Update from IRIS President Bob Detrick – September 2014

Dear Colleagues,

I’ve been at IRIS a little over four months now, and this seems like a good time to give you a report on my initial impressions of IRIS and plans for the coming year. On May 8th we marked the 30th anniversary of IRIS and three decades of support for the seismological research community. The following week, I held my first Board of Directors meeting and we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of EarthScope at a day-long symposium in Washington, D.C. co-sponsored by IRIS, UNAVCO and the EarthScope National Office. This symposium, attended by nearly 200 people from a wide range of Federal agencies, science organizations and universities, highlighted the scientific achievements enabled by EarthScope’s USArray, PBO and SAFOD, as well as the status of the facilities and the broader impacts resulting from the program.

The 2014 IRIS Workshop, Multi-Use Facilities for Multi-Use Data, was held June 8-11, 2014, in Sunriver, Oregon. The goals of the workshop were to review the newest developments in seismology, identify priorities for facility operations and initiatives under the new NSF SAGE Cooperative Agreement, and explore future scientific opportunities and facility needs post-2018. About 200 researchers and students attended the plenary sessions and participated in Special Interest Group discussions in what proved to be an exciting and stimulating 2½-day meeting. A copy of the final IRIS Workshop Report will be posted on the IRIS website.

One of my goals during my short tenure here has been to meet with as many IRIS staff, sub-awardees, and Consortium members as possible to hear what they think of IRIS and its future directions. The IRIS Workshop in June was a great chance for me to begin to do that. Over the summer I’ve also visited the IRIS Data Management Center in Seattle, the PASSCAL Instrument Center in Socorro, the USGS Albuquerque Seismic Lab, and Scripps. I’ll try to visit other sub-awardees and Consortium members over the next few months as opportunities arise. I’ve been holding regular bi-weekly phone calls with Greg Anderson at NSF, have met with other Program Directors from the Earth, Ocean and Polar Sciences Divisions who manage IRIS awards, and will be talking with Dr. Roger Wakimoto, the NSF Assistant Director for Geosciences next week. 

My impressions from these various meetings and visits has been very positive. IRIS staff, sub-awardees, and Consortium members are all very dedicated to IRIS’ mission of developing and maintaining state-of-the-art facilities for research; promoting the free and open exchange of data; fostering cooperation among IRIS members, affiliates and other organizations; and bringing the excitement of our science to students and the general public. The corporation itself is well-managed and financially sound with a very talented, knowledgeable and dedicated staff.  The IRIS Consortium is seen as a model for community governance of research facilities and is well respected by the broader community and the organizations that fund us. I’ve been particularly impressed by the commitment and hard work community members devote to IRIS’ governance and other activities (the Board, the Standing Committees and other IRIS-sponsored groups). The breadth and caliber of the research supported by IRIS-operated facilities is truly amazing, and I believe we are in a great position to build on this 30-year record of success.

However, I’ve also heard concerns about the future, especially given the very difficult fiscal climate in Washington now and the impact it is having on NSF and other Federal agencies. The first year of our core NSF SAGE award was funded at a level more than $3M below what was planned, including a 10% across-the-board reduction due to sequestration. The second year NSF SAGE budget was funded at the same level as the first year and is ~18% below what IRIS originally proposed for the second year of SAGE. These budget reductions are having an immediate impact on all of our programs, and that impact will grow in the out years if the budget remains flat, affecting the instrument capabilities and the data and educational services and products we can deliver to the community. There also is some uncertainty surrounding the end of EarthScope in 2018, and recompetition of the management of the NSF SAGE and NSF GAGE facilities, and what this may mean for IRIS and the facilities our Consortium members depend on. Despite these concerns, this is also a time of great excitement and opportunity for our community with the availability of new generations of seismic and other geophysical sensors; advances in data analysis, modeling and computational capabilities; and the application of seismological and related geophysical techniques to a growing range of new scientific questions in the geosciences.

I have three main priorities for IRIS for the coming year as we address these opportunities and challenges:

  1. successfully executing NSF SAGE and our other current awards,
  2. exploring new funding opportunities and ways of diversifying our funding, and
  3. positioning IRIS to successfully compete to continue to operate the NSF SAGE facilities beyond 2018. 

Successfully executing NSF SAGE and the other awards we are currently managing (OBSIP Management Office, Polar networks and projects, CEUSN, various EPO awards) is job number one. Given the likelihood of flat budgets for the remainder of the NSF SAGE Cooperative Agreement, we are asking the Standing Committees to work with IRIS Program Managers and subawardees to prioritize our activities to live within these budget constraints. The results of this “rescoping” exercise will be presented to the Board of Directors in November. We are also taking a close look at overhead and G&A costs to see where we might find savings there. 

We have openings in some key areas and, where we have the resources to do so, we will be filling these positions.We are currently looking for a new GSN Program Manager. This person will replace Kent Anderson who will be taking over the Portable Instrument Program that will now include both the PASSCAL and Polar programs. We have also recently hired a Research Associate, Danielle Sumy, to assist with IRIS’ Instrumentation Services and Education and Public Outreach programs. The movement of the Transportable Array to Alaska is one of our most exciting new activities and also one that will be very challenging both technically and logistically. In June, we brought on Max Enders, who came to us from UNAVCO’s PBO, to be the Station Deployment Coordinator in Alaska. Jeremy Miner has also been hired as a TA Station Specialist in Alaska.

My second priority for the coming year will be exploring new funding opportunities, new partnerships and new ways of diversifying our funding. We already have had some success in expanding our funding beyond NSF’s Earth Sciences Division with our growing Polar activities and management of the Ocean Science Division’s OBS instrument pool. In June, we held a very successful workshop in Houston on Active Uses of Passive Seismic Data which involved over 100 university and industry participants, and we are continuing a dialogue with key industry leaders on how to develop stronger ties with industry and utilize new industry-developed technologies, such as autonomous nodal sensors, in academic studies. With a very generous gift from Dr. Winston Chan we have established the David Simpson Fund for Innovation and I will be working with the Board to explore the possibility of seeking other private and foundation funding. These funds can be used to expand the Consortium’s reach by providing seed funding for new initiatives, supporting early career scientists, expanding international engagement, enhancing the visibility of research in seismology, and developing interactions with industry.

Finally, we will be working hard this year to position IRIS to successfully compete to operate the NSF SAGE facilities beyond 2018.  We are collaborating with UNAVCO and the EarthScope National Office on a proposal to NSF for a community workshop to be held in March 2015 to identify the key science questions and facility capabilities needed by the seismic and geodetic communities post-2018.  We’ll also be looking for additional ways to gather community input on these future facility needs.  In parallel with this, I will be working with the Board and the IRIS governance structure to develop a strategic vision for what we want IRIS to be in 2020 and a plan for how we want to approach the challenges and opportunities recompetition of the NSF SAGE and NSF GAGE facilities will present to us.

This is first of what I hope will be regular updates for Consortium members and affiliates to keep you informed of IRIS activities. Please feel free to share this update with colleagues at your institution. I also want to remind representatives from Voting Members of the upcoming election of new members to the Board of Directors.  Please see the Board Nominations Committee website.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on the future of IRIS and how we can serve your research needs better. You can contact me via email (detrick@iris.edu) or directly by phone (202 407-7011). I’d love to hear from you! 

Hope to see you at the Annual IRIS Membership Meeting at AGU on the evening of Monday, December 15!


Bob Detrick
IRIS President

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