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Directorate for Geosciences
Division of Earth Sciences

The Division of Earth Sciences (EAR) supports research and education in most areas of the solid-Earth and surficial-terrestrial sciences. Emphasis is on the support of basic research aimed at improving our understanding of the Earth’s structure, composition, natural processes, evolution, paleobiology, and interactions with the Earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere. In addition, EAR provides support for instrumental and observational infrastructure and encourages innovative educational activities in the earth sciences.

Core Research programs support research in the following areas: the solid Earth, with emphasis on our understanding of the Earth’s dynamic behavior and structure; surficial-terrestrial research, which deals with processes related to the Earth’s environmental envelope and near-surface phenomena; and instrumentation and facilities and education, which focuses on the development and acquisition of instrumentation for the research community and educational aspects of the earth sciences.

Special Emphasis areas include research directed toward special scientific opportunities that accommodate the changing needs of the scientific community. This research is often interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary in character or focuses on newly emerging areas of the earth sciences.

Core Research Support Programs

The Division of Earth Sciences (EAR) supports fundamental research through programmatic discipline, as well as interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary proposals that may involve one or more disciplines. Especially welcome are proposals for research in newly emerging areas of science that may not fit easily into one of the program categories.

1. Continental Dynamics

Supports multidisciplinary research that will result in a better understanding of the processes that govern the origin, structure, composition, and dynamic evolution of the continents and continental building blocks. This program is especially geared toward projects whose scope and complexity require a cooperative or multi-institutional approach and multiyear planning and execution. The program is intended to fund only relatively large projects that do not fit easily within other EAR programs and that offer broad support for major sections of the earth sciences community. The program also funds research as part of the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program.

2. Education and Human Resources

Coordinates the division's efforts to improve earth science education for U.S. citizens and provides a liaison between the earth sciences research community and NSF's Directorate for Education and Human Resources. The program supports EAR's participation in NSF-wide programs such as Research Experiences for Undergraduates Sites.

3. Geology and Paleontology

Supports studies directed toward a better understanding of physical, chemical, geological, and biological processes at or near the Earth's surface and the landforms, sediments, fossils, low-temperature fluids, and sedimentary rocks that they produce. Areas of research may include paleontology, paleoecology, stratigraphy, paleoclimatology, geomorphology, glacial geology, sedimentology, soil genesis, sedimentary petrology, diagenesis, and organic geochemistry and biogeochemical cycles.

4. Geophysics

Supports laboratory, field, theoretical, and computational studies related to the composition, structure, and processes of the Earth's interior. Topics include studies in seismicity and seismic wave propagation; the nature and occurrence of earthquakes; and the Earth's magnetic, gravitational, and electrical fields and its internal temperature distribution. Support also is provided for geophysical studies of active deformation, including global-positioning-system-based geodesy and fundamental laboratory studies of properties and behavior of earth materials in support of geophysical observation and theory.

5. Hydrologic Sciences

Supports basic research dealing with the Earth's hydrologic cycle and the role of water on and near the continental surfaces of the Earth. The program views hydrologic sciences as a geoscience interactive on a wide range of space and time scales with ocean, atmospheric, and solid earth sciences as well as plant and animal sciences. Supported projects may involve water in the form of precipitation, lakes, streams, and groundwater, and interactions with landforms, soils, the atmosphere, the biosphere, and the Earth's crust. The program encourages integrated studies of water balance and fluxes among the various reservoirs.

6. Instrumentation and Facilities

Supports the acquisition or upgrade of equipment required for research, the development of new instrumentation and techniques that extend current research capabilities in the earth sciences, the operation of multiuser regional or national facilities that provide access to complex and expensive instrument or database systems for a significant segment of the earth sciences research community, and the funding of research technicians.

7. Petrology and Geochemistry

Supports research on igneous, metamorphic, and hydrothermal processes that occur within the Earth and other planetary bodies and on the minerals, rocks, fluids, and ore deposits resulting from these processes. Included are studies in mineralogy, crystallography, petrology, volcanology, geochemistry, and economic geology. Supported research includes field, laboratory, theoretical, and computational studies.

8. Tectonics

Involves studies in structural geology, tectonics, geochronology, petrology, paleomagnetics, and other fields related to understanding the tectonic history of the lithosphere through time. Supported research includes field, laboratory, and theoretical studies of the processes and kinematics accompanying deformation at plate boundaries and in plate interiors.

Special Emphasis Areas

Certain research areas within the Division of Earth Sciences may be selected for emphasis on the basis of special scientific opportunities. Frequently, these opportunities are related to areas of national priority such as the environment, the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program.

In addition, the Division of Earth Sciences has initiated the EarthScope Program under NSF’s Major Research Equipment and Facility Construction (MREFC) support. EarthScope is a scientific infrastructure initiative for new observational facilities that will address fundamental questions about the evolution of continents and the processes responsible for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The integrated observing systems that will comprise the EarthScope facility include USArray—maps in 3-D the Earth’s interior by means of seismic and magnetotelluric systems; Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO)—monitors the distortion of the Earth’s surface by means of geodetic systems; and the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD)—defines the conditions and physics of an active plate boundary fault at depth. All data from the EarthScope facility will be openly available in real time to maximize participation from the scientific community and to provide ongoing educational outreach to students and the public. For EarthScope science and education support, see program solicitation NSF 03-567. For general information, see the EarthScope home page,

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