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Office of Polar Programs
Arctic Sciences

Arctic Research Program

NSF’s Arctic Research Program seeks to gain a better understanding of the Arctic’s biological, geological, chemical, and sociocultural processes, and the interactions of ocean, land, atmosphere, life, and human systems in the Arctic and with global systems. Arctic research is supported by the Office of Polar Programs (OPP) and by other NSF disciplinary programs. The program is structured to allow coordination across NSF disciplines when appropriate, enable joint review and funding of Arctic proposals, and provide mutual support of projects with high logistics costs.

NSF is one of 12 Federal agencies that sponsor or conduct Arctic science, engineering, and related activities. As mandated by the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984, planning for Federal interagency research is coordinated through the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee, chaired by NSF.

Further information on other agency programs is presented in the U.S. Arctic Research Plan and its biennial revisions.

The Arctic is the homeland of native peoples and attention must be given to all aspects of research and education that may affect their lives. For further information in this regard, see the interagency statement "Principles for the Conduct of Research in the Arctic" ( All Arctic research grantees are expected to abide by these guidelines. Additional information can also be found in the Arctic Research Opportunities program announcement (NSF 03-574).

Submission of Proposals

Submit proposals for field projects (including projects requiring an oceanic research vessel) by 15 February of the year preceding fieldwork.

A minimum of 9 months advance notice is required for research vessels needing clearance for Russian waters.

For fieldwork in Greenland, fill out the Danish Polar Center application form ( and include it in "Supplementary Docs" in your FastLane proposal.

Arctic Sciences

The Office of Polar Programs funds arctic research through these programs:

1. Arctic Natural Sciences Program

Provides core support for disciplinary research in the following areas:

  • Atmospheric Sciences—Research focuses on stratospheric and tropospheric processes, climate, and meteorology. Research on past climates and atmospheric gases preserved in snow and ice is encouraged. The program also supports research on atmosphere-sea and atmosphere-ice interactions. In upper atmosphere and space physics, research interests include auroral studies, atmospheric dynamics and chemistry, and magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling.
  • Biological Sciences—Research emphasis is on understanding the adaptation of organisms; freshwater, marine, and terrestrial biology; organismal biology; ecology; microbiology; ecosystem structure and processes; and the consequences of ultraviolet radiation.
  • Earth Sciences—Research includes all subdisciplines of terrestrial and marine geology and geophysics. Of greatest interest is a better understanding of Arctic geological processes that are important for improving our ability to interpret the geologic record of environmental change in the polar regions. Also of interest is better understanding and reconstruction of the plate tectonic history of the Arctic Ocean.
  • Glaciology—Research can focus on the history and dynamics of all naturally occurring forms of snow and ice including seasonal snow, glaciers, and the Greenland ice sheet. The program also supports mass balance modeling, glacial geology, and remote sensing studies of ice sheets.
  • Ocean Sciences—Research to expand the knowledge about the structure of the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas; their physical and biological interactions with the global hydrosphere; and the formation and persistence of sea-ice cover.

2. Arctic System Science (ARCSS)

The Arctic comprises a tightly coupled system of air, ice, ocean, land, and people. The Arctic System Science (ARCSS) program supports interdisciplinary research on arctic physical, geological, chemical, biological, and socio-cultural processes that relate to global change. The purpose is to advance the scientific basis for predicting change on a time scale from seasons to centuries. Research is thematic rather than disciplinary in nature and is organized around the following broad questions.

  • How do human activities interact with changes in the Arctic to affect the sustainability of ecosystems and societies?
  • What are the limits of arctic system predictability?
  • How will changes in arctic cycles and feedbacks affect arctic and global systems?

These questions emphasize concepts fundamental to research on arctic change, including predictability, sustainability, and feedbacks. Global change proposals that focus on the arctic system are also welcome from individual investigators or small groups of investigators.

ARCSS supports studies that predict and analyze the consequences of environmental variability and global change. To achieve this, ARCSS supports a Synthesis, Integration and Modeling Studies (SIMS) effort. A successful ARCSS proposal normally will connect directly to some suite of existing ARCSS-funded projects; fill a gap in understanding of the arctic system; connect parts of the arctic system; help explain the range of states for the arctic system; and focus on explaining cause and effect.

3. Arctic Social Sciences

Encompasses all areas of social science supported by NSF, including anthropology, archaeology, economics, geography, linguistics, political science, psychology, sociology, and related subjects. The following are areas of particular interest: rapid social change including the processes and consequences of social, economic, and cultural change; community viability including issues relating to community and cultural vitality and survival; and human/environmental interactions including issues related to subsistence and sustainable development.

The program encourages projects that: include indigenous peoples; are circumpolar or comparative; integrate social and natural sciences; involve collaborations between researchers and those living in the Arctic; include traditional knowledge; and form connections among disciplines, regions, researchers, communities, and students, including those at grades K–12 level and undergraduate and graduate programs.

Projects Involving Research with Human Subjects -- must ensure that the subjects are protected from research risks in conformance with the Common Rule (Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects, 45 CFR §690). All projects involving human subjects must either (1) have approval from the organization's Institutional Review Board (IRB) before issuance of an NSF award or (2) identify the applicable subsection exempting the proposal from IRB review, as established in section 101(b) of the Common Rule. The box for "Human Subjects" should be checked on the proposal Cover Sheet with the IRB approval date (if available) or exemption subsection from the Common Rule identified in the space provided.

4. Arctic Research and Education

The integration of research with outreach and education is important to OPP. Investigators are encouraged to include these activities in their research proposals in accordance with the broader impacts review criterion.

Some education and outreach activities may develop during the course of a research grant that's already been implemented. They may even warrant a separate proposal. The Arctic Research and Education program supports these activities in concert with funded research grants and agreements through supplemental requests and as separate proposal requests to support new ventures in arctic research and education. Proposals submitted to this program may include formal or informal education or outreach for students K-12 or higher, or to the broader public. Most commonly, these awards are made as supplements to research grants or small grants. The Arctic Research and Education program seeks to collaborate with other Directorates at NSF to promote the integration of research and education.

5. Arctic Research and Policy

OPP supports the management of Arctic data and information. The objective is to make data and information resources more readily available to researchers. Proposals to integrate data and information management are encouraged. Further information is available at the National Information Services Corporation home page,

6. Arctic Research Support and Logistics

Supports the logistics components of field research projects and a variety of activities considered to be research support—most notably, long-term observations. The program was created to improve access and safety in the Arctic for scientists. It supports field components of research funded by the Arctic Sciences Section, other Directorates at NSF, and occasionally other Federal agencies. Support includes but is not limited to, providing transportation, food, and shelter while conducting field work; user and day-rate fees at field camps; salaries of staff hired specifically for field work; and activities such as travel to coordinate projects with permitting agencies and Native peoples. For more information, visit the "Arctic Research Support and Logistics" web page, Access to logistics from this program is through the regular proposal process.

The program supports collection, management, and dissemination of data in the service of the broad arctic research community. Examples include the establishment or maintenance of long-term observations; the support of aspects of collecting underway data from ships; the acquisition of satellite and airborne imagining and mapping data; and the production and dissemination of user-friendly data products. The program works with several organizations to meet the needs of arctic field research as described in the Arctic Research Opportunities program announcement, NSF 03-574.

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