Philosophical Society of Washington

Science at the Earth's Poles

Karl Erb
National Science Foundation

2143rd Meeting Abstract
Friday, March 8, 2002 at 8:15 PM


Scientific research conducted in Polar Regions provides unique windows on phenomena ranging from climate change to the nature of the universe in its infancy. For example, analyses of ice cores extracted from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets show that dramatic climate change has been a fixture of those environments over the last several hundred thousand years. These together with measurements of current change both motivate and challenge climate change modelers. Microwave telescopes at the South Pole probe the distribution of matter in the universe as it existed 15 billion years ago. Recent measurements with these instruments indicate that 95% of the matter and energy in the universe remains undiscovered to date. The discovery of huge lakes that have been isolated from the atmosphere for millions of years by ice sheets thousands of meters thick presents the intriguing question of whether the lakes harbor microscopic life and what form such life might take.

The talk will survey current research activity and present illustrations of the challenges that have to be to enable research in these remote and hostile environments.

About the Author:

Karl A. Erb is Director of the Office of Polar Programs (OPP) at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Director of the U. S. Antarctic Program. He previously had been Senior Science Advisor, NSF, during 1992–1998.

He served in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from 1989–1992, initially as Assistant Director for physical sciences and Acting Associate Director on detail from NSF, and subsequently as the Senate-confirmed Associate Director for Physical Sciences and Engineering.

A 1965 graduate of New York University, Erb received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Michigan in 1970. He joined the University of Pittsburgh in that year as an Instructor and Research Associate in experimental nuclear physics. In 1972, he joined the Yale University faculty, serving subsequently as Instructor, Assistant Professor, and Associate Professor. He moved his research program to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1980 and subsequently became the Technical Assistant to the Associate ORNL Director for Physical Sciences.

Erb's research centered on experimental nuclear physics, particularly in the areas of heavy-ion science and nuclear molecular phenomena and accelerator technology. He served on a variety of review, advisory, and visiting committees, and from 1982 to 1985 was a member of the DOE/NSF Nuclear Science Advisory Committee.

His government service began in 1986 when he was appointed Director of the NSF Nuclear Physics Program. He became Deputy Director of the Physics Division and a member of the Career Senior Executive Service in 1989, and was awarded the Presidential Rank Award in 1999. He recently served on the National Science Board Task Force on International Science and was a founding member of the Governing Board of the INDO-U. S. Foundation. He is the U. S. representative to the International Arctic Science Council Regional Board and the elected Chair of the International Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs. Erb is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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