Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

Innovative Research Program

An internal, competitive program of CIRES, IRPs support novel research that might otherwise be difficult to fund

Person in snow-covered valley with research equipment
A researcher prepares to use a laser scanning (lidar) unit to scan snow depth at the Arapahoe Ski Basin Ski area in Keystone, Colorado.
- Jeff Deems/NSIDC and CIRES

The Innovative Research Program is designed to stimulate a creative research environment within CIRES and to encourage synergy between disciplines and research colleagues. The intent is to support small research efforts that can quickly provide concept viability or rule out further consideration. The program encourages novel, unconventional, or fundamental research that might otherwise be difficult to fund. Funded projects are inventive, sometimes opportunistic, and do not necessarily have an immediate practical application or guarantee of success. This program supports pilot or exploratory studies, which may provide rapid results. Activities are not tightly restricted and can range from instrument development, lab testing, and field observations to model development, evaluation, and application.

The 2024 IRP competition opens February 5, 2024. Applications will be due March 18, 2024 at 11:59 pm. Submit your proposal online. You must have a CIRES login and password to access the online application.

CIRES also supports a "Rapid IRP" that may provide funds for research activities that are time-sensitive and urgent. Potential CIRES proposers should see the email or reach out to the Associate Director for Science for more information.

  • CIRES Research Scientists, Associate Scientists and Professors may serve as PIs. Post-docs are not eligible to serve as PIs.
    • CIRES graduate students and post-docs may submit a proposal but a CIRES Research Scientist or Professor must serve as PI.
    • Associate scientists must have support of the proposal from their supervisor. Please send a letter of support from the supervisor when the application is submitted.
  • A researcher may only be listed as a PI or contributor on ONE proposal for each competition. Multiple submissions in a given year will disqualify all applications with the individual listed.
  • If a researcher is part of a team receiving an IRP, that individual is not eligible to apply (or be part of an application team) the following year. If an application is submitted that includes the individual, the application will be disqualified.
  • Proposals may include investigators outside of CIRES if they are integral to the outcome.
  • Proposals cannot exceed three pages, using 12-point font and single space. References can be separate.
  • Project Budget cannot exceed $30,000 (in direct costs).
  • All research and spending must be completed within the May 2024 – November 2025 project period (18 months). No exceptions.  
  • Awardees must present the results of the work at the Annual IRP poster session at the end of their award.
  • Workshops or the acquisition of normal tools such as computers are discouraged.

Results from one IRP project led to a new way for ski resorts and transportation departments to address the threat of avalanche. In 2015, NSIDC’s Jeff Deems and Richard Armstrong were awarded an IRP for their work “Mapping avalanche starting zone snow depth with a ground-based lidar”. They applied a laser-scanning (lidar) system to map snow depth at very high resolution in parts of the Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. The idea was to help the snow safety staff there better understand and control avalanche hazards.

Deems used the laser scanner system to craft detailed maps of the slopes in summer, without snow, and then compared them to snow-covered slopes months later. The work required close coordination with the avalanche specialists to help them plan their explosives placements and infrastructure. The scientists evaluated storm-by-storm changes in snow depth and distribution, and then worked with the snow safety team at Arapahoe Basin to refine targeting of explosives charges. Deems also worked with the Colorado Department of Transportation, in an avalanche-prone stretch of Highway 6 near Loveland Pass. There, he mapped snow depth and distribution before and after detonations directed at controlling avalanches.

The research team—which included experts from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, Colorado Department of Transportation, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory—is also working to use the laser mapping system in near-real-time, with on-site processing of new scans. That could support operational decisions about where to detonate and analysis of avalanche control results for assessment of worker and highway safety.