Subsurface Biogeochemical Research

Program Mission

The Subsurface Biogeochemical Research (SBR) program seeks to advance a robust predictive understanding of how watersheds function as complex hydrobiogeochemical systems, and how these systems respond to perturbations cause by changes to water availability/quality, land use/vegetation cover, and inorganic element/contaminant loading.

Program Description

SBR researchers are encouraged to use a systems approach to probe the multiscale structure and function of watersheds from subsurface groundwater and soils through surface water bodies and vegetation, Emphasis is placed on obtaining a mechanistic understanding of disturbed and managed ecosystems, and incorporation of this understanding into a range of genome-enabled biogeochemical, reactive transport and multi-scale models. These mechanistic models, which extend from bedrock through soils to the vegetative canopy, are based on codes that incorporate metabolic models of microbial processes; molecular-scale understanding of the stability, speciation, and interactions of inorganic elements with microbes, microbial communities and plants; and diagnostic signatures of hydrobiogeochemical responses at multiple spatial and temporal scales. State-of-science understanding codified in a range of models provides the basis for testing hypotheses, guiding experimental design, integrating scientific knowledge on multiple environmental systems into a common framework, and translating this information to support informed decision making and policies.

The SBR program and the Terrestrial Ecosystem Science (TES) program constitute the Environmental System Science (ESS) activity within the Earth and Environmental Systems Sciences Division (EESSD). The overarching goal for ESS is to advance a robust predictive understanding of terrestrial ecosystems extending from “bedrock to tree-tops” 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 to advance their shared goal of developing a holistic understanding of terrestrial ecosystems to address DOE’s energy and environmental missions.  

Program Funding Opportunity Announcements

Announcements are posted on the DOE Office of Science Grants and Contracts Website and at Information about preparing and submitting applications, as well as the DOE Office of Science merit review process, is available at the DOE Office of Science Grants and Contracts Website. For current announcements visit BER Funding Opportunities.

Why the Program's Research is Important

DOE is responsible for advancing the energy, environmental, and nuclear security objectives of the United States. To better address this DOE mission, the Secretary of Energy reorganized DOE in 2013 to bring together the fundamental science and applied research programs, capabilities and activities of DOE within the Undersecretary Office for Science and Energy (US/SE). The nexus of energy and water is one area of common interest and activity for both the science and energy parts of the DOE portfolio, and so, the US/SE established a crosscutting “water-energy nexus” initiative. In part, the water-energy nexus seeks to optimize the energy efficiency of water management, treatment, distribution and end use systems, and enhance the reliability and resilience of energy and water systems. Moreover, flows of energy and water are intrinsically interconnected, in large part due to the characteristics and properties of water that make it so useful for producing energy and the energy requirements to treat and distribute water for human use.

As precipitation patterns and the severity of weather events change over time, there will be accompanying changes to the availability and quality of water (including snowmelt) available for energy infrastructure (e.g., hydropower), as well as for natural ecosystems, and land use (e.g., agricultural systems and recreation). These changes will present many challenges, but there will also be opportunities. Integrated analysis and modeling of the water-energy nexus requires the simulation of many natural processes and their interactions with anthropogenic inputs in the context of local, regional and national decisionmaking. The connection of water and energy to land use and processes is particularly important.

The SBR program has long supported research that includes developing mechanistic understanding of hydrobiogeochemical processes of inorganic elements and nutrients, as well as the quantification of the stocks and controls on states, fluxes, and residence times of water throughout the terrestrial system, including surface waters, sediments, groundwater, soils and the vadose zone. To achieve predictive understanding of this complex terrestrial system, the SBR program supports a range of laboratory- and field-based research activities to obtain mechanistic and kinetic understanding to paramaterize fully coupled models of the terrestrial ecosystem. These models incorporate metabolic modeling of microbial processes, molecular-scale understanding of geochemical stability, speciation, and biogeochemical reaction kinetics, process couplings and feedbacks between the various system components, and diagnostic signatures of the system response at varying spatial and temporal scales. Ranging from molecular scales to watersheds, SBR’s modeling efforts incorporate huge spatial scales, but also include fine-scale resolution of critical interaces to enable correct calculations of nutrient, microbial, elemental and water fluxes. Multiple timescales are also resolved because the ultimate aim is to enable projection of a given terrestrial system from days to decades.

More Information about the SBR Program and Accomplishments

SBR Program Website

SBR Program Contacts

Paul Bayer
Climate and Environmental Sciences (SC-23.1)

Amy Swain
Biological Systems Science (SC-23.2)