GEO supports basic research that advances the frontiers of knowledge and drives technological innovation while improving our understanding of the many processes that affect the global environment.These processes include the role of the atmosphere and oceans in climate, the planetary water cycle, andocean acidification. Support is provided for interdisciplinary studies that contribute directly to national research priorities such as: understanding, adapting to, and mitigating the impacts of global change; developing and deploying integrated ocean observing capabilities to support ecosystem-based management; and understanding future availability of fresh water. Lives are saved and property is preserved through better prediction and understanding of natural environmental hazards such as earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, drought and solar storms. Basic research supported by GEO enables preparation for and subsequent mitigation of, or adaptation to, the effects of these and other disruptive natural events.
GEO supports research spanning the Atmospheric, Earth, Ocean and Polar sciences. As the primary U.S. supporter of fundamental research in the polar regions, GEO provides interagency leadership for U.S. polar activities. In the Arctic, NSF helps coordinate research planning as directed by the Arctic Research Policy Act of 1984. The NSF Director chairs the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee created for this purpose, which is now a component of the President's National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). In the Antarctic, per Presidential Memorandum 6646, GEO manages all U.S. activities as a single, integrated program, making Antarctic research possible for scientists supported by NSF and by other U.S. federal agencies. The latter include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Smithsonian Institution, and the Department of Energy. The U.S. Antarctic Program research activity supported by NSF also supports leadership by the U.S. Department of State in the governance of the continent and Southern Ocean under the aegis of the Antarctic Treaty.
GEO provides about 64 percent of the federal funding for basic research at academic institutions in the geosciences.