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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) [see also the CESD 2018 Strategic Plan (PDF; 14MB)]. 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. Particular emphasis is placed on obtaining a mechanistic understanding of interactions and interfaces among water and land surface and subsurface processes in disturbed and managed U.S. ecosystems.

Leveraging Other DOE Assets

SBR advances fundamental understanding of environmental processes by coordinating research activities with a number of Biological and Environmental Research programs and providing access to multiple user facilities and community resources. Research is coordinated with the TES program, which studies carbon and nutrient cycling in terrestrial ecosystems; Integrated Assessment Research program, which advances understanding of the interactions and interdependencies of the infrastructure and sectors of the built environment with natural systems; and Genomic Science program, which seeks to achieve a predictive, systems-level understanding of plants, microbes, and biological communities. Taking advantage of revolutionary, genome-enabled, and systems biology techniques promises a more mechanistic understanding of subsurface microbial metabolism affecting contaminant transport. The SBR program also encourages use of DOE Office of Science user facilities and other community resources, including the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, which advances discovery and mechanistic understanding of molecular to mesoscale biological, chemical, and physical processes and interfaces by providing premier instrumentation and computational capabilities; Joint Genome Institute, which provides genome sequencing, genome data acquisition, and genome analyses; Environmental Systems Science Data Infrastructure for a Virtual Ecosystem, which provides an archive for subsurface and terrestrial ecosystem science data; Systems Biology Knowledgebase, a software environment that provides microbial, plant, and community data to understand the structure and function of biological systems; and Structural Biology and Imaging Resources at Synchrotron and Neutron Facilities, which provide instruments and technologies to study and understand structural and functional processes of microbial and plant cells and communities.. Resources at the 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.

  • DE-FOA-0002482 - Integrated Computational and Data Infrastructure for Scientific Discovery
    Now accepting applications. Letters of Intent Due: April 2, 2021, 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time
  • Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program 2021 Solicitation 1
    Now accepting applications. Pre-Application Due: May 5, 2021, 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time
  • DE-FOA-0002431 – DOE EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) Implementation Grants
    Now accepting applications. Pre-Application Due: December 15, 2020, 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time
  • DE-FOA-0002392-Environmental System Science
    Now accepting applications. Pre-Application Due: Dec. 17, 2020, 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time
  • ASCR Leadership Computing Challenge
    Call for Proposals Open. Pre-Proposals Due: January 4, 2021, 5:00 pm Eastern Time
  • Environmental Research Funding: DoD SERDP
    Now accepting applications.
    • Core Solicitation for Environmental Research and Development Proposals. Pre-Proposals Due: Jan. 7, 2021, 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
    • SEED Solicitation. Proposals Due: March 4, 2021, 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. [11/9]
  • DE-FOA-0002431-Established Program To Stimulate Competitive Research (DOE EPSCoR) Implementation Grants
    Now accepting applications. Pre-Application Due: Dec. 15, 2020, 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time
  • Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program 2020 Solicitation 2
    Now accepting applications. Pre-Application Due: Nov. 12, 2020, 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time
  • See Also:

PI-Submitted Research Highlights for Subsurface Biogeochemical Research Program

Now Featuring

Open Watershed Science by Design Workshop Report

October 2019

EESSD Strategic Plan 2018

Download PDF

Subsurface Biogeochemical Research Overview

November 2019 [PDF]