SCEC Science Plan


The Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) was founded as a Science & Technology Center on February 1, 1991, with joint funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS). SCEC graduated from the STC Program in 2002 and has been funded as a stand-alone center under cooperative agreements with both agencies in four consecutive phases: SCEC2, 1 Feb 2002 to 31 Jan 2007; SCEC3, 1 Feb 2007 to 31 Jan 2012; SCEC4, 1 Feb 2012 to 31 Jan 2017; and SCEC5, 1 May 2017 to 30 Apr 2022. NSF has extended SCEC5 for a 6th year and the USGS has invited a separate bridge proposal to span the anticipated 2 year time period for the start of a potential new earthquake center SCEC coordinates fundamental research on earthquake processes using Southern California as its main natural laboratory.

SCEC involves over 1,000 scientists at more than 90 institutions in its research program. SCEC’s research program is investigator-driven and open to anyone who is willing to submit a qualified project plan for peer review. SCEC funding supports research and education in seismology, tectonic geodesy, earthquake geology, computational science, and many interdisciplinary studies in earthquake science.

The core funding is allocated through an annual planning process that involves input from the entire SCEC community, as well as counsel from an external Advisory Council and the sponsoring agencies. A SCEC Science Plan is released each fall, which solicits proposals from individuals and groups to participate in the SCEC research program for the following year. Every year, more than 150-175 proposals are submitted to SCEC. These projects involve over 200 distinct investigators and many more graduate students and other early career scientists. Every proposal is reviewed and about 80 subawards are executed on an annual basis (each project typically ranging from $10,000 to $35,000). About two-thirds of the SCEC science budget goes to students and early-career scientists engaged in research.

Questions not answered in the Science Plan? Email proposals[at]
Questions about the online SCEC Proposal System? Email web[at]


Center Budget and Project Funding

The Southern California Earthquake Center is funded by the NSF and USGS through cooperative agreements with the University of Southern California (USC). Additional funding for the annual SCEC research program may be provided by other external sources. Each funding source has constraints on how funds can be spent. Altogether, funding to SCEC supports earthquake research in Southern California that engages an interdisciplinary community of over 1,000 active participants.
The SCEC research program supported over 100 projects in the past year, but we anticipate that will be reduced in the coming year due to overall budgetary constraints. Science funding includes (a) smaller grants for individual scientists working in Center focus areas and collaborations, (b) larger grants for scientists and collaborative teams collecting new data on major Center projects or performing data integration and advanced modeling, and (c) workshops that bring all interested scientists together to focus on specific research initiatives.
Funding received from all sources is considered for the purposes of building the overall Annual Collaboration Plan. Each research award is funded via a subcontract between USC and the Investigators’ institution. Multiple awards from the same funding source at the same institution might be included in a single contract. Multiple awards at the same institution might be set up from different funding sources as separate contracts. When SCEC funding becomes available to investigators depends on (1) how soon SCEC/USC receives Center funding from the prime sponsors, and (2) how quickly contracts are negotiated between USC and the subrecipient institution. Participant support award expenditures are managed through the master SCEC account at USC. For investigators at USC, the project expenses are also charged directly to the master SCEC account.

SCEC Subawards

For project proposals approved for funding, the investigators submit formal requests for a subaward through their research offices with a final statement of work (SOW), final budget, and budget justification. The formal requests are carefully reviewed at SCEC to ensure that the SOW and budget reflect the approved research. Historically, most budgets include salary funds for the investigator, postdocs, and students (including tuition), materials and supplies to accomplish the research objectives, travel to the SCEC annual meeting to present research results, and indirect costs per the subrecipient institution’s federally negotiated rate. SCEC very rarely funds requests for equipment. Budget formats are comparable to normal NSF proposal submission and verified by the submitting organization that they reflect current salaries and costs for other items. Before the final subaward can be established, the formal request and the original informal submission is submitted to the prime sponsoring agency’s SCEC program officers for approval.
Once a subaward is made, the SCEC Science Planning Committee and working group leaders monitor the scientific and technical progress of SCEC-funded projects through (1) investigator presentations at the SCEC Annual Meeting, workshops, working group meetings, and/or other national meetings; (2) written project reports submitted to SCEC (; and registration of publications to the SCEC database ( Funded investigators are also required to contribute data and results to the appropriate SCEC resource (e.g., Southern California Earthquake Data Center, database, community models). This information feeds into the annual review of the SCEC program, and allows SCEC to drive and change the direction of research as needed to meet the Center’s goals, milestones, and metrics. The Annual Science Plan will be adapted based on the progress by the SCEC community of researchers.
With respect to financial monitoring on the subawards, the SCEC administration team reviews every invoice (a) to ensure expenses are within the approved scope of work, (b) to determine funds spent are reasonable and expensed in a timely manner, and (c) to track who is receiving funds and their level of effort. Any change in scope or major change in budget categories requires approval by the SCEC Director. Detailed documentation will be requested from the investigators when an invoice significantly deviates from the approved budget. The summary financial report submitted by investigators at the end of the budget period also provides critical information for the Center’s budget planning for following budget years.
If an investigator submits a successful proposal to SCEC the following year, their subcontract is usually amended to add on the new year of funding. Alternatively, investigators may not be funded in consecutive years if (1) they do not submit a proposal or (2) their submitted proposal is unsuccessful. This process means that the roster of participating investigators changes each year as new people and institutions become involved in the SCEC research collaboration. This annual review of the SCEC program (and associated subawards) allows SCEC to drive and change the direction of research as needed to meet the Center’s goals, milestones, and metrics. The fact that this is done on an annual basis with so many people and institutions involved is a unique characteristic of SCEC, and very different from how other research centers typically operate.