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Biological Oceanography

The information provided on this page highlights some current research interests and activities within the Biological Oceanography Program. The section describing Research Interests is intended to help PIs determine if their research topic falls within the purview of projects typically supported by the Program. The subsequent sections provide a broader overview of Program activities.

You may select from the following links or scroll down:

Research Interests
Multi-disciplinary Programs
Long-Term Ecological Research: New Site Competition
Supplement Support
Proposal Submission Tips
Proposal Data Management Plans

Please contact the Program if you have questions regarding the projects described below or other activities related to NSF research.


Bathycryroe fosteri (Lawrence P. Madin, WHOI)

The Biological Oceanography Program supports marine ecological projects in environments ranging from estuarine and coastal systems to the deep sea, and in the Great Lakes. Proposals submitted to the Program should have a compelling ecological context and address topics that will contribute significantly to the understanding of marine and the Great Lakes ecosystems. The Biological Oceanography Program often co-reviews and supports projects with other programs in the Division of Ocean Sciences and in the Directorate of Biology (BIO). Proposals may be more appropriate for programs in BIO as the lead program if the primary focus is on organismal physiology, cell biology, biochemistry, molecular genetics, population biology, systematics, etc. Similarly, some ocean-focused, interdisciplinary studies may be more appropriately directed to one of the other programs in the Division of Ocean Sciences or programs in the Division of Polar Programs as the lead program. Investigators are encouraged to contact Program Officers by e-mail to determine the appropriate program for their proposal.


The National Science Foundation has emphasized the importance of research that crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries. In addition to jointly supporting unsolicited proposals submitted to regular program target dates, the Biological Oceanography Program collaborates in multidisciplinary activities that involve other NSF Programs and other Federal Agencies:

  • CNH: Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems
  • Dimensions: Dimensions of Biodiversity
  • LTER: Long Term Ecological Research (cross-NSF)

Past activities:

  • Coastal SEES: Coastal SEES
  • ECOHAB: Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms
  • EEID: Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases
  • Frontiers: Frontiers in Earth System Dynamics
  • GLOBEC: Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics
  • OA: Ocean Acidification
  • RIDGE 2000

Once an activity has ended, the Program generally continues to accept proposals dealing with the topic for the twice-annual target dates, with the caveat that all proposals must fit within the Biological Oceanopgrahy program scope (advancing basic understanding of marine communities and ecosystems). Please contact a Program Officer by email with questions about whether your propsal fits within the scope fo the Program.


The NSF LTER program has released solicitation NSF 16-509 for proposals that would establish up to two new coastal ocean ecosystem LTER sites. A two tier peer review process will be used for evaluation of the proposals: Prelminary proposals due are February 1, 2016 and Full Proposals are due August 2, 2016. FAQs for the LTER New Site Competition are posted at:

The LTER program is an effective mechanism to address some of the more pressing environmental and sustainability issues of our time.  Developing a competitive proposal for the program will require significant effort. Coastal ocean LTER investigators organized a community discussion to share their experience with developing an LTER site, science questions addressed, and consider what an expanded network might look like at the ASLO Aquatic Sciences Meeting in February 2015. Their presentations are available from the links below:

  • Presentation 1 - by Mark Ohman, UCSD, provides an overview of the NSF LTER program
  • Presentation 2 - by Russ Schmitt, UCSB, provides an overview of the current coastal ocean LTERs
  • Presentation 3 - by Chuck Hopkinson, UGS, provides examples of cross-site research

    Grants for Rapid Response Research (RAPID) and EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) replaced the Small Grants for Exploratory Research (SGER) program in 2009. RAPID is a funding mechanism to support quick-response research on natural or anthropogenic disasters and similar unanticipated events. Requests may be for up to $200K and one year duration. The EAGER mechanism supports high-risk, exploratory and potentially transformative research. Requests may be for up to $300K and up to two years duration. These opportunities are not intended to develop a proposal, generate preliminary data or to respond to solely "ship-of-opportunity" situations. For more information on these funding opportunities refer to the Grant Proposal Guide, Chapter II.D.1 and 2. You must contact a program officer in advance of submitting EAGER or RAPID proposals. If you are considering submitting an EAGER or RAPID, contact Dan Thornhill by e-mail ( to discuss your project.


    Student researcher examines Xestospongia muta (Joseph Pawlik, UNC-W)

    In general, the Program does not provide supplemental funding to projects. However, the Program recognizes that unusual circumstances may occur where additional funding is needed to ensure adequate completion of the original scope of the awarded project. In such cases, the Program may provide supplemental support for what we consider unforeseeable, emergency situations (see NSF Proposal and Award Manual X.C.4, for guidance of supplements).

    Investigators are encourage to include REU, RET and ROA activities (described below) in proposals rather than request supplements post award. However, if a unique opportunity arises, the Program may provide supplemental support to awards from the core program. Awards submitted to cross directorate or special compeitions (such as SEES) typically do not have supplemental funds available. Before submitting any supplement request, an investigator should contact Gayle Pugh (

    Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU): REU supplements to ongoing projects provide a mechanism to support meaningful opportunities to undergraduate students. As noted above, the Program does not intend for the post-award supplement mechanism to provide annual support for REU activities. In general, undergraduate support should be included in the proposal at the time of submission. If you are considering an REU supplement request, send an email to Gayle Pugh ( prior to February 1 (annually).

    Research Experiences for Teachers (RET): RET activities are designed to enhance the professional development of science teachers through participation in new or on-going NSF-funded research projects as detailed in the "Dear Colleague" Letter NSF 11-052. PIs are encouraged to include outreach programs for K-12 teachers within the broader impacts of a proposal at the time of submission. Supplements to ongoing projects are intended to provide opportunities for novel ideas that transpire after the project is underway. RET requests must be made with at least 12 months remaining on the grant.

    Research Opportunity Awards (ROA): ROA activities are part of the NSF-wide Research at Undergraduate Institutions program. ROAs enable faculty at predominately undergraduate institutions, including community colleges, to pursue research as visiting scientists with NSF-supported investigators at other institutions. The purpose of ROA activities is to enhance the research productivity and professional development of science faculty at undergraduate institutions. In addition, research activities should contribute to basic knowledge in science and provide opportunities to integrate research and undergraduate education.


    Proposals submitted to the Program for the 15 February and 15 August target dates should be fully compliant with the most current NSF Grant Proposal Guide (GPG). Proposals that have errors or are not compliant create distractions for those responsible for reviewing and processing the proposal thereby detracting from merits of the research. Moreover, there are an increasing number of compliance issues that require the Program to return proposals without review. For these reasons, review your proposal thoroughly before submission to ensure that your proposal is in compliance with the NSF GPG.

    A casually-prepared proposal may detract attention from its Intellectual Merit. Beyond checking for compliance issues, we suggest you carefully edit your proposal. Make sure your biographical sketch is complete and up-to-date, and double check your references.

    Reviewers often comment that numbered references make reviewing excessively tedious. Incorrect/inaccurate references annoy reviewers -- especially if it is their research that is improperly cited. Your proposal will be reviewed by your colleagues and leading scientists in the field. Be considerate of the time and effort it takes to review proposals and submit only your best work.

    If your research requires the use of a UNOLS research vessel you must submit a request through the UNOLS website and include a copy of that ship request as a supplementary document with your proposal submission.

    NSF will generally not fund international collaborators and Federal employees, as described in GPG sections I.E.6. and I.E.7., respectively. The Program does not typically send proposals out for review that contain support costs that we cannot cover, including travel for international and Federal collaborators. We advise you to contact the Program prior to submission if you have questions regarding support for Federal employees or International participants. Support for state and local governments is only available for educational activities (see GPG I.E.4.).


    NSF requires a Data Management Plan for each proposal. As part of the proposal review process, the Biological Oceanography and Chemical Oceanography Programs, and their review Panels, assess the compliance of these plans with the NSF Grant Proposal Guide (Section II.C.2.j.) and the OCE Data Management Policies. While many of the Data Management Plans submitted have been adequate, others fall short in describing what data will be collected and how they will be made publically available.

    In addition to serving as a data and metadata repository, the Biological and Chemical Oceanography Data Management Office (BCO-DMO) website includes information to help investigators prepare Data Management Plans: BCO-DMO has developed a Data Management Plan template available online to assist investigators in submission of plans that meet OCE Sample and Data Policy requirements. The Biological Oceanography and Chemical Oceanography Programs ask PIs to use the guidance and template available on the BCO-DMO website for proposals submitted in February 2015 and thereafter. This will minimize the need for revision of non-compliant or inadequate data management plans.

    BCO-DMO continues to provide a central portal for metadata and data for projects funded by the Biological Oceanography and Chemical Oceanography Programs. As new awards are funded, investigators are expected to contact BCO-DMO staff to register their projects in the database and to submit metadata and data in a timely fashion. The Data Management Plan should be one of the first project documents submitted to BCO-DMO. Annual and final project reports to the Programs should include status of registration, metadata, and data submission with BCO-DMO (with a URL link to the entry) as a Product.

    Please contact the BCO-DMO office with questions about using the template for Data Management Plans, registering your project, or submitting data or metadata (, or