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Call for FICUS Research Proposals with ARM and EMSL, FY 2025



Decision notices sent

The Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) user facility and the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) user facility are seeking collaborative research applications through the Facilities Integrating Collaborations for User Science (FICUS) program. The FICUS program was established in 2014 to encourage and enable ambitious research projects integrating the expertise and capabilities of multiple user facilities.

Researchers from around the world can apply through this call to use ARM and EMSL resources and collaborate with their scientific staff at no cost to the submitting scientist. Successful applications will address projects that can be completed in a 24-month timeline, use a range of the available capabilities, and generate datasets beyond what users of each facility could generate through separate projects.

Focus topic areas

Land–Atmosphere Processes and Aerosol–Cloud Interactions

Proposed research should investigate aerosol processes, aerosol–cloud interactions, or land–atmosphere processes over rural, urban, and coastal areas, toward improved Earth system models and mechanistic representations. Proposed research on aerosol–cloud interactions should focus on the impact of aerosols on warm or cold cloud formation and evolution. Proposals focused on land–atmosphere processes should address terrestrially emitted volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and aerosols; investigate the physical, chemical, optical, and microphysical properties of aerosols such as the aerosol mixing state or phase state; and develop process-level understanding of the formation, transport, and evolution of aerosols.

Proposals that seek to understand the formation, processing, transport, and deposition of atmospheric particles such as dust, wildfire-emitted particles, and biological particles; the size-resolved chemical composition of aerosol particles; and VOCs in different atmospheric conditions are also of interest.

Highlighted Capabilities

EMSL Balloon-Borne Instruments

EMSL has developed an automated Size and Time-resolved Aerosol Collector (STAC), a Time-Resolved Bulk Aerosol Collector (TBAC), and a new Time-Resolved Automated Volatile organic compounds Sampling (TRAVIS) system to fly as guest instruments on ARM’s Tethered Balloon System (TBS). These instruments will enable researchers to capture aerosols and VOCs in situ during upcoming ARM campaigns for subsequent “offline” analyses of the physical, chemical, optical, and microphysical properties of aerosol particles using multimodal microscopy, spectroscopy, and advanced mass spectrometry techniques at EMSL. For questions about the STAC, TBAC, and TRAVIS systems, please direct questions to Swarup China.

For the offline analysis of VOCs, EMSL recently acquired a high-throughput Thermal Desorption Gas Chromatography coupled to Quadrupole Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry (TD-GC-QTOFMS) instrument. In addition, EMSL will support the offline analysis of the vertical profiles of VOCs collected onto sorbent tubes using the TRAVIS system.

STAC is an automated sampler that collects aerosol particles in the size range of 0.07–2.3 µm. STAC carries 20 filters and is able to switch from one filter to the next in a few seconds but typically integrates over periods on the order of 30 minutes for each filter to obtain a sufficient particle loading for analysis. The STAC platform is integrated with a temperature and relative humidity sensor and a pressure sensor to monitor ambient conditions and may be operated with an optical particle counter to measure the aerosol size distribution and a micro-aethalometer to measure the black carbon mass concentration. The sampler can be programmed with a measurement delay (start time), the number of samples, and the time at each point of sampling. STAC has four stages where size-resolved particles will be collected on multiple substrates for microscopy, spectroscopy, and substrate-based mass spectrometry analysis. The current version of STAC can sample up to 20 different altitudes per flight. STAC has three substrate holders in each stage and can accommodate transmission electron microscopy grids, silicon nitride substrates, or quartz substrates. Typically, two TEM grids (B-film and lacey film) and silicon nitride substrates are placed on each stage.

TBAC collects total aerosols on either quartz or Teflon filters for various bulk chemical analyses.

TRAVIS collects VOC samples at up to six different altitudes for offline analysis at EMSL; the sampling onset time and collection duration are programmed prior to flight.

Tethered Balloon Mission Opportunities

During calendar year (CY) 2022/23, ARM deployed TBS at its Southern Great Plains (SGP) site, in support of the Surface Atmosphere Integrated Field Laboratory (SAIL) field campaign in the Rocky Mountains in central Colorado, and during the Tracking Aerosol Convection Interactions Experiment (TRACER) mobile facility deployment to Houston, Texas, during the summer deep convective season. These deployments provided a combination of flights with periods at fixed altitudes and flights that sampled profiles through the boundary layer to altitudes of up to 1.5 km above ground level (AGL).

Applicants may propose to analyze samples from past missions or from the three missions already planned for fiscal year (FY) 2024 at the SGP site in association with a study of organosulfates and organonitrates. These missions will include samples obtained by STAC and TBAC spanning several seasons at SGP.

Applicants may propose new FY 2025 missions for the SGP site, a new observatory deployment in the Bankhead National Forest (BNF) in northwest Alabama, or for a site on Kent Island in the Chesapeake Bay. The Kent Island site is part of the Coast–Urban–Rural Atmospheric Gradient Experiment (CoURAGE) campaign, which includes several measurement sites in the Baltimore, Maryland, region. ARM is already committed to flying two TBS missions at the Kent Island site in FY 2025 (one in winter and one in summer) with baseline ARM instruments and several guest instruments that are part of the CoURAGE campaign. EMSL particle samplers may be requested for any of the FY 2025 missions. There may also be capacity to host additional guest instruments on the already-planned CoURAGE missions.

Missions are typically up to 14 days in length, and ARM is planning to fly approximately six to eight total TBS missions during FY 2025. A standard mission involves a single tethered balloon carrying baseline ARM instruments in addition to the STAC, TBAC, and TRAVIS capabilities. Investigators are asked to propose no more than three missions, and requests for multiple missions should be well justified. The balloon must remain in clear air and below the base of nearby clouds. TBS flights are generally restricted to a maximum altitude limit of 1.5 km AGL, and an individual flight typically lasts from a few hours to approximately eight hours with varying flight styles. ARM is seeking permissions for FY 2025 operations at the SGP and BNF sites and for the CoURAGE campaign and will revisit the feasibility of operations at these locations at the full proposal stage. Only daytime operations may be proposed for BNF and CoURAGE. Daytime or nighttime operations may be proposed at the SGP site.

Proposals for new TBS missions in FY 2025 should provide details regarding mission expectations including needed instrumentation, the flight location (SGP, BNF, CoURAGE), desired season or seasons and time of day, desired altitude, the number and duration of flights required, desired meteorological conditions during the flight, whether fixed-altitude flights or profiles would be more appropriate for the applicant’s science goals, and where these factors are important for achieving the applicant’s science goals. Proposals for flights of nonbaseline ARM instruments (including those listed on the ARM TBS webpage) or guest instruments will also be considered but will need to be reviewed in consideration of payload constraints.

Submission Steps

Partnering User Facilities

Atmospheric Radiation Measurement

The Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) user facility is a multi-laboratory U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, user facility and a key contributor to national and international climate research efforts. ARM provides the climate research community with strategically located in situ and remote-sensing observatories designed to improve the understanding and representation, in climate and earth system models, of clouds and aerosols as well as their interactions and coupling with the Earth’s surface.

ARM Contacts

Data resulting from projects awarded under a FICUS call are made available in accordance with each user facility’s data policies.

ARM Data Acquisition and Use Guidance:

Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory

The Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) is a Department of Energy, Office of Science, user facility sponsored by the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program. EMSL seeks to gain a predictive understanding of the molecular and atomic processes that control the continuous changes underpinning biological and ecosystem functions. This means, in support of BER's mission, we advance and integrate the process-level understanding of complex systems across wide temporal and spatial scales by coupling observations, experiments, and theory with modeling and simulation. Proposals submitted to this research call will be supported under the new Terrestrial–Atmospheric Processes Integrated Research Platform.

EMSL Contacts

Data resulting from projects awarded under a FICUS call are made available in accordance with each user facility’s data policies.

EMSL Data Management Policy:

Review criteria

User proposals under the ARM-EMSL call for FICUS proposals will be peer reviewed against three scientific criteria. For each criterion, the reviewer rates the proposal Outstanding, Excellent, Good, Fundamentally Sound, or Questionable Impact and provides detailed comments on the quality of the proposal to support each rating, specifically noting the proposal's strengths and weaknesses. The reviewer also provides overall comments and recommendations to support the ratings given. These scores and comments serve as the starting point for Proposal Review Panel (PRP) discussions. The PRP is responsible for the final score and recommendation to EMSL and ARM management.  

Criterion 1: Scientific merit and quality of the proposed research (50%) 

Potential Considerations: How important is the proposed activity to advancing knowledge and understanding within its own field or across different fields? To what extent does the proposed activity suggest and explore creative and original concepts? How well conceived and organized is the proposed activity?  

Criterion 2: Relevance of the proposed research to the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program mission, including relevance to both the EMSL and ARM missions (25%) 

EMSL’s mission is to lead molecular-level discoveries for the Department of Energy, Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research program that translate to predictive understanding and accelerated solutions for national energy and environmental challenges. EMSL supports BER’s missions in atmospheric aerosols; elemental, nutrient, and materials cycling; ecosystems ecology and biogeochemistry; analyses and prediction of the Earth system, including atmospheric, terrestrial/watershed, coastal, and subsurface processes; microbial and plant systems biology; and data analytics. These areas reflect DOE and national priorities to understand sources and sinks of greenhouse gas emissions, enable prediction of Earth system processes, and develop sustainable sources of clean energy, chemicals, and bioproducts, for which DOE has ownership or stewardship responsibilities. 

ARM’s mission is to provide the climate research community with strategically located in situ and remote sensing observatories designed to improve the understanding and representation of clouds and aerosols in climate and earth system models as well as their interactions and coupling with Earth’s surface.  

Note: Projects with direct relevance in these areas will have the best chance for selection. Other projects of scientific significance also are welcomed, but the applicant should clearly outline how the project will further BER’s mission.  

Potential Considerations: What is the relationship of the proposed research to the missions of the EMSL and ARM facilities? How well does the research project advance their mission goals?  

Criterion 3: Appropriateness and reasonableness of the request for resources for the proposed research (25%) 

Potential Considerations: Are both EMSL and ARM capabilities and resources essential to performing this research? Are the proposed methods/approaches optimal for achieving the scientific objectives of the proposal? Are the requested resources reasonable and appropriate for the proposed research? Does the complexity and/or scope of effort justify the duration of the proposed project, including any modifications to EMSL or ARM equipment to carry out research? Is the specified work plan practical and achievable for the proposed research project? Is the amount of time requested for each piece of equipment clearly justified and appropriate?