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Virtual Earth System Research Institute

Request for Expressions of Interest on Problems in Climate Modeling


The Virtual Earth System Research Institute (VESRI) is a new initiative supported by Schmidt Futures to find and fund transformational research in Earth System Sciences. VESRI is seeking expressions of interest (EOIs) targeting areas of climate research which are primed to take advantage of the current rapid evolution of computational technology, and potentially, observing platforms. We are specifically looking for research that could radically improve climate modeling.

We will seek proposals that use advances in observations and computational science to target current weaknesses in climate models. These may include well-known and stubborn biases in the modeling of present-day climate; reliability in the simulation of climate extremes and extreme events; and shortcomings in the modeling of past climates as different from present-day, as well as abrupt historical transitions in climate. These are among the aspects of the climate system that continue to challenge our models in terms of resolution, complexity of representation, and in teasing apart the roles of natural and forced variability.

VESRI will provide sustained funding to support such work. Funding may be used for all scientific aspects of such work, including theory, computing, analysis, observations, and other elements. In addition, to reduce impediments to research, VESRI plans to host a Core Team that will provide embedded technical expertise to all funded projects. Projects might also suggest the use of novel observational platforms such as nanosats, loons or floats.

We are now soliciting short (2 page) EOIs that outline the problem, the new approach, the desired outcome and impact as well as potential participants. See details below.

EOI and Proposal Requirements

EOIs should address very briefly points 1-5 and an early approximation for 6 and 7. (Submission details below). When requested, full proposals must go into greater depth on all of these points.

  1. Principal shortcoming in current climate modeling to be addressed
  2. Area of the climate system that is the focus (which can be the entire coupled system). Proposals can be in any area of Earth system science. Sample targets for research could include phenomena such as: persistent large uncertainties in the role of clouds in the dynamics and thermodynamics of the atmosphere; mixing and turbulence in the ocean; dynamics and stability of ice sheets; simulation of the terrestrial carbon cycle with an eye to the estimation of land and ocean carbon sinks.
  3. Transformational methodological advance being pursued. What is genuinely new and different about your proposal? Proposals must spell out a significant methodological advance in improving modeling by the novel use of data sources, computational advances, or methods from data science and other disciplines where relevant methods, data, or process knowledge may reside. This may include new methods to parameterize unresolved processes, or methods to derive reduced-order (simpler, lower-resolution) models from more complex or higher-resolution models.
  4. Role or needs envisioned for additional engineering support from the Core Team. What intellectual or other resources will you require? The Core Team could cover statistics and machine learning, computational science, software and data expertise recruited from industry. It will also offer cloud computing support.
  5. A data and source code management plan. Open access to all codes and data will be a requirement.
  6. Potential Principal Investigators and partner institutions. We encourage teams that cross disciplinary, institution, and/or national boundaries – proposals that are otherwise hard to fund. International and multi-country proposals are welcome, and there is no requirement that any/all of the team partners be US-based. Researchers might be from academia, government, non-profit institutions. We encourage disciplinary and demographic diversity. We also understand that there may be changes in participants and structure before a final proposal is agreed.
  7. Requested budget and justification. For how many years (up to 5) are you requesting funding, and approximately how much in each year in USD? EOIs need not include costs for Core Team activities. Proposals in the range $500k-$2M/year will be considered. For more on Schmidt Futures’ approach to funding see

Expressions of Interest

We solicit Expressions of Interest for projects that meet the above criteria. The EOI is not a formal proposal, but is a terse summary no longer than 2 pages.

The EOIs will be evaluated by a committee of peers and a few will be invited to submit full proposals for evaluation. Teams will be given 45 days to submit a full proposal. Full proposals should be 8 pages, excluding bibliography and member CVs, and must include a tentative budget, subject to further negotiation. The costs of the Core Team are excluded from the budget, though the proposal must specify the size of the required core resource, and the expertise needed.

We expect to award 2-3 proposals in the first year of the program, and more in subsequent years.

Information for Proposers 

Expressions of Interest are due: 2019-09-15. Please send them (PDF, Googledoc, Word, etc) to

Invitations to submit proposal by: 2019-10-15

Full proposals due: 2019-12-01

All correspondence and queries should be sent to

Advisory Board

The Virtual Earth System Research Institute Advisory Board (VESRI-AB) is charged with advising Schmidt Futures on how to structure a sustained, long-term (5-10 years) investment in climate science. The following individuals serve on the Advisory Board:

  • Ilkay Altintas, University of California San Diego
  • V. Balaji (Chair), Princeton University/Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and LSCE
  • Cecilia Bitz, University of Washington
  • Mark Cane, Columbia University
  • Isaac Held, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (retired)
  • Valerie Masson-Delmotte, LSCE
  • Sonia Seneviratne, ETH
  • Tapio Schneider, Caltech

Individuals on the VESRI Advisory Board are active members of the climate community and may have their own research projects, some of which are supported by Schmidt Futures separately from the VESRI program. These individuals provide independent judgment when participating in VESRI, and involvement in these research projects does not impact decisions on selection or funding of projects through VESRI.