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Directorate for Geosciences
Division of Atmospheric Sciences

The Division of Atmospheric Sciences (ATM) supports research to increase understanding of the behavior of Earth's atmosphere and its interactions with the Sun. Included are studies of the physics, chemistry, and dynamics of Earth's upper and lower atmospheres and its space environment; research on climate processes and variations; and studies to understand the natural global cycles of gases and particles in Earth's atmosphere. NSF also provides support for participation by the U.S. scientific community in international scientific research endeavors, such as the World Climate Research Program.

Submission of Proposals to ATM

Proposals may be submitted at any time during the year for all programs in the ATM Division except special programs such as Earth System History (ESH); Coupling, Energetics, and Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions (CEDAR); and Geospace Environmental Modeling (GEM). Proposals submitted to ATM that request the allocation of observation and computing facilities must also be submitted to the appropriate facility manager. (For more information, see Lower Atmospheric Observing Facilities or National Center for Atmospheric Research under the Centers and Facilities section.) Proposals should be submitted to the appropriate NSF program and should follow the guidelines printed in the NSF Grant Proposal Guide (see for latest version). For projects that propose the use of lower atmospheric observing facilities or computing resources, a facility request also is required. A facility request should be sent to the manager of each facility where the proposed work would take place. Procedures for requesting the use of a facility are established by the institution managing the facility. It is important for institutions submitting a request to seek advice from the Lower Atmospheric Observing Facilities manager at NSF. Those submitting facility requests requiring more than $500,000 in deployment costs are required to submit a preproposal to NSF 4 months before the actual deadline for submission of proposals.

Any questions on the use of computing resources should be directed to the Director, Scientific Computing Division (SCD), National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), P.O. Box 3000, Boulder, CO 80307; or visit the SCD Web site,

Lower Atmosphere Research

1. Atmospheric Chemistry

Supports research to measure and model the concentration and distribution of gases and aerosols in the lower and middle atmosphere. The program also supports research on chemical reactions among atmospheric species, the sources and sinks of important trace gases and aerosols, aqueous-phase atmospheric chemistry, the transport of gases and aerosols throughout the atmosphere, and improved methods for measuring the concentrations of trace species and their fluxes into and out of the atmosphere.

2. Climate Dynamics

Supports research on the processes that govern climate and the causes of climate variability and change, methods to predict climate variations, the assembly and analysis of modern climatic data, and the development and use of climate models to diagnose and simulate climate and its variations and changes.

3. Large-Scale Dynamic Meteorology

Supports basic research to improve the understanding and prediction of atmospheric motion on scales from synoptic to planetary. Research topics include general circulation of the troposphere and stratosphere, synoptic-scale weather phenomena, atmospheric predictability, data assimilation, and parameterization of physical processes and numerical methods for use in large-scale models.

4. Mesoscale Dynamic Meteorology

Supports research on all aspects of mesoscale meteorological phenomena, including studies of the morphological, thermodynamic, and kinematic structure of mesoscale systems; the development of mesoscale systems and precipitation processes; and the energy transfer between scales.

5. Paleoclimate

Supports research on the natural evolution of Earth’s climate with the goal of providing a baseline for present variability and future trends through improved understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological processes that influence climate over the long term.

6. Physical Meteorology

Supports basic research on the physics of the atmosphere, with emphasis on cloud and precipitation physics; the transfer of solar and terrestrial radiation; atmospheric measurements, including active and passive remote sensing; and atmospheric electricity and acoustics. The program also supports research in micrometeorology, particularly turbulence, boundary-layer processes, and wave phenomena.

Upper Atmosphere Research

1. Aeronomy

Supports research on upper and middle atmosphere phenomena of ionization, recombination, chemical reaction, photoemission, and transport; the transport of energy, momentum, and mass in the mesosphere/thermosphere/ionosphere system, including the processes involved and the coupling of this global system to the stratosphere below and magnetosphere above; and the plasma physics of phenomena manifested in the coupled ionosphere/magnetosphere system, including the effects of high-power radio wave modification.

2. Magnetospheric Physics

Supports research on the magnetized plasma envelope of the outer atmosphere, including energization by solar wind; the origin of geomagnetic storms and substorms; the population by solar and ionospheric sources; the origin of electric fields; the coupling among the magnetosphere, ionosphere, and atmosphere; and waves and instabilities in the natural plasma. Also supported are ground-based observational programs at high latitudes. Theoretical research programs may include numerical simulations using a variety of magnetohydrodynamics, hybrid, and particle codes. The analysis of data from all sources, whether ground-based or from spacecraft, is also supported.

3. Solar-Terrestrial

Supports research on the processes by which energy in diverse forms is generated by the Sun, transported to the Earth, and ultimately deposited in the terrestrial environment. Major topics include helioseismology, the solar dynamo, the activity cycle, the magnetic flux emergence, solar flares and activity, coronal mass ejections, solar wind heating, interactions with cosmic rays, and solar wind/magnetosphere boundary problems. Studies on terrestrial influences include solar spectral irradiance changes, solar “constant” changes and climatic impacts; C14 and Sun/climate connections; and solar activity and its effects on the terrestrial environment of various time scales.

Centers And Facilities

  1. Lower Atmospheric Observing Facilities (LAOF)
  2. Upper Atmospheric Facilities (UAF)
  3. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)

1. Lower Atmospheric Observing Facilities (LAOF)

The LAOF Program supports multiuser national research facilities that offer educational opportunities and serve the observational needs of the atmospheric science research community. These facilities include the following:

  • Aircraft—Located at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is a four-engine Lockheed EC-130Q Hercules; at the University of Wyoming, a Beech King Air; and at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, an armored T-28. These aircraft can be equipped with sensors to measure meteorological and chemical state parameters. A variety of instruments can be selected for a particular project, or users may supply specialized instrumentation.
  • Radar—NCAR operates an airborne X-band—a dual-beam, rapid-conical-scanning, multiple-frequency radar—and a transportable multiparameter S/X-band Doppler radar. Colorado State University (CSU) operates a transportable CSU S-band radar that provides two complete transmit and receive channels.
  • Other Facilities—NCAR operates surface-observing systems that measure surface fluxes of trace chemical species, water vapor, sensible heat, and momentum. NCAR also operates a network of surface meteorology stations that measure wind, temperature, humidity, pressure, solar radiation, and precipitation.

NCAR also provides a number of systems that measure the vertical profile of temperature, moisture, pressure, and winds in the troposphere.

Eligibility Requirements for LAOF Proposals

LAOF are available on a competitive basis to all qualified scientists. Use of LAOF is based on the scientific merit of the research proposed, the capabilities of the facilities to carry out the proposed observations, and the availability of the facility during the requested time.

2. Upper Atmospheric Facilities (UAF)

NSF supports four large incoherent-scatter radar multiuser facilities located along a longitudinal chain from Greenland to Peru. Each facility is also equipped with powerful optical diagnostic instruments. In response to a need for more understanding of global-scale thermospheric and ionospheric problems, these facilities have been upgraded and realigned into a chain extending from the edge of the polar cap to the magnetic equator.

The major goal of the UAF Program is to promote basic research on the structure and dynamics of the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Research is supported through the following activities:

  • Sondrestrom Research Facility—Located in Sondre Stromfjord, Greenland, this facility is operated by SRI International under cooperative agreement with NSF. The facility allows observations on the edge of the polar cap, the cusp, and the northern part of the auroral oval.
  • Millstone Hill Radar—Located near Boston, Massachusetts, and operated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under a cooperative agreement with NSF, this facility is south of the auroral oval in a region where significant midlatitude phenomena are observed. The radar provides observations of high-altitude regions from almost directly above the radar in Sondre Stromfjord to almost directly above the next radar in the chain at Arecibo, Puerto Rico.
  • Arecibo Observatory—Located in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, this observatory is operated by Cornell University's National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center under cooperative agreement with NSF. At Arecibo’s latitude, scientists have obtained evidence of particle precipitation in the atmosphere, composition changes in the atmosphere after magnetic storms, gravity waves propagating from the auroral region, and the penetration of magnetospheric electric fields.
  • Jicamarca Radio Observatory—Located at the magnetic equator in Jicamarca, Peru, this observatory is owned by the Instituto Geofisico de Peru. Through a cooperative agreement with Cornell University, NSF acts as the principal sponsor of the facility, which provides a subcontract to the Institute.

3. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, is a focal point for research in the field of atmospheric and related sciences.

NCAR is supported by NSF and managed under a cooperative agreement between NSF and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a nonprofit consortium of North American universities with graduate programs in atmospheric sciences.

The facilities at NCAR serve the entire atmospheric sciences research community and part of the ocean science community. Facilities include a computing and data center that provides supercomputer resources and services for the development and production of large models and for archiving, manipulating, and visualizing large data sets. For information on other NCAR facilities, see Lower Atmospheric Observing Facilities elsewhere in this section.

NCAR’s scientific research programs focus on subjects such as large-scale atmospheric and ocean dynamics; global and regional atmospheric chemistry; the variable nature of the Sun and the physics of the corona; the physics of clouds, thunderstorms, and precipitation formation and their interactions and effects on larger scale weather; and human society’s impact on and response to global environmental change. NCAR also provides fellowships for visiting scientists to conduct research and interact with NCAR scientists.

The Scientific Computing Division (SCD) is part of NCAR. SCD’s goal is to enable the best atmospheric research in the world by providing and advancing high-performance computing technologies. SCD offers computing, research data sets, data storage, networking, and data analysis tools to advance NCAR’s scientific research agenda.

Eligibility Requirements for NCAR Proposals

Support for facilities and visiting scientists is provided on a competitive basis to qualified scientists according to scientific merit, the availability of facility time, and the level of resources.


UNIDATA is a national program to help universities access, analyze, and display a wide range of atmospheric data on their own computers, often in real time. The program is managed by UCAR and is supported by NSF’s Division of Atmospheric Sciences. UNIDATA serves a broad community, including teaching and research professionals in weather forecasting, climate studies, atmospheric analysis and modeling, and related disciplines.

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