GAC Statement on the Future of JCMT (August 15, 2012)

 
The JCMT has been a partnership between the UK (55%), Canada (25%) and the Netherlands (20%). The partnership will change in March 2013, with the withdrawal of the Netherlands. The STFC, the UK funding agency for JCMT, has committed to operations of JCMT until the end of September 2014, matching the commitment by Canada. The agencies have announced that at that point, unless a new partner is found, funding for the JCMT will cease.
 
During the first decade that SCUBA was present, the JCMT was the world’s primary sub-millimetre telescope, providing Canadian, UK and Dutch astronomers access to unobscured measurements of star formation within our galaxy and at cosmological distances. This past year the facility received a major new camera, SCUBA-2, which is the world’s fastest mapping instrument at 850 microns. At 450 microns it can map four times deeper than Herschel-SPIRE, with a beam size four times smaller. The scientific potential of SCUBA-2 has kindled broad Canadian interest in the JCMT, making it one of the most over-subscribed Canadian ground-based facilities during recent semesters.
 
With the closure of the JCMT, Canadian astronomers will lose a forefront facility that gives Canadians a competitive advantage for exploiting ALMA. Six coordinated Legacy surveys are presently underway at the JCMT, and risk not being completed with the planned 2014 closure. These surveys will have lasting value that will support ALMA science, and will provide a legacy that will last at least into the CCAT era. An extension of even a year or two would have an enormous scientific impact. These surveys have substantial Canadian leadership and participation, and through these surveys, as well as ongoing PI programs, SCUBA-2 has already demonstrated the kind of exciting science results that made SCUBA so successful.
 
Members of the Canadian astronomy community are searching for a new way to keep the JCMT funded through 2016. Canadian astronomers and their UK colleagues are seeking partners to provide at least a portion of the operating budget, which is at present about $4M per year. The intent is to tap Canadian funds that will not disrupt the priorities set out in the Long Range Plan (LRP). Highest priority would be given to completing the Legacy surveys, and an option that is being investigated is that of a stripped-down, SCUBA-2 only mode of operation with little user support and no future development program. Two years extended operation may also allow the implementation of Canadian-lead JCMT instruments (Pol-2 and the FTS, which are SCUBA-2 `add-ons’) that are funded and at various levels of development and commissioning.
 
Given the scientific importance of the JCMT to the Canadian astronomy community and the utility of the Legacy surveys, the GAC endorses efforts to find alternative means of funding operations at the JCMT for an additional 2 years. To ensure funding success in a highly competitive – and restrained – environment, it is recommended that a simplified operational model – that focuses on the timely completion of the legacy surveys – be pursued.

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