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Subsurface Biogeochemical Research Program

About the Program

The overarching goal of the Subsurface Biogeochemical Research (SBR) program is to advance a robust, predictive understanding of watershed function and response to perturbations. Understanding system function requires examining how surface and subsurface water flow and constituents are transported over a broad range of spatiotemporal scales and how biogeochemical processes mediated by microorganisms enable mineral dissolution and precipitation, organic matter deposition and degradation, oxidation and reduction reactions, and plant-rhizosphere interactions.

SBR’s integrated approach—tight iteration among observations, experiments, and modeling—is particularly important for assessing and managing the full extent of challenges posed by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) persistent and dynamic subsurface contamination challenges. For example, an integrated perspective of the watershed system is critical for both designing cost-effective remediation strategies based on knowledge of contaminant fate and transport and for predicting watershed resilience to floods, droughts, heat waves, and compounding extremes.

The SBR program and the Terrestrial Ecosystem Science (TES) program constitute the Environmental System Science (ESS) activity within the Climate and Environmental Sciences Division (CESD). The overarching goal for ESS is to advance a robust predictive understanding of terrestrial ecosystems extending from “bedrock to treetops” and from global to molecular scales through an iterative cycle of model-driven experimentation and observation. SBR and TES program managers work closely together to coordinate these two separate programs and advance their shared goal of developing a holistic understanding of terrestrial and subsurface ecosystems to address DOE’s energy and environmental missions.

Why the Program's Research is Important

Water resources critical for energy production are under pressure from growing water demand, contamination, drought, flooding, and saltwater intrusion. Sustainable management of these watershed systems and their coupling with the built environment rely on understanding the hydrological and biogeochemical processes controlling watershed system dynamics and water availability and quality. The SBR program is strategically aligned with DOE’s mission to provide next-generation science-based models of watershed systems that are needed to address U.S. energy and environmental challenges including contaminant cleanup, clean water availability, safe storage of energy and nuclear byproducts in the subsurface, nutrient availability for sustainable biofuel crops, and recovery of subsurface energy resources.

Leveraging Other DOE Assets

SBR advances fundamental understanding of environmental processes through a unique set of Biological and Environmental Research programs and user facilities. These include the related TES program, which studies carbon and nutrient cycling, as well as the Genomic Science program and the microbial genome sequencing efforts at DOE's Joint Genome Institute. Taking advantage of revolutionary, genome-enabled, and systems biology techniques promises a more mechanistic understanding of subsurface microbial metabolism affecting contaminant transport. The DOE Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory supports an array of co-located experimental and computational capabilities for molecular-level research. Additionally, synchrotron light sources provide structural and chemical information often unavailable with conventional X-ray sources.

SBR research also is leveraged with other program offices within DOE's Office of Science:

Internal DOE and external programs complementing SBR research or actively leveraging SBR-funded activities include:

Funding Opportunities

The SBR program supports mission-oriented research performed by (1) integrated research programs (scientific focus areas) at national laboratories; (2) university researchers with multidisciplinary capabilities; and (3) university-based “exploratory” research for new concepts, tools, and approaches. Funding opportunities are posted at

See Funding Announcements for more details.


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