WAIS Science and Implementation Plan: Preface

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet Initiative (WAIS) began under the name of SeaRISE (Sea-level Response to Ice Sheet Evolution) and was conceived at a workshop held January 23-25, 1990, in College Park, Maryland. SeaRISE was recommended to the National Science Foundation's Division of Polar Programs (now Office of Polar Programs) as a necessary initiative to assess accurately the potential of marine ice sheets to change sea level rapidly. The report of that workshop (NASA Conference Publication 3075) established the scientific rationale for this multidisciplinary investigation. Further refinement of WAIS was accomplished at a second workshop held October 16-18, 1990, at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. The results of that workshop were published as the WAIS Science and Implementation Plan (NASA Conference Publication 3115, Volume 1) and a set of review papers underscoring the couplings that exist between the ice, ocean, atmosphere, and land in the Antarctic (NASA Conference Publication 3115, Volume 2).

The research blueprint specified in the WAIS Science and Implementation Plan was ambitious. Despite the absence of special funds, the Office of Polar Programs has maintained substantial financial support of WAIS. This support has resulted in a great deal of scientific progress by a large number of investigators. Three additional workshops have been held to share and exchange results with the WAIS community. The first, held September 13-14, 1992, is reported in NASA Conference Publication 3222. The second and third (September 22-23, 1994 and September 6-7, 1995) have begun a succession of annual workshops at NSF that should be maintained to encourage and enhance WAIS research.

Participants at the last two workshops decided that a revision to the original WAIS Science and Implementation Plan was in order because:

  • WAIS investigations have made major progress in answering some of the key questions in the original Science and Implementation Plan;
  • new key questions have been spawned by WAIS research;
  • discrepancies between the Eemian records of the GISP-2 and GRIP cores and the rapidity of major climate change detected in the GISP-2 core make urgent the need to acquire a high-accumulation-rate core from sites in the Southern Hemisphere;
  • the Greenland drilling experience made clear the inexorable link between ice-core analysis and ice-sheet dynamics;
  • NSF and the scientific community needed a WAIS document that more clearly defined the most urgent research.

In this revised WAIS Science and Implementation Plan, the Science Plan presents the goals and objectives of WAIS and incorporates the most recent scientific results by updating the disciplinary discussions of key questions and methods to answer them. The Implementation Plan has been even more extensively revamped. Organized by the multidisciplinary objectives of WAIS, the Implementation Plan identifies the most urgently needed research from a list of questions needing answers to facilitate the most rapid progress toward meeting the WAIS goals. The WAIS Working Group hopes that this near-term focus to the Implementation Plan will serve to assist those wishing to propose new work and help NSF plan for anticipated funding and logistic requests to support this critical research. It is expected that the Implementation Plan will be revised annually.

A general overview of the revised WAIS program, "WAIS: The West Antarctic Ice Sheet Initiative: A Multidiscipinary Study of Rapid Climate Change and Future Sea Level" is available from R. Bindschadler (or see the Illustrated Summary on the WAIS Web Site).