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The NSF/GEO/OCE Biological Oceanography Program

What research topics are funded by the Biological Oceanography Program (the Program)? What about supplements? RAPIDS? EAGERS? Read on to learn about the main research focus and activities of the Program.


The Program supports biological oceanographic and marine ecological research in environments ranging from estuarine and coastal systems to the deep sea as well as in the Great Lakes. Proposals submitted to the Program must have a compelling context in population, community, or ecosystem ecology or oceanography, as well as address topics that will contribute significantly to the understanding of marine or the Great Lakes ecosystems. Proposals on applied topics – for example fisheries stock assessments, pollution and microplastics impacts, ecotoxicology, harmful algal blooms, restoration ecology, geoengineering, and conservation biology – are generally outside thes cope of the Biological Oceanography Program. Such topics can be considered in the context of broader impacts provided that the primary intellectual motivation for the proposal is in basic ecology or oceanography.

The Program supports interdisciplinary research and often co-reviews and co-funds research projects with other programs in the Division of Ocean Sciences, the Directorate of Biological Sciences (BIO), and across the NSF. For the most equitable review, it is important that a proposal be submitted to the NSF program that supports the main research focus of the project, as that program will lead the peer review. For example, BIO programs lead the review process when the primary focus is on mechanistic organismal physiology, symbiotic mechanisms, cellular biology, biochemistry, molecular genetic processes, systematics, evolution, and related topics.

Investigators are strongly encouraged to contact the Program ( for guidance on determining if Biological Oceanography is the appropriate program, or lead program, for their proposal.

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The National Science Foundation encourages research that crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries. In addition to supporting interdisciplinary unsolicited proposals, the Program participates in multidisciplinary activities that involve programs across NSF and other Federal agencies. Current activities:

  • DISES: Dynamics of Integrated Socio-Environmental Systems
  • LTER: Long Term Ecological Research
  • URoL: MTM: Understanding the Rules of Life: Microbiome Theory and Mechanisms
  • EEID: Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases

Past activities:

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

Research on topics relevant to the past activities may be considered by the Program provided the main objectives of the proposed research fit within the Program scope described above under Research Focus.

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The RAPID funding mechanism facilitates fundamental research having a severe urgency, including quick-response research on natural or anthropogenic disasters and similar unanticipated events. Requests may be up to 12 months duration and $200K. The RAPID mechanism is not intended to support a “ship of opportunity” or similar request. Interested investigators should consult the NSF PAPPG (Part I. Chapter II.E.1) and then contact Dr. Petra Lenz, Program Director, by e-mail ( in advance of submission to discuss your project. If there is Program interest based on the initial discussion with Dr. Lenz, the Program will request a two-page (maximum) prospectus to evaluate the overall objectives of the project and decide if the project meets the RAPID criteria. If the Program determines the project is appropriate for RAPID support, the PI will be invited to develop the proposal for submission through FastLane.

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The EAGER mechanism supports research that is high-risk, exploratory and potentially transformative. Requests may be for up to two years duration and $300K. EAGER support is not intended to generate preliminary data or “proof-of-concept” proposals. Interested investigators should consult the NSF PAPPG Part I. Chapter II.E.2, and then contact Dr. Petra Lenz, Program Director, by e-mail ( in advance of submission to discuss your project. If there is Program interest based on the initial discussion with Dr. Lenz, the Program will request a two-page (maximum) prospectus to evaluate the overall objectives of the project and decide if the project meets the EAGER criteria. If the Program determines the project is appropriate for EAGER support, the PI will be invited to develop the proposal for submission through FastLane

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The Program rarely supports general requests for supplemental funding. In the event of unusual circumstances or emergency situations where a small amount of additional funding is needed to ensure adequate completion of the original scope of the awarded project, the Program may consider a supplement request. Information on supplement support is provided in the NSF PAPPG (Part II. Chapter VI.E.4).
Investigators are encouraged to include support for special NSF initiatives such as REU, RET and ROA in proposals rather than request supplements post award. If a unique opportunity arises, the Program may provide supplemental support to awards from the core program. Awards originating from cross-directorate or special competitions typically do not have supplemental funds available.
If you are considering a supplement request, contact the program director responsible for your award to discuss the opportunity.

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 and REU projects should be included in the proposal at the time of submission. If you are considering a REU request, you need to contact the program director responsible for your award 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.

Career-Life Balance (CLB) Supplements: CLB Supplements are intended to pay for up to three months of salary for a technician or postdoc to maintain a project during the time that a Principal Investigator is on family leave.  For more information see  Contact the program if you have questions or want to apply.

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The Biological Oceanography program does not accept unsolicited proposals for workshops or Research Coordination Networks (RCNs). We fund very few such activities and focus on those that advance a new direction for Biological Oceanography or a new network of collaborators. We occasionally support attendance of students and postdocs to special meetings of wide interest to our community. If you have an idea that would be appropriate for this type of funding please contact the program. 

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Proposals submitted to the Program for the 15 February and 15 August target dates must be fully compliant with the most current NSF PAPPG. Proposals that are not compliant create difficulties for processing the proposal and detract from the merits of the research. Increasingly, compliance issues require the Program to return proposals without review or suggest the proposal be withdrawn. For these reasons, please review your proposal thoroughly before submission to ensure that your proposal is well-written, compliant with the NSF PAPPG, and appropriate for the Program.

A casually-prepared proposal detracts from the Intellectual Merit of the project. Beyond checking for compliance issues, we suggest you confirm that your proposal is carefully edited – ensuring, for example, that references are cross-checked, biographical sketches are properly formatted, and collaborator lists are up-to-date.

The importance of references cited in conveying your proposed research project cannot be overestimated. 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.

Proposed research that requires the use of a University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) vessel must include a copy of the ship time request submitted to UNOLS in the supplementary documents of the proposal. For more information on ship requests and submitting ship time requests to UNOLS see OCE guidance on Proposals that Include Ship Time on the OCE webpage.

NSF does not generally fund international collaborators or employees of Federal agencies or Federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs), as stated in the NSF PAPPG sections I.E.6. and I.E.7., respectively. The Program does not typically review proposals that include costs that we cannot cover, such as travel for international and Federal collaborators. Investigators are advised to contact the Program prior to submission with questions regarding support for Federal employees or international participants. Support for state and local governments is only available for educational activities (PAPPG I.E.4.).

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NSF requires a Data Management Plan for each proposal. Proposals submitted to the Program must follow data management guidance set forth in the NSF PAPPG and the OCE Sample and Data Policy. Investigators are encouraged to use the guidance and template available on the Biological and Chemical Oceanography Data Management Office (BCO-DMO) website to ensure their proposal meets these requirements. BCO-DMO is supported by programs in the NSF Geosciences Directorate, including the Program, and provides a central portal for metadata and data for projects funded by the Program. Please contact the BCO-DMO office if you have questions about using the template for Data Management Plans (

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Questions or Comments

Still have questions after reviewing the NSF PAPPG? Have a suggestion for the website? Contact the Program at if you have questions, comments, or need additional information.


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