Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Site survey investigations for scientific ocean drilling

Apply for funding for a site survey investigation. The data from your investigation will help the scientific community develop future ocean drilling expeditions.

Your site survey investigation can be either:

  • ship-borne, gathering new data
  • virtual, using existing data.

You must be a UK-based researcher employed at an eligible research organisation.

The expedition must:

  • have a high level of UK involvement and leadership
  • support the objectives of the 2050 Science Framework.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to:

  • £1 million for ship-borne
  • £150,000 for virtual.

We will fund 80% of the full economic cost. Your project can last up to 24 months.

Who can apply

Normal individual eligibility applies, as described in section C of the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook.

NERC research and fellowship grants for all schemes can be held at any of the following:

  • approved UK higher education institutions (HEIs)
  • approved research institutes
  • approved independent research organisations (IROs)
  • public sector research establishments (PSREs).

Find full details of approved:

Investigators can be involved in no more than two applications. Only one of these can be as the lead principal investigator.

NERC values equality, diversity and inclusion across all its funding programmes, and actively encourages proposals from diverse groups of researchers.

What we're looking for

Apply for funding for a site survey investigation. The data from your investigation will help the scientific community develop future ocean drilling expeditions.

The expedition must:

Site survey investigations (SSI)

Proposals for ship-borne SSIs that will provide the marine geophysical data required to enable the development of scientific ocean drilling proposals with high UK involvement.

NERC strongly encourages applicants to explore developing proposals involving one or both of:

  • international collaboration
  • co-funding that will maximise synergies with relevant international projects and programmes.

Applicants are also encouraged, where appropriate, to explore industrial partnership opportunities to support the delivery of SSIs.

Virtual site survey investigations (VSSI)

Proposals for VSSIs that use existing geophysical data to support the development of scientific ocean drilling proposals.

NERC expects VSSI funding to be used to support a postdoctoral research assistant (PDRA) or industrialist on secondment to a university. They will work up the data under the direction of the principal investigator (PI), and in collaboration with the industrial partners where relevant.

You must:

  • read and follow the IODP site survey, environmental and safety requirements
  • read and follow the NERC data policy
  • submit an outline data management plan using the NERC template.

Data management

For NERC relevant data the NERC data policy must be adhered to, and an outline data management plan produced as part of proposal development. NERC will pay the data centre directly on behalf of the programme for archival and curation services. However, applicants should ensure they request sufficient resource to cover preparation of data for archiving by the research team.

Read the NERC data policy.

You must make sure you are familiar with the IODP site survey, environmental and safety requirements. Your plans must address all aspects and ensure that the project collects the complete ranges of data required. UK members of the IODP science evaluation panel may be of assistance with these matters.

Funding available

You can request up to:

  • £1,000,000 at 100% full economic cost for SSIs
  • £150,000 at 100% full economic cost for VSSIs.

NERC will pay at 80% full economic cost.

How to apply

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S).

When applying, select:

  • council: NERC
  • document type: standard
  • scheme: directed
  • call: UK IODP Site Survey Investigations 2021

This funding opportunity will close on Je-S at 16:00 on 14 December 2021 and it will not be possible to submit to the funding opportunity after this time. Leave enough time for your proposal to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date.

Your proposal will be office rejected and will not be considered if it is any of the following:

Most attachments submitted through Je-S must be completed in single-spaced typescript using Arial with font size of at least 11 point, or another sans serif typeface of equivalent size. The margins must be at least 2cm. The only exceptions to these rules are support and services, facilities or equipment quotes.

We will reject any proposal that uses Arial narrow, Calibri or Times New Roman. References and footnotes must follow the same font requirements. You must not use headers and footers for references or information relating to the scientific case. If you refer to websites, be aware the panel may choose not to use them.

Make sure your proposal conforms to all eligibility and submission rules or it may be rejected without peer review. Read more details on NERC’s eligibility criteria and submission rules in the:

You must submit your proposal in standard grant format following the requirements outlined in Section F of the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook.

If you submit any documents with non-standard fonts (in scientific notation or diagrams, for example), make sure you convert it to portable document format (PDF) before attaching it to the proposal, and check the fonts are displaying correctly.

If we receive any documents in other formats we will convert them to PDF. Any non-standard fonts may cause errors or font conversion, which could affect the overall length of the document.

Even if the converted PDF document is unaffected in the Je-S System, when it is imported into the Research Councils Grants System some information may be removed

NERC facilities

Principal investigators wishing to use NERC services and facilities will need to contact the relevant facility at least two months prior to submission of the grant. This is to discuss the proposed work and receive confirmation that they can provide the services required within the timeframe of the grant. The facility will then provide a technical assessment that includes the calculated cost of providing the service.

NERC services and facilities must be costed within the limits of the proposal. The technical assessment must be submitted with full proposals as detailed within Section F of the NERC research grant and fellowships handbook.

Facility technical assessment

Most NERC facilities require a technical assessment. See the list of NERC facilities.

The following services have their own policies for access and costing:

Ship-time and marine equipment

If you wish to use NERC marine facilities for a ship-borne SSI, before you submit your proposal you must:

  • create a cruise profile
  • submit one of these online:
    • ship-time and marine equipment (SME)
    • autonomous deployment application form (ADF).

Find out how to apply for marine facilities.

This form will provide NERC with details of the ship and equipment you wish to use, when you wish to use it, and how you intend to fund your research. All costings and cruise programming will be based on the information provided on this form, so it must be completed as accurately as possible.

Your completed SME or ADF must be submitted by 29 October 2021 in order to provide sufficient time for the costing process to be carried out. Failure to do so may result in the request not being considered for inclusion in the NERC Marine Facilities Programme.

Where an SME is linked to an individual NERC grant application, this should be made explicit both in the grant proposal and on the SME.

Please contact NERC Marine Planning ( at the earliest opportunity to discuss your request and SME or ADF submission.

If your proposal requires ship time it’s anticipated the earliest that cruises will be programmed is in the financial year 2023 to 2024.

How we will assess your application

Proposals will be evaluated by an assessment panel consisting of independent experts and relevant members of the NERC Peer Review College where possible. You may be invited to give a presentation at the panel and respond to questions.

The assessment panel will be held week commencing 31 January 2022.

The assessment criteria to be used will be:

  • are the scientific objectives sound and fully justified?
  • are the requested resources appropriate, and does the science team include all necessary expertise?
  • is the SSI or VSSI related to an existing drilling proposal with a high level of UK involvement?
  • have applicants considered the future IODP expedition schedule?
  • are synergies with national and international partners maximised and, if not, how could they be improved?
  • will the resulting SSI or VSSI produce high-level scientific outcomes (or potential results) as a stand-alone mission?

We will provide feedback to both successful and unsuccessful applicants.

To make the final funding decisions, NERC will use the recommendations of the assessment panel, the overall funding opportunity requirements and the available budget.

Contact details

Daniel Knight


Additional info

Responsible research

Through our funding processes, we seek to make a positive contribution to society and the environment, not just through research outputs and outcomes but through the way in which research is conducted and facilities managed.

All NERC grant holders are to adopt responsible research practices as set-out in the NERC responsible business statement.

Responsible research is defined as reducing harm on, or enhancing benefit to, the environment and society through effective management of research activities and facilities. Specifically, this covers:

  • the natural environment
  • the local community
  • equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

Grant holders should consider the responsible research context of their project, not the host institution as a whole, and take action to enhance their responsible research approach where practical and reasonable.

Programme background

The International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) is providing a better understanding of:

  • habitability and life on earth: defining the conditions for, and the role of, life in the marine realm
  • the oceanic life cycle of the tectonic plates: investigating the genesis, aging, motion, and destruction of oceanic lithosphere
  • earth’s climate system: examining variations in ice sheets, ocean and atmospheric dynamics, and sea level
  • feedbacks in the earth system: constraining the processes that regulate or destabilise the Earth system
  • tipping points in Earth’s history: using Earth’s geological past to illuminate future environmental change
  • global cycles of energy and matter: determining the role, mechanism, and magnitude of Earth system cycles
  • natural hazards impacting society: understanding natural hazards in the marine environment.

IODP builds on the legacies of the early ocean drilling voyages, including the Deep Sea Drilling Project (1968 to 1983) and the Ocean Drilling Program (1983 to 2003).

The IODP is made up of an international partnership of scientists and institutions building on 50 years of scientific ocean drilling. The UK is an integral member of the European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD) which, together with the US, Japan and other international partners, funds and steers the research.

The UK IODP research programme supports the UK’s engagement in IODP, enabling UK scientists to:

  • help ensure IODP carries out the best and highest priority science
  • participate in and obtain material from drilling legs
  • capitalise on the results of IODP drilling and UK technologies, allowing them to benefit from technological advances in scientific ocean drilling.

The success of IODP depends on the development of excellent and innovative drilling proposals. To be successful, a drilling proposal must have outstanding science objectives.

However, the geology of the proposed drill sites must also be well enough known to show that the targets required to address the scientific objectives can be drilled, and that the drilling can be done safely.

This requires detailed geophysical sub-seafloor characterisation of the proposed sites. That usually includes minimal crossing of seismic reflection lines and a range of geology-specific additional observations.

UK IODP has allocated funding for ship borne and virtual site surveys for the interpretation of geological data in support of UK-led drilling proposals.

For further information on the IODP science programme and drilling proposals see:

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