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). Since 2002, SCEC has been sustained as a stand-alone center under cooperative agreements with both agencies in three consecutive, five-year phases (SCEC2-SCEC4). The Center has been extended for another 5-year period, effective 1 Feb 2017 to 31 Jan 2022 (SCEC5). SCEC coordinates fundamental research on earthquake processes using Southern California as its main natural laboratory. Currently, over 1000 earthquake professionals participate in SCEC projects. This research program is investigator-driven and supports core research and education in seismology, tectonic geodesy, earthquake geology, and computational science. The SCEC community advances earthquake system science by gathering information from seismic and geodetic sensors, geologic field observations, and laboratory experiments; synthesizing knowledge of earthquake phenomena through system-level, physics-based modeling; and communicating understanding of seismic hazards to reduce earthquake risk and promote community resilience.

The annual SCEC Science Plan (aka RFP) solicits proposals from individuals and groups to participate in the SCEC research program on an annual basis. Typical grants awarded under the SCEC Science Plan fall in the range of $10,000 to $35,000. This is not intended to limit SCEC to a fixed award amount, nor to a specified number of awards, but rather to calibrate expectations for proposals submitted to SCEC. Field research investigations outside southern California are generally not supported.

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


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 the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, the Keck Foundation, the California Earthquake Authority, geodesy royalty funds, and potentially other external sources. Funding to SCEC supports earthquake research in Southern California that engages an interdisciplinary community of over 1,000 active participants. Funding from external sources have constraints on how they can be spent.

The SCEC research program supports over 100 projects each year. 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 combined for the purposes of building the overall Annual Collaboration Plan. Each research award is funded via a cost-reimbursable 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 NSF and USGS and other external sources, and (2) how quickly contracts are negotiated between USC and institution to receive funding. Participant support (workshops, intern project supplement, and travel) 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.

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, post-docs, and students (including tuition), materials and supplies to accomplish the research objectives, and travel to the SCEC annual meeting to present research results. 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 NSF or USGS for approval.

Once a subaward is made, the SCEC 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 model). 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 (d) 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, his/her 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.