assurest that this additional infrastructure will be properly maintained.




Review #5



Proposal Number:

0731450

Performing Organization:

U of Cal Berkeley

NSF Program:
Field Stations

Principal Investigator:

Kirchner, James W

Proposal Title:

Sagehen Creek Field Station Snow-Season Access Project

Rating:

Fair




REVIEW:

What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

The Sagehen Creek Field Station has a long and distinguished history as a site for important research and
education in the eastern Sierra Nevada. Its level of use by researchers and educators from a wide variety
of institutions has increased markedly in recent years, and it has operated at capacity during the field
season now for several years. The funds requested in this proposal would be used to purchase a snowcat
vehicle that could keep the 1.8 mile access road open through the winter, provide access to station lands
for up to 10 people at a time, and provide emergency transportation away from the station if ever needed
when the station was otherwise snowbound. The grant would also include a large storage building for the
snowcat and other vehicles.

Despite the rich legacy of Sagehen Creek and its recent upsurge in use, I cannot see why the
improvements requested here would have a high priority. Field labs are generally less commonly
employed during the winter months simply because fewer organisms are active, regardless of access
issues. Despite its heavy use during the summer, the proposal does not justify the need for increased
winter access with any data showing a great demand by potential winter users. Such data could be
gathered with a survey of potential users, and might increase the request's priority.

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

Give its location and climate, it is doubtful that improved access during the coldest winter months will
stimulate increased use by K-12 groups, teachers, or the general public. And in the event of a real
emergency, it seems likely that the state highway departments that plow the roads just 1.8 miles away
could clear the road into the station.

Summary Statement

The Sagehen Creek Field Station has a distinguished history as a research and education facility, and it
will no doubt continue to serve in that capacity. While the improved winter access that this request would
enable would benefit a small number of users, I would give the request a low priority. Purchasing a larger
number of snowmobiles might improve access for those researchers whose projects really require winter
access, and be far more economical.

				
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