GEOSCIENCES                                                                                                  $485,480,000



The FY 2000 Budget Request for the Geosciences (GEO) Activity is $485.48 million, an increase of $12.50 million, or 2.6 percent, over the FY 1999 Current Plan of $472.98 million.


(Millions of Dollars)


The GEO Activity supports research in the atmospheric, earth, and ocean sciences.  As the principal source of federal funding for university-based fundamental research in the geosciences, GEO addresses  the nation's need to understand, predict and respond to environmental events and changes and to use Earth's resources wisely.  Basic research in the geosciences advances scientific knowledge of Earth's environment, including resources such as water, energy, minerals, and biological diversity.  GEO-supported research also advances our ability to predict natural phenomena of economic and human significance, such as climate changes, weather, earthquakes, fish-stock fluctuations, and disruptive events in the solar-terrestrial environment.


Three goals guide GEO's activities:


·         Advancement of knowledge about the Earth system, which includes both maintaining adequate bases of support across all geoscience fields and identifying opportunities where more focused support can play a catalytic role in advancing scientific progress.


·         Enhancement of the infrastructure for the conduct of geoscience research.  GEO will identify and make investments in instrumentation and facilities (including ships, aircraft, computers, radars, seismographs, and data management systems) needed to do world-class research.


·         Improvement of the quality of geoscience education and training.  GEO will advance the education and training for current geoscientists, facilitate the education and training for future generations of geoscientists, and enhance the general public’s knowledge about the integrated components of the Earth system.


GEO actively participates in and contributes to the Foundation's three areas of emphasis: Biocomplexity in the Environment, Information Technologies, and Educating for the Future.


Biocomplexity in the Environment (BE):  includes a set of increasingly coordinated activities in environmental science, engineering and education. Activities related to the environment advance scientific knowledge about the Earth system.  Because the geosciences are inherently related to the function of the interrelated systems which compose the environment in which we live, the majority of activities supported by GEO relate to BE.  GEO will provide $327.92 million in FY 2000, an increase of $8.27 million over the FY 1999 level of $319.65 million for activities formerly known as Life and Earth’s Environment, and will support programs within BE, including:


·         Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, which focuses on understanding the dynamic processes of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, the diversity of life on Earth, and responses to long-term changes in land, air, and water.  The emphasis in this sub-theme is on interdisciplinary approaches to probing the complex interplay of chemical, biological, and physical factors in Earth's many geographically distinct regions.  Advances in this area will enable improved methodologies and techniques for the study of the carbon cycle and life and environments in areas for which current capabilities are limited or nonexistent, leading to better understanding of biocomplexity including interactions between the biosphere and atmosphere as well as the diversity of environments capable of supporting life and the functioning of natural and engineered systems. 


Included in this sub-theme is the multi-agency Life in Extreme Environments (LExEn) program.  LExEn seeks to improve fundamental understanding of the formation and development of life and an understanding of the physical, chemical, and geological processes that sustain life.  The study of microbial life forms that exist in extreme conditions on Earth, ranging from volcanoes to polar sea ice to hydrothermal vents, will provide important new insights about how life originated and evolved on Earth and whether and how life may thrive on other planets.  FY 2000 support for LExEn totals $2.0 million within GEO.


·         Environment and the Human Dimension, which recognizes explicitly the role that humans play in contributing to changes in the environment and adapting to and/or mitigating the effects of environmental change. Major FY 2000 GEO efforts in this area include the U.S. Weather Research Program (USWRP), the National Space Weather Program (NSWP), and the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP).


·         Global Environmental Change, which focuses on understanding processes and predicting changes in the global environment.  Some examples are global atmospheric and ocean circulation and fluxes in mass and energy between the atmosphere, the land, the oceans, and the biosphere.  Often supported by geographic information and visualization systems, investigations are directed toward understanding the dynamics, rates, and linkages of these phenomena.  In FY 2000, GEO will continue to support research on Variability in the Earth System.  This investment will result in enhanced capability for remote sensing and a better understanding of the interplay between short-term phenomena and long-term trends.


Many of the BE-related activities GEO supports are components of the U.S. Global Change Research Program.  GEO support for the U.S. Global Change Research Program in FY 2000 will total $128.49 million. 


Information Technologies (IT):  In FY 2000, GEO will provide approximately $7.0 million to support focused information based activities. Highlights include:


·         $1.3 million for enhancement of Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) systems including the global seismic network and data management system;

·         $2.4 million for expansion of computational capability for management and modeling of climate data.

·         $3.0 million for development of ocean collaboratory capabilities; and

·         $400,000 for computationally challenging research topics in the earth sciences including dynamic modeling of earth system processes and management of very large data sets.


These efforts build on funding of $82.56 million in FY 1999 for activities formerly grouped under the title Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence; total FY 2000 funding of activities related to Information Technologies totals $85.43 million.  Overall FY 2000 activities include research on:  Intelligent systems, those that generate observations and model components of the Earth System and organize this information for effective use; Integrated Information Systems, which enable storage and access of massive amounts of retrospective and real time information about the Earth System; Collaboratories, which link disciplinary communities and allow the sharing of observations, tools, and methods for analysis and prediction; and the Next Generation Internet, prototypes of which are being used in the geoscience community to tie together the components of GEO’s IT research.


Educating For the Future (EFF):  GEO supports a range of programs which encourage innovative approaches to meeting the challenge of educating students for the 21st century.  A FY 2000 total of $14.10 million, including an increment of $620,000, will support programs such as Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT), and the Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER). 


A successful example of GEO supported EFF activities is the Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) program established in 1995 in partnership with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.  The goal of this four-year program was to create a direct pipeline that brings ethnically diverse students into careers in the atmospheric and related sciences, including engineering, mathematics, and social sciences.  Recent partnerships with other federal agencies helped increase the number of student program positions from 12 in 1995 to 18 in 1998. In FY 1998 the Atmospheric Sciences Subactivity supported 14 high school students, 11 undergraduate and three graduate students from diverse backgrounds.  The career development of all SOARS participants is being tracked to determine the effectiveness of the SOARS approach.



Key Program Functions


GEO supports its activities through the following key program functions:


(Millions of Dollars)

1 Includes only costs charged to the R&RA Appropriation.


Research Project Support


Research projects supporting individual researchers and small groups of investigators advance fundamental knowledge across a wide range of topics.  Research projects in Atmospheric Sciences improve the understanding and prediction of climate, weather, and the global environmental system.    Earth Science research projects advance knowledge of the structure, composition, and history of the solid Earth and of the geological and hydrological processes that modify Earth.  Research projects in Ocean Sciences improve knowledge of the global climate system, coastal environments, the character of the ocean floor, processes that control the chemical composition and motion of ocean waters, and the production of marine organisms.


Almost two-thirds of GEO’s funding is directed toward research project support in all GEO disciplinary areas. Over 1,200 awards are made each year, with an average annual award size of approximately $84,600 and a duration of 2.6 years.  Although some GEO-sponsored research projects represent a single discipline, a significant fraction are multidisciplinary efforts drawing on the talents and perspectives of several researchers, who together provide valuable knowledge about the complex interactions among different facets of the integrated Earth system.


For example, a high risk, rapid response cruise was recently made to the Juan de Fuca Ridge, where seismic monitoring indicated that a major seafloor eruption had taken place.  The cruise not only found the area in which a recent eruption had taken place, but also observed and sampled dense concentrations of bacteria issuing from a new hydrothermal vent system.  It appeared that these bacteria were living deep in the ridge crest rocks and that they had been released by the faulting associated with the earthquake.  The notion of very high concentrations of bacteria living within seafloor rocks had been postulated before, but had never been observed or sampled.  Volatile gases released during these eruptive events may be the nutrient source for communities of sub-seafloor organisms, many of which are Archaea bacteria, one of the most ancient forms of life on this planet.  Based upon the massive and sustained output of microbial biomass from the new vents, oceanographers have estimated the potential biomass associated with the ridge crest and suggest that this deep biosphere is a significant component of Earth’s biomass. While these systems and the bacteria living in them have implications for the origin of life on our own planet, they may also be models for life elsewhere in the universe.


Priorities for FY 2000 include increased support for the U.S. Weather Research Program, the National Space Weather Program, Research Experiences for Undergraduates, and several programs associated with the U.S. Global Change Research Program, including Earth System History, Global Tropospheric Chemistry, and Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics.  Support will be maintained for ongoing programs in coastal ocean processes and environmental geochemistry and biogeochemistry.


In addition, GEO will continue to support the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), totaling $10.90 million in FY 2000.


In FY 2000, GEO will continue its efforts to address Foundation-wide concerns about grant sizes by increasing the average size and duration of the awards and providing more support for researchers.  In accord with the Foundation's FY 2000 Performance Plan, GEO will continue to provide increased attention to the percentage of competitive research grants going to new investigators.  These efforts will contribute to increasing the efficiency of the Foundation's merit review process and achieve greater cost-effectiveness for both NSF and the university community.


GEO-supported centers include Science and Technology Centers (STCs­) and Long Term Ecological Research sites.


(Millions of Dollars)

1The reduction of support reflects the planned phase-out of the first class of STCs in FY 1999, as well as planned reductions in the second class of STCs.


GEO supports three Science and Technology Centers:


·         Center for Clouds, Chemistry, and Climate (University of California at San Diego), whose objectives include improving the understanding of the roles of clouds and chemistry in climate change.


·         Southern California Earthquake Center (University of Southern California), which has emerged as a focal point for earthquake research in southern California.  It has fostered unprecedented cooperation among the major southern California universities, Federal, state and local agencies, and private corporations.


·         Center for High Pressure Research (State University of New York at Stony Brook), which brings together multidisciplinary teams from universities, national laboratories, and industry to study the effect of pressure on the properties of natural and synthetic materials.  The Center is the U.S. focus of fundamental research on processes in Earth’s deep interior, through controlled experimentation under simulated natural conditions.


The research agendas of the three STCs require a center environment to address the multidisciplinary and highly complex scientific objectives.  Approximately 250 scientists and students use the three centers each year, with  additional participants in workshops, conferences and special projects, such as visits of pre-college students and field projects.


Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites support projects requiring long periods of study; the sustained nature of the studies allows scientifically sound evaluations of major environmental phenomena.  The LTERs are "research platforms"  representing many disciplines that enhance our understanding of general ecological phenomena which occur over long temporal and broad spatial scales, provide information for the identification and solution of environmental problems, and enable interdisciplinary collaborative activities. 


In FY 1998, GEO and the Biological Sciences (BIO) Activities collaborated to establish a new LTER site that focuses on ecological systems at the interfaces of land masses and coastal oceans, including the Laurentian Great Lakes. This new site is expanding our knowledge of the organization and function of land/ocean‑margin ecosystems, the linkages between these systems and adjacent terrestrial and marine systems, and the impacts of major natural environmental perturbations in these regions.  In FY 2000, GEO and BIO will collaborate to establish up to three new coastal LTER sites at a total cost of up to $2 million.


Research Facilities


The GEO Activity supports user facilities necessary for the conduct of research in the geosciences.  These include large national user facilities such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the U.S. academic fleet, and smaller facilities in atmospheric, earth, and ocean sciences.  NSF support provides for ongoing operations and maintenance, including upgrades to existing facilities as well as regularly scheduled repair.


(Millions of Dollars)

1Other GEO facilities include multi-user accelerator-based mass spectrometers and synchrotron beamlines, and facilities to support the scientific use of the Global Positioning System.


FY 2000 plans for Research Facilities include:


·         A total of $68.15 million for the continued operation and maintenance of observational and computer facilities at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).  NCAR is a world center for atmospheric research, and maintains an active visiting scientist program.  The facilities available to university, NCAR, and other scientists include supercomputers, instrumented research aircraft and ground-based portable observing systems. In FY 2000 NCAR will focus on: 1) global change research, including climate system modeling and the operation of the computation facilities for the Climate Simulation Laboratory;  2) the U.S. Weather Research Program (USWRP) and the National Space Weather Program (NSWP), which aim to achieve a better understanding and improved predictive capability of costly and disruptive storms on Earth and in space; and 3) continued support and development of observational and computational capabilities.  In addition, the primary building housing NCAR will continue a three-year, $12.0 million refurbishment.  Begun in FY 1999,  FY 2000 support for the refurbishment will continue at the FY 1999 level of $4.0 million.


·         $15.32 million to maintain support for: multi-user atmospheric facilities including observatories in Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, Greenland, and Peru; aircraft and radar facilities at universities; and facilities for disseminating atmospheric data to university research and education programs.  These facilities are critical to studies of the atmosphere and Earth’s nearby space environment (geospace).


·         $32.0 million to support infrastructure associated with the Ocean Drilling Program, including operation of the JOIDES Resolution.  Studies to be undertaken in FY 2000 include documenting the history of the Antarctic ice sheet and climate changes associated with ocean circulation in the circum-Antarctic area, deformation and fluid flow studies off Japan, and installation of an ocean seismic station in the north Pacific to understand earthquake processes and exploration of hydrothermal activity and related sulfide mineral deposits in the western Pacific, coupled with deep biosphere sampling.


·         $44.0 million for the continued operation of the academic research fleet.  Approximately 325 projects with about 2,500 scientists and students will use the fleet's 28 ships.  The projects range from individual investigator studies of coastal waters to integrated multi-investigator studies of global ocean processes.  NSF-funded researchers are the primary users of the ships, accounting for about 75 percent of their total use.  NSF ship operation funds support the costs associated with the use of the fleet by these researchers.


·         $12.60 million to continue support for the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS).  IRIS originated in 1986 to install a global network of seismometers (Global Seismic Network, or GSN), provide portable seismometers for regional studies, and establish a data management system to provide on-line, distributed access to data on global seismic activity.  IRIS facilities provide rapid analysis of earthquakes, aid in monitoring nuclear proliferation, and permit imaging of the internal physical structure of Earth.  In FY 2000, an increment of $1.3 million for IRIS will enhance operation and deployment of the Global Seismic Network, continue making available portable seismic arrays to facilitate research, and enhance the Data Management System which makes available data on seismic events to researchers world-wide.


·         Other Geosciences Facilities support will be maintained, including facilities to support the use of the Global Positioning System for scientific research, and multi-user analytical facilities such as accelerator-based mass spectrometers and synchrotron beamlines.


In addition, planning and development activities for two possible new observational facilities is underway and will continue in FY 2000.  The first new facility being planned is a portable modular phased-array incoherent scatter radar that can be assembled at a given site, disassembled, and relocated.  The radar would be used extensively by the upper atmospheric research community to investigate processes associated with space weather.  The second new facility being planned is a new high-performance mid-size jet.  The jet would be capable of providing measurement access to the entire globe in order to address many of the most critical geoscience research topics, such as climate, weather, and atmospheric chemistry as well as newly emerging areas of importance such as biocomplexity.


Education and Training


GEO places a high priority on programs for education, training, and human resource development.  This emphasis helps to ensure that the next generation of scientists is adequately prepared for a future in which the borders between scientific disciplines is increasingly blurred, and that is increasingly dependent on technology and on the sharing and analyzing of information utilizing currently-emerging technologies.  This emphasis on education and training also aids in the development of a scientifically and technologically literate populace.


(Millions of Dollars)



Examples of GEO efforts to integrate research and education throughout its activities include:


·         $1.0 million directed to support the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program, which reflects an emphasis on multidisciplinary training in all areas of NSF-supported research.


·         Continued support for Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS), which brings ethnically diverse students from groups underrepresented in the atmospheric sciences into careers in atmospheric and related  sciences.  Students participate in scientific research with a mentor from  NCAR or the University Consortium for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and are supported at their home institution during the academic year.  The goal is to graduate these students with Masters of Science (MS) degrees.  It is expected that a significant number will continue on to Ph.D. programs in atmospheric sciences and ultimately to careers in the field.


·         In FY 2000 GEO will augment an ongoing program to enhance geoscience education at the K-12 and undergraduate levels building on the success of past efforts which included a collaborative program with the Education and Human Resources Activity to develop digital libraries.


Administration and Management


The Administration and Management key program function includes the cost of Intergovernmental Personnel Act appointments, contractors performing administrative functions and, in FY 2000, award-related travel.


Number of People Involved in GEO Activities




GEO Funding Profile


1 Statistics for award size and duration are for Research Grants only.