Signals in the Soil (SitS)

Funding Agency:
National Science Foundation

In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated, “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself." This statement remains true to this day. Soils form over hundreds of years, and yet can be destroyed in a single event. They are an often-overlooked natural asset despite being the foundation of terrestrial ecosystems that support food production, economic prosperity, and many other services that are essential for humanity. Soils are complex ecosystems composed of organic matter, minerals, water, air, and billions of organisms. Such ecosystems interact with the flora and fauna they support to mediate myriad biological, chemical, and physical processes essential for plant growth, food and fiber production, and contaminant removal. Soils are also the foundation material for all structures not supported on rock, and, by orders of magnitude, are the most widely-used construction material in the world. Soils are the source of most of the antibiotics used to fight human diseases, control the movement of water and chemical substances between the Earth and atmosphere, and act as source and storage media for gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, and methane.  As a result of their essential importance, soils are also part of our cultural heritage. Furthermore, soils serve as major storage media for carbon, a role that is potentially exploitable in climate change mitigation and adaption strategies. Thus, as the Earth’s population grows, we need a better understanding of soil ecosystems that will continue to play a critical role in supporting societies around the world.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorates for Engineering (ENG) and Geosciences (GEO), the Divisions of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) and  Environmental Biology (DEB), in the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO), the Division of Computer and Network Systems (CNS) in the Directorate Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), the Division of Chemistry (CHE) in the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS), the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS) in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE), in collaboration with the US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA) encourage convergent research that transforms existing capabilities in understanding dynamic soil processes, including soil formation, through advances in sensor systems and modeling.  The Signals in the Soil (SitS) program fosters collaboration among the two partner agencies and the researchers they support by combining resources and funding for the most innovative and high-impact projects that address their respective missions. To make transformative advances in our understanding of soils, multiple disciplines must converge to produce environmentally-benign novel sensing systems with multiple modalities that can adapt to different environments and collect and transmit data for a wide range of biological, chemical, and physical parameters. Effective integration of sensor data will be key for achieving a better understanding of signaling interactions among plants, animals, microbes, the soil matrix, and aqueous and gaseous components. New sensor networks have the potential to inform models in novel ways, to radically change how data is obtained from various natural and managed (both urban and rural) ecosystems, and to better inform the communities that directly rely on soils for sustenance and livelihood.

Full Proposal Target Date: April 14, 2022

Agency Website

Eligibility Requirements

An individual can only appear on 2 projects total in any one of the following roles: PI, co-PI, or Senior Personnel.

Any individual that is currently leading a SitS proposal awarded from NSF 19-556 and/or NSF 20-548 cannot be a lead PI on a submission to this version of the solicitation. They can, however, be listed as a co-PI or Senior Personnel on up to 2 submissions for this current version of the solicitation.

Please be advised that violations of these rules will result in “return without review” for ALL proposals submitted that include the individual in violation of these rules.



Amount Description

Estimated Number of Awards: 5 to 10

Estimated program budget, number of awards and average award size/duration are subject to the availability of funds.

Anticipated Funding Amount: $8,000,000 to $13,000,000

The total amount available for this solicitation is $13,000,000 Of this amount, NSF anticipates contributing approximately $8,000,000, and USDA NIFA anticipates contributing approximately $5,000,000. Program funding is subject to the availability of funds.

Projects will request 3 to 5 years of support with a total budget no less than $600,000, and no more than $1,200,000 per project.

This is a partnership between NSF and USDA NIFA; therefore, meritorious proposals may be funded by one or more agencies at the option of the agencies, not the proposer. All agencies will contribute to and participate in a common review process.

Funding Type





Curriculum Development
Engineering and Physical Sciences
Environmental & Life Sciences
Social Sciences

External Deadline

April 14, 2022