Data-Intensive Analysis and/or Modeling for Socio-Environmental Synthesis

Aug 22, 2014

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) invites proposals for data-intensive analysis and/or modeling projects that advance socio-environmental synthesis research. This funding opportunity covers two types of projects:

  1. The pursuit of novel, question-driven, and synthetic research into linkages between social and environmental system dynamics that would not be otherwise possible without the use of computationally-intensive data analysis and/or modeling; OR
  2. The development of advanced data analysis and/or modeling tools that enable cutting-edge socio-environmental synthesis research.

Proposals that credibly combine the two are especially welcome.

  1. Data-Intensive Analysis and/or Modeling Projects: Given the complexity and cross-scale nature of many socio-environmental systems (SESs), field-based experimental research may not be feasible, making synthesis of multi-scale and multi-sector data essential for generating and testing new hypotheses in socio-environmental research. Since this is often a major obstacle for answering critical research questions, SESYNC invites projects that will investigate linkages between social and environmental system dynamics using data-intensive analysis and/or modeling to address novel and actionable socio-environmental questions. Projects that combine advances in analytic and modeling methods, such as the assimilation of large and/or heterogeneous data to improve model performance, are especially encouraged. Competitive projects will be question-driven and clearly articulate why such questions cannot be addressed without data-intensive analysis and/or modeling techniques.
  2. Advance Data Analysis and/or Modeling Tool Development Projects: Addressing challenging questions on SESs often requires integrating heterogeneous, large-scale, or highly detailed data sets and/or applying computationally-intensive models. Yet, many natural and social science scholars lack the computational skills, time, or resources to undertake these tasks. SESYNC invites projects that will advance the computational capacity of the socio-environmental community by developing innovative, open-source tools to support synthesis research through data and/or model integration, optimization, and visualization. Tools that facilitate the integration of social and biophysical data and models at local, regional, and global scales in a spatially explicit framework are particularly important for investigating multifaceted socio-environmental issues. Such tools and approaches should also: 1) address a clear computational need in socio-environmental research; 2) be developed for use beyond a single problem or user; and 3) build computational capacity among socio-environmental research, policy, and/or stakeholder communities.

Successful candidates will lead strongly data- and/or modeling-driven research efforts that synthesize understanding at the interface of the social and environmental sciences. Competitive proposals will: 1) bring together social and environmental data in novel ways to address critical socio-environmental research questions that are also actionable or 2) attempt to advance modeling and/or analytical techniques beyond current applications which may be limited to a single scale of analysis, type of data, and/or disciplinary lenses. Successful candidates will be supported by SESYNC’s technical and research staff if assistance is required to execute the proposed computational tasks.

Below, we provide examples of topics that could be addressed under this Theme. These examples are meant only to illustrate the diversity of potential topics related to this call of proposals, rather than the full extent of relevant topics. Data-intensive analysis and/or quantitative modeling projects could involve:

  • Integration, organization, and/or visualization of "big data" or highly heterogeneous data to answer socio-environmental research questions;
  • Development of spatially-explicit data sets by harmonizing remote sensing products with detailed socio-economic data;
  • Novel integration of multi-disciplinary datasets and/or quantitative models for cross-site comparisons;
  • Scaling-up modeling or analytical techniques currently limited to site-based application or small datasets, respectively;
  • Adapting or advancing high-performance computing methods for socio-environmental applications;
  • Capture and analysis of ambient geographic information from geo-tagged social media data to inform analysis and/or modeling of human-environment interactions;
  • Assimilation of complex data into simulation models at the design, parameterization, and/or evaluation stages; or
  • Development of ‘best practices’ for use of heterogeneous, multi-disciplinary, large-scale, and/or highly detailed data sets.

Support Details

SESYNC has significant modeling, data analysis, and database management expertise to guide and support teams that need assistance with the technical aspects of data mining, processing, integration, analysis, visualization, and/or modeling. In addition to providing support for meetings and travel to SESYNC, we may cover the costs of the PI’s salary while in residence at SESYNC and/or salary for a research assistant at the PI’s home institution and/or at SESYNC. Projects that request a research assistant must include a statement of work providing a detailed description of the expected responsibilities and desired skills required of the position (see “What to Include” below). A research assistant position could be filled by a graduate research assistant, postdoc, programmer, or database technician depending upon the technical skills required. SESYNC also has standing openings for 2-year Computational Postdoctoral positions that could be associated with a team project if the postdoctoral applicant also has a separate (independent) project they propose through that Computational Postdoc program. Project team members requesting salary support from SESYNC are required to participate in SESYNC's 2015 Computational Summer Institute. Attendance of additional team members is not required, but is encouraged.

Click here for details on our guidelines for Pursuit salary support under the Computational Theme (opens a Word document).

Funded projects will gain access to SESYNC’s advanced cyberinfrastructure, including use of and support for scalable cluster computing and substantial storage capacity (10’s of terabytes per project). Funded projects also receive support for meetings at SESYNC in Annapolis, MD, including travel and group facilitation.

Submission Details

SESYNC hopes to catalyze collaborations across a broad range of areas. Proposals are welcome from Principal Investigator(s) (PIs) at any career stage—faculty, research scientist, postdoctoral, or senior graduate student. Project teams might include experts from domains traditionally engaged in social and environmental sciences with quantitative and/or qualitative skills, as well as those from domains that do not typically work in the socio-environmental context (e.g., computer scientists).

Proposals will be evaluated bi-annually. The deadline for this round is August 22, 2014, at 5 p.m. (EST).

All funding decisions will be based on external peer review by an international panel.

Questions regarding the content or scope of possible projects should be directed to Dr. Nicholas Magliocca at

Submission Instructions

Proposal Criteria

Proposals should include and will be ranked based on:

  • novelty, creativity, and/or urgency of socio-environmental research question(s), advancement of data-intensive analysis and/or modeling tools or their integration;
  • clear descriptions of:
    • data sources: definitions, accessibility, structure, and storage requirements;
    • models: theoretical foundations, purpose, and structure;
    • analysis: methodology, assumptions, and data and software requirements;
  • feasibility to produce meaningful synthetic research including identifying and showing ability to access appropriate data;
  • potential to translate findings into "actionable" solutions;
  • appropriate diversity of scientific backgrounds and qualifications of the proposed participants;
  • inclusion of diversity to broaden the participation of underrepresented groups with respect to gender, ethnicity, disability, and geographic location; and
  • explanation of why SESYNC is the most appropriate way to support the activity.

What to Include

Cover Sheet (1 page)

  • Descriptive title or proposed project type
  • Short title (25 characters max)
  • Name and contact information for up to two PIs
  • Project summary (250 words) – appropriate for the public; posted on the SESYNC website
  • Keywords (up to 5 keywords different from those used in the title)
  • Proposed start and end dates, number and duration of meetings, as well as the estimated number of participants
  • Potential conflicts of interest with members of the SESYNC External Advisory Board, Scientific Review Committee, or Leadership

Include the following in your uploaded PDF using single spacing, 12-pt type fonts, and 1-inch margins.

Main Body (5 pages max, excluding references): Please explicitly address each of the bullet points below.

  • Problem statement: Clear and concise statement of 1) research question(s) and how the project will address the research question(s); 2) what technical barriers need to be overcome to perform the research; and 3) how the proposed data-intensive analysis and/or modeling can lead to the advancement of SES research.
  • Conceptual framework: Conceptual framework describing how the synthesis of various project components, approaches, and participant expertise are linked together to address the problem of interest. Graphical and/or textual formats may be used.
  • Proposed activities: Describe the synthesis project to be undertaken and provide the technical specifications of the data sources (and their permissions needed for use), analytical methods, and/or modeling approaches that will be used, as well as the scope of work for any technical support personnel that are requested.
  • Expected results: Describe new data sets, analytical/modeling tools, and/or insights into SESs resulting from the proposed activities.
  • Metrics of success: What metrics are the most appropriate for evaluating the success of the proposed project (e.g., peer-reviewed papers, policy-directed efforts, databases, models, development of new resources, etc.)? If successful, who would most likely use the knowledge or tools developed?
  • Suitability for SESYNC: Brief description of why the proposed synthesis activities are appropriate for funding by SESYNC as opposed to another funding program, such as NSF's core programs.
  • Cyberinfrastructure needs: Briefly describe all anticipated needs for cyberinfrastructure support, which could include descriptions of new data sets or software/databases to be developed; high performance computing needs; data aggregation or fusion required; types of visualization; and description of technical support personnel. Applicants should review SESYNC's IT and data sharing policies and are encouraged to contact SESYNC prior to submission to discuss the project's technical requirements relative to SESYNC's expertise, cyberinfrastructure, and personnel.

Potential Participants (1 page)

Please complete a table with the following column headers for all participants and include in your application:

  • Last Name
  • First Name
  • Affiliation (include department)
  • Website Address
  • Primary Area of Expertise
  • Secondary Area of Expertise
  • Confirmed (Y/N)
  • Prior Collaboration with Applicants (Y/N)

Diversity Statement – Include a paragraph describing the aspects of diversity in your participant list. Diversity is considered in all its aspects, social and scientific, including gender, ethnicity, scientific field, disability status, career stage, geography, and type of home institution.

Requested Support Information (1 page)

  • A statement of work describing the expected responsibilities and required skills of technical support staff, and whether the project will rely on SESYNC staff or an individual at one of the project team member's home institutions. Applicants are encouraged to contact SESYNC prior to submitting a proposal if they are unsure how their technical support personnel needs will be met.
  • Work plan specifying 1) numbers of trips by year to SESYNC (broken down by number of US domestic and international participants and days of local support) and 2) other anticipated support.

Short CVs of the Pursuit Leads (2 pages for each)

Do not include talks, society memberships, or papers in preparation.

Click here to apply online.

The University of Maryland is an Equal Opportunity Employer
Minorities and Women Are Encouraged to Apply

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