The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Gulf Research Program
Gulf Research Program  >  
About the Gulf Research Program

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon disaster resulted in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. This had serious impacts on the environment and people of the Gulf of Mexico region. As part of the settlements in the criminal cases with the companies involved, the federal government requested that a new program be established at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine dedicated to funding and conducting activities to enhance offshore energy system safety, human health, and environmental resources in the Gulf of Mexico region and other U.S. outer continental shelf regions that support offshore energy production. Settlement funds totaling $500 million were designated toward a 30-year endowment for what became the Gulf Research Program.

The Gulf Research Program is an independent, science-based program that funds studies, projects, and other activities in the areas of research and development, education and capacity building, and monitoring and synthesis.

GRP Venn Diagram

Our Mission

Catalyzing advances in science, practice, and capacity to generate long-term benefits for the Gulf of Mexico region and the Nation.

Our Vision

Healthy ecosystems, thriving communities, safer offshore energy systems.

Our Focus Areas

Four initiatives advance the Gulf Research Program’s mission and vision:

  • Healthy Ecosystems: Advance understanding of ecosystem processes and dynamics to facilitate sustainable use of natural resources.
  • Thriving Communities: Enable people and coastal communities to successfully prepare for, respond, and adapt to stressors and adverse events.
  • Safer Offshore Energy Systems: Foster minimization and management of risk to make offshore operations safer for both people and the environment.
  • Capacity Building: Enhance the ability of researchers, decision makers, and communities to solve challenges at the intersections of human, environmental, and offshore energy systems.

Who We Are

The Gulf Research Program has two components: a staff responsible for program development, implementation, operations, and administration and an Advisory Board charged to provide strategic guidance.

The staff is led by an Executive Director who oversees administrative staff and program staff. Administrative staff are responsible for finance, administration, and communications. Program staff are responsible for external funding opportunities, education and capacity building, and strategic initiatives.

The Advisory Board is a volunteer group of 20-25 appointed experts that provide strategic leadership on program planning and implementation. Advisory Board members are selected through standard National Academies committee selection processes and appointments are for rotating three-year terms. The expertise of members represents a diversity of knowledge and experience in areas including offshore energy system operations, physical and environmental sciences, human health, and community resilience.

Oversight of the Gulf Research Program is provided by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine—a private, non-profit organization chartered by Congress in 1863 to provide independent, expert advice to the Nation.

Globe smaller

What We Do

The Gulf Research Program funds studies, projects, and other activities in three broad areas: research and development, education and capacity, and monitoring and synthesis. Activities are focused on the Gulf of Mexico region and other U.S. coastal and outer continental shelf regions where human communities, ecosystems, and energy production co-exist. Work that transfers knowledge to or from other places in the U.S. or other nations is included in this focus.

The Gulf Research Program offers an evolving suite of grant opportunities. Opportunity types and topic areas change according to program areas. Specific grant types have included:

  • Capacity Building: To help non-profit organizations enhance the use of science to serve community needs and address coastal challenges.
  • Exploratory: To jumpstart innovations and transformative ideas for novel approaches, technologies, or methods in their early phases.
  • Research & Development: To advance fundamental science or provide a basis for new technology development. 
  • Research-Practice: To bring together researchers, practitioners, and other perspectives to collaborate on efforts that both inform research and facilitate use of research results.
  • Synthesis: To bring together methods or data from different disciplines and sectors to generate novel insights or develop new approaches.

The Gulf Research Program currently funds three fellowship programs to develop skills and build scientific and leadership skills:

  • Early-Career Research Fellowships: 2-year fellowships awarded to tenure-track faculty to provide funding and mentoring during the pre-tenure phase. 
  • Science Policy Fellowships: 1-year fellowships awarded to early-career scientists to provide first-hand experience at federal and state agencies in the Gulf of Mexico region.
  • Christine Mirzayan Fellowships: 12-week program at the National Academies in Washington, DC, to engage individuals in the processes that inform U.S. science and technology policy.

 How We Work

The Gulf Research Program was established with $500 million of settlement funds paid out over five years (2013-2018) by the companies found responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster ($350 million from BP and $150 million from Transocean). The funds are invested in a fixed term endowment (2013-2043) and must be disbursed within 30 years. The extended time horizon presents an extraordinary opportunity for the program to play a transformative role in facilitating the use of science and technology to tackle large, complex issues at a regional scale and over the long term.

The Gulf Research Program’s work is guided by a strategic vision aimed at producing lasting benefit for the Gulf of Mexico region and the Nation. The strategic vision was developed by a 25-member Advisory Group of volunteers appointed by the National Academies to help launch the program in 2013. In 2014 the original Advisory Group transitioned into a standing Advisory Board charged with implementing the strategic vision.

The strategic vision outlines various strategies the program should pursue to produce lasting impact, such as adopting a long-term, cross boundary perspective; facilitating science to serve community needs; and supporting cross-disciplinary synthesis and integration.

Given the complex issues and interconnections that reside at the interface between offshore energy system safety, human health, and environmental resources, the Gulf Research Program is, by necessity and design, very interdisciplinary and requires diverse knowledge and experience. The program involves and engages with academic, government, non-profit, and industry researchers and practitioners from throughout the U.S., the Gulf region, and relevant other countries in areas including:

  • Earth sciences
  • Life sciences
  • Social and behavioral sciences
  • Health and medicine
  • Engineering
  • Environmental protection
  • Natural Resources
  • Public policy
  • Community resilience
Images: SeaWiFS Project, NASA/GSFC, ORBIMAGE