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Terrestrial Ecosystem Science

Earth and Environmental Systems Sciences Division Strategic Plan

Strategic Plan Cover

Publication: May 2018
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In April 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science underwent an organizational change that included updating the name of the Climate and Environmental Sciences Division (CESD) within the Office of Biological and Environmental Research. The division’s new name is the Earth and Environmental Systems Sciences Division (EESSD). No changes were made to the names or scope of the division’s scientific programs. The cover of this strategic plan has been updated to reflect the name change to prevent any discontinuities for the scientific community. While the CESD name remains throughout the text, the document still reflects EESSD’s mission, vision, scientific grand challenge topics, and implementation strategy.

Executive Summary

The Earth and Environmental Systems Sciences Division (EESSD) of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) is managed within the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science. EESSD is the intellectual home for fundamental research needed to address key uncertainties arising from the interactions and interdependencies of the atmospheric, terrestrial, subsurface, cryospheric, oceanic, and human-energy components of the Earth system. Using an approach to enhance system predictability, EESSD-supported research strives to understand and anticipate how environmental stressors behave within a nonlinear system. These stressors, in turn, can influence the robustness and resilience of U.S. energy infrastructures. Particular emphasis also is placed on understanding how natural and human-derived factors contribute to variabilities and trends spanning local to global scales. By treating DOE environmental challenges as part of the Earth system, EESSD also addresses DOE’s unique concerns regarding energy contaminants and wastes. The scope of EESSD process research spans scales from molecular to global and durations from nanoseconds to many decades, in order for DOE to achieve its goals involving foundational science, environment, energy, economic, and security.


EESSD’s research is organized around three disciplinary areas, each comprising specific research activities: Atmospheric Sciences includes the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) User Facility, Environmental System Science includes the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), and Earth and Environmental Systems Modeling includes the newly released Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM). EESSD also supports the Data Management (DM) activity, which supports the archival of data generated by Earth system models and EESSD-supported field experiments; the DM activity also invests in software and data analytics capabilities for use by the scientific community.

Vision and Mission

EESSD’s vision is to develop an improved capability for Earth system prediction on seasonal to multidecadal time scales to inform the development of resilient U.S. energy strategies. EESSD’s mission is to enhance the seasonal to multidecadal predictability of the Earth system using long-term field experiments, DOE user facilities, modeling and simulation, uncertainty characterization, best-in-class computing, process research, and data analytics and management. The Division’s mission is dedicated to providing the fundamental science needed to inform the development and deployment of advanced solutions to the nation’s energy challenges.


To meet its mission, EESSD developed this strategic plan to articulate the Division’s goals for the period 2018–2023. Central to its mission, EESSD investments in basic research address key uncertainties in the understanding of Earth system components, as well as complex uncertainties that arise from the interactions and interdependencies of these components in the coupled Earth system. EESSD also makes a special effort to exploit unique DOE facilities and capabilities, thus EESSD has greater investments involving atmospheric, terrestrial and computational issues, while also leveraging and coordinating across multiple National Science and Technology Council agencies to achieve EESSD goals. Though following the strategy of the previous plan (for the period 2012–2017), the new plan focuses primarily on specific scientific questions requiring an integrated and coordinated approach, as well as the determined effort of multiple EESSD programs, projects, and scientific user facilities. In many cases, the new plan leverages strategic interagency partnerships and expertise to achieve major advances in important areas of scientific research. Furthermore, the plan considers scientific needs articulated by DOE’s applied energy program offices as complementary to the scientific opportunities articulated by the basic Earth system research community within DOE’s Office of Science.

Scientific Grand Challenges

EESSD’s strategic plan is framed by five scientific grand challenges focused on collaborative and integrative research across the Division. This research leverages capabilities of BER’s scientific, computational, and user facilities as well as other BER community resources to achieve these scientific grand challenges.

  1. Integrated Water Cycle Scientific Grand Challenge. Advance understanding of the integrated water cycle by studying relevant processes involving the atmospheric, terrestrial, oceanic, and human system components and their interactions and feedbacks across local, regional, and global scales, thereby improving the predictability of the water cycle and reducing associated uncertainties in response to short- and long-term perturbations.
  2. Biogeochemistry Scientific Grand Challenge. Advance a robust, predictive understanding of coupled biogeochemical processes and cycles across spatial and temporal scales by investigating natural and anthropogenic interactions and feedbacks and their associated uncertainties within Earth and environmental systems.
  3. High Latitudes Scientific Grand Challenge. Understand and quantify the drivers, interactions, and feedbacks both among the high-latitude components and between the high latitudes and the global system to reduce uncertainties and improve predictive understanding of high-latitude systems and their global impacts.
  4. Drivers and Responses in the Earth System Scientific Grand Challenge. Advance next-generation understanding of Earth system drivers and their effects on the integrated Earth-energy-human system.
  5. Data-Model Integration Scientific Grand Challenge. Develop a broad range of interconnected > infrastructure capabilities and tools that support the integration and management of models, experiments, and observations across a hierarchy of scales and complexity to address CESD scientific grand challenges.

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