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]


Structuring of the SCEC science plan begins with discussions at the SCEC Leadership Retreat in June every year, and continues at the Annual Meeting in September. A Science Plan document is issued in October and proposals are submitted to SCEC in November of each year.

In December, proposals are sent out for review. Every proposal is independently reviewed by the Center Director (Tom Jordan), Center Co-Director/Science Planning Committee Chair (Greg Beroza), and Science Planning Committee Vice-Chair (Judi Chester). Each proposal is also reviewed by the leaders of three relevant SCEC science working groups (primary, secondary, and tertiary) – totaling five or more independent reviews for each proposal submitted. Reviewers recuse themselves when conflicts of interest arise. Proposals are also reviewed by USGS members of the SCEC/USGS Joint Planning Committee (JPC).

The SCEC Planning Committee (PC), chaired by the Center Co-Director, meets the following January to review and discuss all submitted proposals. USGS members of the JPC also participate in the proposal review meeting. Based on a combination of reviews and full panel discussion, the PC assigns a rating and recommended funding level for each proposal.

The Planning Committee's objective each year is to formulate a coherent science/infrastructure program consistent with SCEC's basic mission given the Center's short-term objectives, long-term goals, and institutional composition, and recommend a budget given the available funding.

Proposals are evaluated on the criteria below (not necessarily in order of priority):

  1. Scientific merit of the proposed research
  2. Competence and performance of the investigators, especially in regard to past SCEC-sponsored research
  3. Priority of the proposed project for short-term SCEC objectives as stated in the annual collaboration plan
  4. Promise of the proposed project for contributing to long-term SCEC goals as reflected in the SCEC science plan
  5. Commitment of the principal investigator and institution to the SCEC mission
  6. Value of the proposed research relative to its cost
  7. Ability to leverage the cost of the proposed research through other funding sources
  8. Involvement of students and junior investigators
  9. Involvement of women and underrepresented groups
  10. Innovative or "risky" ideas that have a reasonable chance of leading to new insights or advances in earthquake physics and/or seismic hazard analysis
  11. The need to achieve a balanced budget while maintaining a reasonable level of scientific continuity given very limited overall center funding

It is important to note that proposals receiving a low rating or no funding does not necessarily imply a scientifically inferior proposal. Rather, proposals may be downgraded based on other criteria noted above.

After the PC finalizes the proposed Collaboration Plan, it is sent for review and approval by the SCEC Board of Directors in February. The proposed plan is then sent to the funding agencies for final review. Upon approval by the agencies, notifications are sent out to the investigators beginning in March. Notifications may be delayed if investigators have overdue reports on prior SCEC awards.