Summary of FY2002 Budget Request to Congress - National Science Foundation

GEOSCIENCES $558,540,000

The FY 2002 Budget Request for the Geosciences Activity is $558.54 million, a decrease of $3.65 million, or 0.6 percent, below the FY 2001 Current Plan of $562.19 million.

  FY 2000
FY 2001
Current Plan
FY 2002
Amount Percent
Atmospheric Sciences 164.25 188.45 186.50 -1.95 -1.0%
Earth Sciences 102.15 115.81 116.79 0.98 0.8%
Ocean Sciences 221.24 257.93 255.25 -2.68 -1.0%
Total, GEO $487.64 $562.19 $558.54 -$3.65 -0.6%

The Geosciences Activity (GEO) supports research, infrastructure, and education in the atmospheric, earth, and ocean sciences. GEO is the principal source of federal funding for university-based basic research in the geosciences, providing over half of the total support in this area. GEO plays a critical role in addressing the nation's need to understand, predict and respond to environmental events and changes and to use Earth's resources wisely. Fundamental research in the geosciences advances scientific knowledge of Earth's environment, including resources such as water, energy, minerals, and biological diversity. GEO-supported activities also advance our ability to predict natural phenomena of economic and human significance, such as weather, climate change, 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, including both maintaining adequate base 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 education and training for current geoscientists, increase the diversity of the geoscience community, facilitate education and training for future generations of geoscientists, and enhance the general public's knowledge about the integrated components of the Earth system.

Three recent examples of GEO-supported research underscore the connection between research and service to society:

  • Volcanoes link the deep earth, the air we breathe and the water we drink, yet are difficult to monitor because eruptions occur irregularly. Large numbers of people live within range of dangerous volcanic phenomena, and these hazards threaten significant areas of the western United States. Volcanologists are improving their understanding of these complex phenomena and their ability to respond to future crises. In some cases, such as the recently active volcano in Montserrat, this information has enabled accurate forecasting of explosive events and times of increased hazard.

  • NSF-supported researchers have demonstrated a significant connection between the extent of Arctic sea ice and: (i) sea surface temperature anomalies in the subpolar North Atlantic one to two years later, and (ii) the position of the North Atlantic storm track. Among other things, this suggests that sea-ice extent in the Arctic and the Labrador Sea might be a determinant of European weather, making it a candidate for a predictor that can enhance the skill of seasonal to interannual forecasts of northern and western European climate.

  • During large magnetic storms, the electric fields and particle populations which typically occur at high latitudes in the auroral region move equatorward and their effects have the potential to disrupt transionospheric communication and navigation signals over the continental United States. The Millstone Hill incoherent scatter radar near Boston observed such a disturbance during the magnetic storm of October 15, 1999. The radar detected the formation of a deep ionospheric trough which moved equatorward over the radar site near 55 degrees magnetic latitude. Detailed radar and optical observations of sub-auroral disturbance phenomena allowed scientists to quantitatively test their understanding about the relationships between atmospheric phenomena. By connecting ionospheric phenomena to magnetospheric processes, scientists will better understand the coupled space weather environment and will be able to improve forecasts of magnetic storms and the resulting effects on technological systems.

GEO actively participates in and contributes to the Foundation's four priority areas: Biocomplexity in the Environment, Information Technology Research, Nanoscale Science and Engineering, and Learning for the 21st Century.

Biocomplexity in the Environment (BE): In FY 2002, GEO will provide $23.0 million to support the NSF-wide BE competition and a set of coordinated activities in environmental science, engineering and education that advance scientific knowledge about the connection between the living and non-living Earth system. These funds will enable the initiation and enhancement of four interdisciplinary activities:

  • Planetary Ecology focuses on understanding the Earth's marine and terrestrial ecosystems and their evolution, and the interaction of the biosphere with earth system processes. GEO will support research focused on microbial habitats in the terrestrial and submarine deep subsurface to study processes including: biologically controlled mineralization, the production of gas hydrates, microbiological controls on seawater chemistry and productivity, and soil and rhizosphere processes.

  • Planetary Metabolism aims to understand the links and feedbacks among the Earth's physical, chemical, geological, and biological, as well as social, systems, how they have evolved, and how they affect the planet's biosphere and geosphere.

  • Planetary Energetics and Dynamics attempts to understand the links between physical and biochemical processes by focusing on energy exchange. This includes an effort to understand, mitigate and predict natural hazards - for example, hurricane genesis and storm track, earthquake nucleation, and energetic processes in the upper atmosphere.

  • Earth Observatories will make sustained time-series observations to understand the temporal evolution of environmental systems that are central to the study of biocomplexity in the environment.

Information Technology Research (ITR): In FY 2002, GEO will provide $10.90 million to support information-based activities that focus on:

  • Development of comprehensive coupled models that include ensemble forecasting, nesting and/or data assimilation techniques to understand the complex interactions taking place in the Earth system.

  • Development of tools for knowledge discovery, visualization and interpretation of large-scale heterogeneous data sets.

  • Development of the infrastructure to find, access, retrieve, and integrate geospatial data from distributed, heterogeneous sources in a way that makes them useful for scientific research.

  • Extension of local networking and computing capabilities in support of large-scale modeling and database activities in the geosciences.

Nanoscale Science and Engineering: In FY 2002, GEO will support Nanoscale Science and Engineering at a level of $6.80 million for activities that focus on:

  • The development and application of chemical and biological sensor technology for making rapid, high-precision observations at submicroscopic spatial and volumetric scales.

  • Support for crosscutting studies aimed at understanding the distributions and behavior of nanoscale structures throughout the earth, atmosphere, and oceans.

  • The development of heavily instrumented interdisciplinary Earth System Observatories that facilitate our understanding of nanoscale geoscience processes, including platforms to detect and characterize nanoscale particles and their interactions throughout the atmosphere and oceans.

Learning for the 21st Century: In FY 2002, GEO will support a range of programs that encourage innovative approaches to meeting the challenge of educating students for the 21st century. A total of $2.45 million will support the Interagency Education Research Initiative, the Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education program, and an effort to expand the Digital Library for Earth System Education.


GEO's support for ongoing and new activities contributes to NSF efforts to achieve its strategic goals, as well as to the administration and management activities necessary to achieve those goals.

  FY 2001
FY 2002
People 17.26 19.40 12.4%
Ideas 327.23 318.89 -2.5%
Tools 214.73 217.28 1.2%
Administration & Management1 2.97 2.97 0.0%
Total, GEO $562.19 $558.54 -0.6%

Totals may not add due to rounding.
1 Includes only costs charged to the Research and Related Activities Appropriation.


People are NSF's most important product. At NSF, placing research and learning hand in hand is our highest priority, and the people involved in our projects represent both the focus of our investments and the most important products of them. Across its programs, GEO provides support for approximately 10,000 people, including teachers, students, researchers, post-doctorates, and trainees. Support for programs specifically addressing NSF's Strategic Goal of "People - developing a diverse, internationally competitive and globally-engaged workforce of scientists, engineers and well-prepared citizens" totals more than $19 million in FY 2002, an increase of 12.4 percent over FY 2001. Moreover, about 37 percent of the funding for research grants - an amount approaching $118 million in FY 2002- provides support for researchers and students, including about 3,650 post-doctorates, graduate and undergraduate students. This emphasis on developing a diverse, internationally competitive workforce helps to prepare the next generation of scientists for a future in which the borders between scientific disciplines are increasingly blurred, and dependent on technology and on the sharing and analyzing of information. In addition, an emphasis on education and training aids in the development of a scientifically and technologically literate populace.

  FY 2001
FY 2002
K-12 0.80 0.80 0.0%
Undergraduate 5.31 5.31 0.0%
Graduate & Professional 8.15 10.29 26.3%
Other 3.00 3.00 0.0%
Total, GEO $17.26 $19.40 12.4%

FY 2002 highlights include:

  • $2.07 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.

  • $2.81 million to support the Foundation-wide ADVANCE program to increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers.

  • $3.0 million to support the Opportunities to Enhance Diversity in the Geosciences (OEDG) program, to increase the participation in geoscience education and research by students from groups historically underrepresented in the geosciences. A secondary goal of the program is to strengthen the understanding of the geosciences and their contribution to modern society by a broad and diverse segment of the population.

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

  • In coordination with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), GEO is sponsoring an educational program that brings ethnically diverse students into careers in the atmospheric and related sciences. Scientific Opportunities in Atmospheric and Related Sciences (SOARS) students are recruited at the end of their sophomore year from universities and colleges with large enrollments of ethnic minorities. SOARS provides ten-week summer programs at UCAR and NCAR, or other institutions, where students work with scientific mentors on real-world scientific projects. During their participation in SOARS, students maintain a close connection with UCAR and NCAR mentors and research programs as they complete undergraduate degrees, earn a master's degree while on full scholarship, and then enter either a doctoral program or the professional work force.


Support for ideas spans the geosciences and encompasses a wide range of topics. Projects in Atmospheric Sciences improve the understanding and prediction of climate, weather, space weather, and the global environmental system. Earth Science research advances knowledge of the structure, composition, and history of the solid Earth and of the geological and hydrological processes that modify Earth. 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 biological production.

GEO will emphasize research on the key physical, chemical and geologic cycles within the Earth system, the characteristics and dynamics of which are of paramount importance to science and society. These activities will be complementary to, and well coordinated with, the biologically oriented studies of Earth cycles that will be carried out within the context of the Foundation-wide Biocomplexity in the Environment priority area. Increased emphasis on fundamental research on the Earth's cycles is required to achieve the broader goal of obtaining an integrated understanding of the Earth system.

Planetary Metabolism ($75.0 million) - research aimed at understanding the links and feedbacks among the Earth's physical, chemical, geological, biological, and social systems, how they have evolved, and how they affect the biocomplexity of the planet.

Primary challenges facing researchers in the study of planetary metabolism include:

  • determining how the biogeochemical cycles of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur are coupled;

  • quantifying what energy transformations control the biosphere and climate systems;

  • understanding how biological and social processes and the evolution of life regulate the Earth system and its climate states;

  • determining what the short-term and long-term history of planetary metabolic changes has been; and

  • developing sufficiently sophisticated models to explain historic and predict future changes in planetary metabolism.

Planetary Energetics and Dynamics ($120.0 million) - research that attempts to understand the links between physical and chemical processes by focusing on the exchange of energy within and among the components of the Sun-Earth system. This includes research to understand, mitigate, and predict natural hazards and studies of tectonic and mass-energy flux at the continent-ocean interface. This fundamental research provides the foundation for understanding natural hazards that have direct socio-economic impacts.

Primary challenges for expanding knowledge of planetary energetics and dynamics include:

  • understanding the dynamic evolution of the deep Earth and the interactions between the planetary interior and exterior by using high-resolution seismic observations;

  • understanding the dynamics of climate and paleoclimate, combining knowledge of radiatively active atmospheric gases with an understanding of the climatic impact of ocean processes, the role of clouds and aerosols, and the importance of natural and human-influenced biogeochemical cycles;

  • understanding how hydrologic processes interact with weather and climate to alter landscapes and shape aquifers;

  • understanding and charting the flows of mass, energy and momentum from the Sun into the magnetosphere and upper atmosphere and determining and predicting the response of the near-Earth space environment as a system to such flows;

  • determining the energetic and dynamic consequences of the interplay among the various scales of motion in the Earth system, from turbulence through mesoscale systems to global circulation of, for example, air, water, magma, and trace constituents;

  • obtaining extensive observations of the composition, dynamics, and energetics at the interfaces of the various Earth systems; and

  • developing comprehensive models that can provide quantitative understanding and prediction of Earth system processes.

Planetary Structure ($82.0 million) - research on the spatial and temporal variations of the structure and composition of all Earth system components, from the inner core to the upper atmosphere, through improvements in observational, theoretical and modeling capability.

Primary challenges to expanding knowledge of planetary structure include:

  • understanding the details of the complex interactions between atmospheric and ocean dynamics and thermodynamics over the full range of spatial and temporal scales;

  • determining the role of clouds, aerosols, and biogeochemical feedbacks in the radiative balance of the atmosphere and climate;

  • understanding and predicting the response of the near-Earth space environment to solar storms and geomagnetic disturbances;

  • understanding and quantifying the ocean's role in transporting, storing, and exchanging heat, freshwater, mass, and chemical constituents;

  • understanding the processes that control the state and variability of the coastal oceans;

  • determining the nature and variability of the global hydrological cycle; and

  • understanding the structural relationships between the mantle, the overlying crust and lithosphere, and the underlying core.

Planetary Ecology ($40.0 million) - studies to understand the Earth's marine and terrestrial ecosystems and their evolution, interactions of the biosphere with Earth system processes, and understanding the role of microorganisms in the Earth's crust.

Primary challenges to expanding knowledge of planetary ecology include:

  • understanding how land surface biophysical processes interact with regional climate and modify patterns of climate and associated hydrologic variability;

  • incorporating the land surface state into predictions of weather, seasonal to interannual climate, and hydrologic processes;

  • analyzing how the large-scale atmosphere-ecosystem exchange of water and energy might change in a world with higher levels of carbon dioxide;

  • understanding how the role of marine ecosystems will change with future changes to ocean circulation, temperature, and nutrient/toxic inputs;

  • determining the interactions of changing land use, climate, nutrient and toxic inputs, and hydrology on ecosystems and their ability to support human activities and sustain biodiversity;

  • understanding what effect the functional diversity of species has on ecosystem function within biomes and at the global level; and

  • establishing whether potential changes to global biodiversity and climate could affect global net primary production, trace gas exchange, and other critical aspects of ecosystem function.

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

  FY 2001
FY 2002
Science and Technology Centers1 7.29 3.21 -56.0%
Long Term Ecological Research Sites 1.70 1.70 0.0%
Total, GEO $8.99 $4.91 -45.4%

Totals may not add due to rounding.
1FY 2001 is the final year of funding for the 1991 class of STCs. Funding in FY 2002 represents support for the cohort of STCs awarded in FY 2000.

In FY 2002, GEO will support the Science and Technology Center on the Sustainability of Semi-Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas. The Center's scientific foci are 1) spatial and temporal properties of hydrologic variables; 2) processes controlling water and chemical balances in catchments; 3) functioning of riparian systems; and 4) integrated modeling of catchment-scale processes. Promoting researcher-user partnerships across the breadth of water resources management through technology transfer will be an integral part of the day-to-day operation of the Center. Educational initiatives contribute to sustainability by bringing water resources issues to the forefront of K-16 science education and by promoting hydrologic literacy among the public. The Center is educating a new generation of water resources professionals in the interdisciplinary perspective and technological skills required for practicing sustainable water resources management.

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


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 (NCAR) 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 repairs.

  FY 2001 Estimate FY 2002 Estimate Percent Change
National Center for Atmospheric Research 71.38 70.63 -1.1%
Ocean Drilling Program Operations 30.50 31.00 1.6%
Academic Research Fleet/Ship Operations 57.20 59.90 4.7%
Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology 12.60 12.80 1.6%
Digital Libraries 1.20 1.20 0.0%
Research Resources 20.75 20.75 0.0%
Other GEO Facilities1 21.10 21.00 -0.5%
Total, GEO $214.73 $217.28 1.2%

FY 2002 plans include:

  • $70.63 million for the operation and maintenance of observational and computer facilities at NCAR. NCAR is a world renowned center for atmospheric research that makes facilities available - including supercomputers, instrumented research aircraft and ground-based portable observing systems - to scientists at universities, NCAR, and elsewhere. In FY 2002 NCAR will focus on: research on Earth's natural cycles, including climate system modeling and the operation of the computation facilities for the Climate Simulation Laboratory; projects within 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 continued development of observational and computational capabilities.

  • $31.0 million to support infrastructure associated with the Ocean Drilling Program including operation of the JOIDES Resolution. Studies to be undertaken in FY 2002 include continuing the development of sites for expansion of the global seismic network for deep earth structure studies, examining the hydrological cycle and associated geochemical cycling in continental margin sediments, initiating a dedicated effort in understanding diversity and ecology of the deep biosphere in marine sediments, and contributing to carbon cycle studies through examining the formation of gas hydrates off western North America.

  • $59.90 million for the continued operation of the U.S. 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.

  • $12.80 million to continue support for the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS). IRIS facilities provide rapid analysis of earthquakes, aid in monitoring nuclear proliferation, and permit imaging of the internal physical structure of Earth.

  • Other Geosciences Facilities support will total $21.0 million, and includes facilities to support the use of the Global Positioning System for scientific research, multi-user analytical facilities such as accelerator-based mass spectrometers and synchrotron beamlines, and operation, upgrade and development of radar facilities to study precipitation and upper atmospheric phenomena.

Administration and Management

Administration and Management provides for administrative activities necessary to enable NSF to achieve its strategic goals. This includes the cost of Intergovernmental Personnel Act appointments and contractors performing administrative functions.

Number of People Involved in GEO Activities

  FY 2000
FY 2001
FY 2002
Senior Researchers 3,459 4,000 3,800
Other Professionals 2,039 2,300 2,200
Postdoctorates 479 600 600
Graduate Students 1,585 1,800 1,700
Undergraduate Students 1,255 1,350 1,350
Total Number of People 8,817 10,050 9,650

Totals may not add due to rounding.

GEO Funding Profile

  FY 2000
FY 2001
FY 2002
Number of Requests for Funding 5,230 5,600 5,700
Dollars Requested (in thousands) $1,628,931 $1,870,000 $1,910,000
Total Number of Awards 2,766 3,000 3,000
Statistics for Competitive Awards:      
   Number 1,358 1,400 1,400
   Funding Rate 39% 35% 34%
   Median Annualized Award Size1 $74,312 $80,000 $80,000
   Average Annualized Award Size1 $96,597 $100,000 $100,000
   Average Award Duration, in years1 2.7 3.0 3.0

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

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