FAQs on the Future of IRIS and UNAVCO

1.  Why are IRIS and UNAVCO considering creating a new organization?

As our science (seismology and geodesy) becomes more convergent, there is benefit to examining how we can support research and education as a single organization. Following initial discussions, the IRIS and UNAVCO Boards reached consensus that the joining of IRIS and UNAVCO is the best option for the research community to continue to conduct and advance cutting-edge geophysics. We are confident that the new community-governed organization will continue to serve the needs of the diverse research communities that we presently support.

2.  Where do discussions stand now?

In October 2019, the IRIS and UNAVCO Boards formed a Negotiation Committee of Board members and facility staff to develop the terms under which a new organization might form and create a vision for the new entity that will leverage the strengths of our existing organizations. We have made excellent progress in these discussions. Topics that have been addressed by the Negotiation Committee include:

  • Benefits and risks of a single organization; desired outcomes

  • Mission and vision statements for the new organization

  • Identifying a legal framework for moving forward

  • A governance model and bylaws for the new organization

  • Organizational structure and management models

  • Process for naming the new organization

  • Process for identifying office/facility locations

  • Financial due diligence; benefits comparison

  • Establishing a timeline 

3.  What will the new organization look like?

  • The new organization will treat both merging entities and communities as equals.

  • The core values of our existing organizations will be retained.

  • The new organization will be community-governed and otherwise engaged as IRIS and UNAVCO currently are.

  • Organizationally, it will look and function similar to our present organizations.

  • The new organization will have a new name, new Bylaws and an expanded Board of Directors to reflect our large and diverse communities.

4.  What will the new organization be called?

The name of the new organization will be selected by both Boards based on suggestions made from the IRIS and UNAVCO communities. The naming contest was announced in June 2020.  

5.  How will the new organization be governed?

The new organization will be governed by a community-elected Board of Directors and Advisory Committees. All governance committees will be made up of members from the science community served by the new organization. This community may evolve to become broader than the current geodetic and seismic communities as the organization serves a broader span of interdisciplinary and diverse research. Governance body membership will incorporate balanced representation from among the current IRIS and UNAVCO community stakeholders.

6.  What services will the new organization provide?

The new community-governed organization will support a broad range of scientific research by delivering instrument services, data services and education, workforce development, and public outreach. It is also expected to support emerging and novel applications for sensors, software and geoinformatics. A strong priority will be retaining the deep technical knowledge and staff experience that currently exists within both UNAVCO and IRIS today.

7. Will the new organization have the same budget as IRIS and UNAVCO have now?

The new organization is designed to work much like IRIS and UNAVCO do now.  This means that the budget will depend on grants, awards and contracts from many different entities that support research and applied science. The bulk of the support, and the majority of the scope of work, are likely to continue to come from the NSF for support of a large geophysical facility, but the details of that facility are not yet available. They will be released in a solicitation to be issued by NSF during the 2nd quarter of 2021. There could be changes in facility capabilities, programs and budgets based on the CORES report, a study of NSF’s EAR Division by the National Research Council published in May 2020; a Portfolio Review which NSF/EAR will be conducting during the second half of 2020; recent reviews of IRIS and UNAVCO activities; and other factors, such as input from the scientific community. As IRIS and UNAVCO currently do, the new organization will also pursue a wide range of community governed initiatives,

8.  Where will the new organization be located?

IRIS and UNAVCO are geographically distributed organizations and it’s likely that the new organization will also have offices and facilities at multiple locations. Some IRIS and UNAVCO staff currently telework, and this practice may become significantly greater in the new organization, providing cost savings and staffing flexibility. IRIS and UNAVCO have issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking expressions of interest for hosting elements of the new organization. We will use responses to this RFI for planning purposes and to ensure that any subsequent Request for Proposals (RFP) is well conceived and framed to take advantage of the full range of opportunities that host institutions may provide. Responses to this RFI are due by 5:00 pm MT on September 18, 2020.

9.  How can I keep abreast of what is happening with the formation of the new organization?

We will provide regular email updates to the IRIS and UNAVCO communities on progress made toward the creation of the new organization. We will also hold additional virtual Town Hall Meetings with both staff and community members to provide updates and answer questions. You can submit your questions to community@unavco.org or community@iris.edu, from which you will receive a prompt reply. This FAQ will provide a written record of those questions and answers.

10. When will all this happen?

The Boards of both IRIS and UNAVCO voted on the terms and bylaws of a new organization in August 2020. The representatives of the Member Organizations of both IRIS and UNAVCO will be asked to approve these terms during Fall 2020. If approved by the Membership, detailed planning for the new organization will begin immediately thereafter. The intention is to have the new organization active in 2023. 

11. Will the new organization only support the facilities IRIS and UNAVCO currently support, or a broader range of geophysical facilities?

We envision the a new organization that will support both the foundational activities in geodesy and seismology that UNAVCO and IRIS currently support, as well as new capabilities in transdisciplinary science. One of the inspirations for combining our organizations is to leverage our strengths to provide a wider and more agile range of services to the scientific community.  For example, the core strengths in data handling and archiving of both organizations could be extended to allow for more multidata inversions, or comparisons of complementary sensor time series, or machine learning approaches to automated event identification. Strengths in field engineering could allow for more multisensor stacks, leading to richer data streams and potential new scientific discoveries.

12. How are IRIS and UNAVCO working together now?

IRIS and UNAVCO have a long history of working together dating back more than a decade, including our large-scale collaborations during the EarthScope program. Our Data Services groups have successfully partnered on several joint proposals to NSF’s EarthCube program. This year, we have begun a multi-year Common Cloud Platform project to integrate our data archives and services, and prepare to migrate them to the cloud. IRIS and UNAVCO educational and outreach programs have worked closely to coordinate our activities to ensure that our programs complement each other’s efforts. IRIS and UNAVCO share a warehouse and office space in Anchorage to support our respective field work in Alaska. Beginning in 2019, the annual GAGE-SAGE community workshops have been jointly organized by IRIS and UNAVCO. These are just a few examples of how our two organizations have worked together.