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Discovery Frontiers Call for Proposals:
Northern Earth System Research

Value $1 million per year for four years
Application Deadline December 10, 2010 – Letter of Intent
January 14, 2011 – Invitation to Apply
March 18, 2011 – Application, if invited to apply
How to Apply See below
Application Forms TBD
Program Contact See below

Note: Discovery Frontiers (DF) grants are part of the NSERC Frontiers initiatives that identify and capitalize on emerging opportunities where Canada can benefit from its world-class capacity to take a leadership role in key areas of research and innovation. NSERC Frontiers address national research priorities and global challenges by supporting a small number of major new transformative and integrative initiatives.


Discovery Frontiers grants support a limited number of large international activities, opportunities or projects that are of high priority in the context of advanced research in Canada. These will be led by world-class Canadian researchers and will comprise teams that will generate substantial impact, for the benefit of Canada.

This initiative will bring together groups of researchers in new ways to address a major research challenge. The groups will incorporate new and emerging ideas, and combine their complementary expertise to conduct transformative, paradigm-changing research.

The first Call for Proposals is in the area of Northern Earth System Research. The Earth System is defined as the unified set of physical, chemical, biological and social components, processes and interactions that together determine the state and dynamics of the Earth, including its biota and its human occupants.1 NSERC is soliciting collaborative research proposals from teams of NSERC-eligible researchers, with recognized expertise in their current fields, to work in an integrated manner to tackle broad problems defined with input of the northern community, aimed at identifying and understanding the inter-relationships that exist in northern earth systems (e.g., fresh water, sea level, permafrost, atmosphere, cryosphere, marine, weather patterns, biodiversity) and to research solutions-based approaches to climate change adaptation.

NSERC plans to award one DF grant through this call, at a funding level of $1 million per year for four years.

It is expected that this DF grant will:

  • enable cross-fertilization of ideas and out-of-the box thinking across the natural sciences and engineering disciplines, possibly including aspects of social sciences and health research;
  • further strengthen Canada’s leadership role and capacity in the area;
  • produce valuable knowledge that will be disseminated in the appropriate fashion to maximize its impact;
  • build synergies with, but not duplicate, existing Northern funding initiatives (e.g., ArcticNet, Polar Continental Shelf Program, Northern Scientific Training Program, Canadian Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Change, Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks); and
  • build on the scientific knowledge coming out to the International Polar Year (IPY) and make its metadata results available on the IPY-developed platform.

Approaches used will emphasize bold initiatives and interdisciplinary thinking, with potential to create new research fields which will elucidate how changes in any given system connect to and affect other systems. Research must be aimed at exploring general principles, broad theories and fundamental concepts. International linkages will be required.


Other than the general eligibility criteria found in the main program description, there are no additional criteria that apply to this call for proposals.

Application Procedures

Applicants begin by submitting a Letter of Intent. This can be up to five free-form 8.5 x 11 pages long and should include:

  • short biographies of the 3-4 principal investigators and their areas of expertise;
  • a description of the main research challenges and activities;
  • a discussion of anticipated collaborators, including participation of northern communities, government scientists and international researchers; and
  • a discussion of anticipated outcomes.

Applicants who are invited to submit a full proposal will be given further instructions on submission details and a logistics plan.

Review Procedures and Selection Criteria

Letters of Intent

NSERC’s Committee on Grants and Scholarships (COGS) will review the Letters of Intent. This assessment will be made on the basis of the following factors:

  • Excellence of the applicants and complementarity of expertise
  • Merit of the proposal
    • significance of the research question
    • novelty of the proposed approach
    • degree of integration across disciplines and with international collaborators
    • potential to be transformative and have high international impact
    • potential to create new fields of research
  • Potential for value-added training of HQP

Full Proposals

COGS is also responsible for the evaluation of the proposals and recommendation to NSERC. COGS’ assessment may be supported by external experts as required. The outcome and impacts of DF grants should be transformative, not merely incremental. Discovery Frontiers grants will be one-time opportunities and NSERC will not accept re-application by a group that has previously been funded.

Selection criteria will include excellence of, and synergy between, the applicant, co-applicants and collaborators; merit of the proposal; training of HQP; and strength of the organizational, budgetary, project and data management structure. Selection criteria will be used to rank competing applications following a call for proposals.

Use of Funds

Refer to the Use of Grant Funds section of the Tri-Agency Financial Administration Guide for details on eligible expenses.


Reporting format, schedules and required information will be available at the time of award.


Dave Bowen
Discovery Frontiers
350 Albert St.
Ottawa, Canada, K1A 1H5

Tel.: 613-992-1482

1ICSU (2010). Grand Challenges in Global Sustainability Research: A Systems Approach to Research Priorities for the Decade. International Council for Science, Paris.