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Signals in the Soil

Status: Archived

Archived funding opportunity

This document has been archived.

Important information for proposers

All proposals must be submitted in accordance with the requirements specified in this funding opportunity and in the NSF Proposal & Award Policies & Procedures Guide (PAPPG) that is in effect for the relevant due date to which the proposal is being submitted. It is the responsibility of the proposer to ensure that the proposal meets these requirements. Submitting a proposal prior to a specified deadline does not negate this requirement.


Supports collaborative NSF-USDA research on dynamic soil processes and soil formation through advances in sensor systems and predictive, process-based and mechanistic modeling.


In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated, “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself." This statement remains true to this day. Soils form over hundreds of years, and yet can be destroyed in a single event. They are an often-overlooked natural asset despite being the foundation of terrestrial ecosystems that support food production, economic prosperity, and many other services that are essential for humanity. Soils are complex ecosystems composed of organic matter, minerals, water, air, and billions of organisms. Such ecosystems interact with the flora and fauna they support to mediate myriad biological, chemical, and physical processes essential for plant growth, food and fiber production, and contaminant removal. Soils are also the foundation material for all structures not supported on rock, and, by orders of magnitude, are the most widely-used construction material in the world. Soils are the source of most of the antibiotics used to fight human diseases, control the movement of water and chemical substances between the Earth and atmosphere, and act as source and storage media for gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, and methane.  As a result of their essential importance, soils are also part of our cultural heritage. Furthermore, soils serve as major storage media for carbon, a role that is potentially exploitable in climate change mitigation and adaption strategies. Thus, as the Earth’s population grows, we need a better understanding of soil ecosystems that will continue to play a critical role in supporting societies around the world.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorates for Engineering (ENG) and Geosciences (GEO), the Divisions of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) and  Environmental Biology (DEB), in the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO), the Division of Computer and Network Systems (CNS) in the Directorate Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), the Division of Chemistry (CHE) in the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS), the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS) in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE), in collaboration with the US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA) encourage convergent research that transforms existing capabilities in understanding dynamic soil processes, including soil formation, through advances in sensor systems and modeling.  The Signals in the Soil (SitS) program fosters collaboration among the two partner agencies and the researchers they support by combining resources and funding for the most innovative and high-impact projects that address their respective missions. To make transformative advances in our understanding of soils, multiple disciplines must converge to produce environmentally-benign novel sensing systems with multiple modalities that can adapt to different environments and collect and transmit data for a wide range of biological, chemical, and physical parameters. Effective integration of sensor data will be key for achieving a better understanding of signaling interactions among plants, animals, microbes, the soil matrix, and aqueous and gaseous components. New sensor networks have the potential to inform models in novel ways, to radically change how data is obtained from various natural and managed (both urban and rural) ecosystems, and to better inform the communities that directly rely on soils for sustenance and livelihood.

Program contacts

Brandi L. Schottel
Program Director
SitSquestions@nsf.gov (703) 292-4798 ENG/OAD
Colin M. Orians
SitSquestions@nsf.gov (703) 292-2603
Thomas Evans
Program Director
SitSquestions@nsf.gov (703) 292-8740 GEO/RISE
Murat Torlak
Program Director
SitSquestions@nsf.gov (703) 292-7748 CISE/CNS
Anne-Marie Schmoltner
Program Director
SitSquestions@nsf.gov (703) 292-4716 MPS/CHE
Michael L. Mishkind
Program Director
SitSquestions@nsf.gov (703) 292-8413
Giovanna Biscontin
Program Director
SitSquestions@nsf.gov (703) 292-2339 ENG/CMMI
Hendratta Ali
SitSquestions@nsf.gov (703) 292-2648 GEO/EAR
Colene M. Haffke
Program Director
SitSquestions@nsf.gov (703) 292-4354
James Dobrowolski
National Program Leader, Division of Environmental Systems
jdobrowolski@usda.gov (202) 420-8918 United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Steven J. Thomson
National Program Leader, Division of Agricultural Systems
steven.j.thomson@usda.gov (202) 603-1053 United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Sandeep Kumar
National Program Leader, Division of Environmental Systems
Sandeep.Kumar@usda.gov (816) 832-7235

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