A message from SCAR President Steven L. Chown:
I am writing to you to update you on SCAR’s activities and actions over the past few months. We are acutely aware of the challenges the community is facing, and in particular from reduced and/or substantially modified field seasons for the coming austral summer.
The SCAR Executive has now consulted all of our Members about ways in which SCAR might hear the wishes of the Members through a process that does not require a formal meeting, given that for the moment such meetings are problematic. We have heard back from the majority of our Members. An online discussion platform is now being developed (with rigorous security) that will enable us to share views and to reach a swift conclusion about the way forward. We are hoping to deliver that platform, and a summary of Member views and additional considerations raised, within the next month. As the community will appreciate, SCAR’s Members provide the support that enables us to undertake our work. Consulting Delegates for their views is an essential way for us to ensure that science facilitation and advice provision, our major roles, continue to be aligned with the Members’ views on the best use of such support.
The SCAR Executive is also mindful that SCAR’s work comes from our community of volunteers. In this regard, we have taken several steps to ensure continuity over this complicated period.
- In terms of activities, we have placed all funds that were earmarked for travel for 2020 into a reserved budget line because travel is largely not possible in 2020. That means these funds are unavailable now. It also means, however, that once travel becomes more feasible and groups are able to undertake the activities they had planned, these activities can be reconsidered. The specifics of these actions can be discussed through the Chief Officers of Scientific Groups, Standing Committees and Scientific Research Programs. If uncertainty remains, please contact the Executive and the relevant Chief Officer.
- Subsidiary groups that have plans that they have postponed should let Chief Officers of Science Groups know about these so that we can make sure we have identified these requests. SCAR’s budget typically identifies these line-by-line, thus it is relatively straightforward to consider them and to ensure that we take the appropriate steps.
- Funding requests that are not travel-related are being considered on a case-by-case basis. We have been turning down ad hoc requests for funds that were allocated to travel but which are being redirected to particular projects or support for researchers or students. So many researchers have been affected by the pandemic that we do not have resources to address all requests. Nonetheless, we recognise that we can take steps to assist. One of these is to facilitate interactions between those who have lost access to the field and those who may have datasets in the same field of research that could do with some help working them up. We understand that impacts may be felt especially severely by PhD students and Early Career Researchers, and would welcome suggestions for ways we could connect, through SCAR, those with need for data and those who have data and need the data worked up. We would then also potentially be in a position to provide some support for making this happen. Providing such a brokering service strikes the Executive as an important way SCAR can continue to facilitate science.
- The Program Planning Groups (PPGs) approved at our 2018 meeting in Davos have all now delivered final proposals for the Scientific Research Programs (SRPs) envisaged. These are:
- Instabilities and Thresholds in Antarctica: The Antarctic Contribution to Sea-Level Change (INSTANT)
- Near-term Variability and Prediction of the Antarctic Climate System (AntClimNow)
- Integrated Science to Inform Antarctic and Southern Ocean Conservation (Ant-ICON)
The proposals are now out for peer review. Once the reviews are in, the reviews, the proposals and considerations from the Executive will be circulated to the Delegates. As the community should be aware, our current suite of SRPs comes to an end this year. Therefore, the Executive is of the view that a potentially significant gap exists in SCAR’s science facilitation activity and we are therefore intent on progressing the process for these proposals, and potentially for other new program planning groups that may be coming from Science Groups.
5. The Standing Committee on the Antarctic Treaty System continues to prepare papers that were due for presentation at the now-cancelled Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, and several papers that we intend to submit to the CCCAMLR meeting that will take place in adjusted form later this year. Moreover, the Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment report update SCAR was due to deliver this year has been delayed to 2021, to take into consideration the additional challenges that many of our volunteers have faced over the past several months.
More generally, the SCAR Executive has now also set in motion procedures to alter our Articles of Association and Rules of Procedure to enable us to hold online meetings. These changes have to be available to the Delegates for six months prior to a decision, according to our rules. We aim to have a draft of these available within the next month at the latest. We have also been seeking ways in which we may be able to host a virtual meeting of Delegates to replace the in-person Hobart one. As I have mentioned, this is not straightforward for several reasons, not least of which are the difficulties associated with our Articles of Association. Nonetheless, some progress has been made here too, and we hope to be in a position to make an announcement shortly about that. We are seeking advice about whether the announcement we made for the Hobart meeting would still enable us to consider that sufficient time to alert Delegates to a forthcoming meeting, or whether we need to restart the clock for a six-month announcement as our Articles require.
As you will also have seen (www.scar.org/general-scar-news/isc-statement/), SCAR has acknowledged the need to take further action to combat systemic racism and other forms of discrimination, in keeping with our values (www.scar.org/about-us/values/). The SCAR Executive has set aside additional resources to do so and has requested Vice-President for Capacity Building, Ravi Ravichandran, to take leadership of this work. SCAR will in due course be in touch with the community to hear about proposals and steps required to give ongoing and growing effect to such action. In this regard, the SCAR Executive is listening and welcomes advice.
Finally, and excitingly, we are closing in on an online version of the SCAR OSC – conveniently we can rename it the SCAR Online Science Conference. We are pleased in this respect to be building on the fantastic groundwork laid by our colleagues at the Australian Antarctic Division, and the service provider Leishman Associates, which has made life less complicated. Catherine Ritz, Vice-President for Science, Chandrika Nath, Executive Director, and many session chairs and organisers have done a fabulous job in pulling together what looks to be an amazing program. Stay tuned to the SCAR website for announcements.
As always, should you wish to raise any matter with me directly, please feel free to do so by e-mail. And likewise with any member of the SCAR Executive.
Steven L Chown