New Mexico Tech Spent Stimulus on Travel to France, Foreign Nationals in Antarctica
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Stimulus funds awarded to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology paid for travel to France, New Zealand and Antarctica, and supported the costs of foreign nationals during three expeditions to the frozen continent. The $499,991 stimulus grant from the National Science Foundation has created or saved less than one full-time job in the United States per year since the grant was awarded.
God of Darkness, Son of Chaos
On August 7, 2009, the NSF awarded NM Tech nine hundred pennies short of half a million dollars from the 2009 stimulus legislation to study Mt. Erebus, Antarctica’s most active volcano. Since 1972, NM Tech has operated the Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory. The volcano is located on Antarctica’s Ross Island. Erebus’s winter temperature averages -58F. Its summer averages –4F.
Mount Erebus was discovered in 1841 by polar explorer Sir James Ross, who gave the volcano the name of one of his ships. Erebus in Greek mythology was the son of Chaos and considered the god of darkness.
NM Tech’s project is still active. The grant was given to fund 4 expeditions during Antarctica’s summer (November to January). Erebus merited study because it is one of only a handful of volcanos with a permanent magma lake. “Despite its remoteness it represents an outstanding natural laboratory to study magma degassing associated with an open convecting magma conduit. Because of the extreme conditions on Erebus it also represents the perfect test-bed for evaluating instrumentation and power systems in Antarctic and volcanic environments.” The grant description in its entirety may be found at the web page for this grant maintained at recovery.gov, the federal government’s clearinghouse for tracking stimulus funds. (Due to a reporting glitch at recovery.org, the quarterly reports appear at two separate sites, here and here)
A Dozen Jobs in Antarctica, Less Than One in New Mexico
As required by its grant, NM Tech has filed quarterly reports on the use of the funds, the activities supported by the funds, and the number of jobs created or saved for each three month period since August 2009. The quarterly reports reveal that the greatest expenditure of funds was to support three teams of 12 people each during three-month long expeditions to Antarctica. Members of the expedition started blogs and posted updates on Facebook and Twitter.
Back in New Mexico, NM Tech was reporting an insignificant impact on creating or saving jobs. For instance, during the first expedition while stimulus funds were supporting twelve people in Antarctica, including one described as “camp mother,” NM Tech reported only .2 (two/tenths) of a full-time job created or saved back home in the USA. That part-time work went to an undergraduate student research assistant and lasted no more than three months.
During the second expedition, while stimulus funds supported another twelve-person team in Antarctica, the jobs created or saved in New Mexico were only minimal part-time work. Specifically, NM Tech reported that this half-million dollar grant provided the following economic stimulus in the US (.10 means ten percent of one full time job for a three month period):
.10 Faculty – Job Retained;
.27 Professional -Job Retained;
.54 Graduate Student Research Assistant – Job Created;
.27 Graduate Student Research Assistant – Job Retained;
.27 Graduate Student Research Assistant – Job Retained;
.23 Graduate Student Research Assistant – Job Retained.
The first quarter of 2012 saw the most jobs created or retained by this project: 2.59 for a three month period. That figure was calculated from combining minimal part-time work from seven students with one full-time job for a contractor. This quarter saw stimulus funds being spent on sending individuals to a conference in France (see below).
Although not reported at recovery.gov, the Facebook posts by members of the expedition discuss stopovers in Christchurch, New Zealand to enjoy days of summer down under.
The average number of full time jobs created in the United States with the $499,991 grant of stimulus funds since the grant was awarded was less than one per year.
US Stimulus Supports the Costs of Foreign Nationals in Antarctica
The quarterly reports filed by NM Tech state that the funds have been used on three separate Austral summer expeditions to support a team of twelve people. The identities of those twelve people are reported on the website established by NM Tech to report on the operations of its Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory. Citizens of the United Kingdom, Italy and New Zealand were members of the teams funded by funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
A third of the stimulus funded 2011 expedition were foreign nationals. In 2010 and 2009, foreign nationals filled five of the twelve slots paid for with US stimulus funds.
Stimulus Buys Travel to France…For Foreign Nationals?
According to the report for the first quarter of 2012, funds from this grant were used to send three unidentified people to a conference in Orleans, France in March 2012 at which these individuals gave presentations on the Mt. Erebus project. The National Science Foundation provided New Mexico Watchdog a link to this conference held in Orleans, France in March 2012. The link provided did not work. But on another website dedicated to the study of volcanoes, we found the names of four persons providing presentations on Mt. Erebus at this conference who were members of NM Tech’s stimulus-funded expeditions. Those individuals were Kayla Iacovino, Yves Moussallam, Tenuka Ilanka and Nial Peters. They are graduate students not at NM Tech, but England’s Cambridge University. A search under the title of the conference given to us by the NSF turns up a presentation by Dr. Clive Oppenheimer. He is a volcanologist with the Geography Department of Cambridge University and has participated in all three of NM Tech’s Mt. Erebus expeditions funded by money from the 2009 stimulus. His biography lists the NSF grant of stimulus funds as one of the sources of funding for his work.
The National Science Foundation Defends the Grant
New Mexico Watchdog asked the National Science Foundation how this grant and the way it was spent on foreign travel complied with the purposes for which Congress appropriated stimulus funds. Those purposes were stated in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009:
(1) To preserve and create jobs and promote economic recovery.
(2) To assist those most impacted by the recession.
(3) To provide investments needed to increase economic efficiency by spurring technological advances in science and health.
(4) To invest in transportation, environmental protection, and other infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits.
(5) To stabilize State and local government budgets, in order to minimize and avoid reductions in essential services and counterproductive state and local tax increases.
As we promised the National Science Foundation, here is their answer, in full and verbatim, from Dana Topouisis of the NSF’s Office of Legislative and Public Affairs:
About NSF and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009:
The National Science Foundation’s ARRA portfolio includes more than 5,000 awards totaling almost $3.0 billion. All NSF awards, including those made with ARRA funds, have been through rigorous peer review that established the intellectual merits and broader impacts of the proposal. Because of NSF’s mission, our primary economic impact advances the long-term goals – innovation and reinvestment – inherent in the statement of purpose set forth in ARRA Sections (3) & (4), particularly to provide investments needed to increase economic efficiency by spurring technological advances in science and health.
For these reasons, NSF planned its ARRA portfolio with awards intended to address a broad array of the country’s most pressing needs in the areas of high tech Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) workforce development, STEM infrastructure construction and enhancement, and investment in cutting-edge research with potential for high rewards. ARRA allowed NSF an opportunity to fund more than 5,000 additional proposals that not only met these ARRA criteria, but had also been highly recommended by peer review panels but could not be funded under regular appropriated funds due to budget limits.
NSF receives more than 50,000 research proposals per year and funds about 11,000 proposals with its regularly appropriated funds each year.
About Award # 0838817:
Basic research in volcanology will help to understand how volcanoes work and the more we know, the better chance we have eventually of developing ways of predicting destructive eruptions. Prediction in this field can help mitigate losses by informing public safety officials on when evacuation is needed.
The award for this proposal was to undertake studies of Mt Erebus, which is in Antarctica. NSF manages the U.S. Antarctic Program. Research on Mt Erebus contributes to the greater understanding of how volcanoes work and has direct implications to volcanic hazards and mechanisms for how volcanoes erupt, in the U.S. and globally. The award has been instrumental in supporting graduate students and support staff who would otherwise been unemployed. The ongoing research on Mt. Erebus has attracted a lot of interest in NM Tech, a leading research institution, and has resulted in a large number of graduate applicants to the Geology program at NM Tech. This project also furthers NSF’s mission to advance STEM capabilities for discovery, innovation and overall knowledge-based prosperity in EPSCoR states, balancing the distribution of federal research dollars.
Researcher participation in international science conferences is a way of facilitating US leadership in science and facilitating NSF’s goal of creating a globally engaged scientific workforce. The workshop you mention in France was about Mt. Erebus: “Erebus Volcano: An exceptional Laboratory”: http://lestudium.cnrs-orleans.fr/anglais/rubriques/actu/accueil.htm.
Recipient Reporting on Recovery.gov:
If you go to Recovery.gov, type the award number in the search box on the right hand side, and you’ll get a list of reports associated with this award. More information about NSF’s ARRA portfolio is available at http://nsf.gov/recovery/. (end of NSF statement)
Related stories: Stimulus for New Mexico Funds Monkey Study, European Travel
Photo of Orleans, France on main page courtesy of Wikicommons.
Of interest: National Geographic story on Mt. Erebus researchers, what life is like eating frozen Cheerios
Posted under News.
Tags: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Antarctica, ARRA, Dr. Clive Oppenheimer, Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory, Mt. Erebus, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, New Mexico Tech, recovery.gov, stimulus
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