NOIRLab Survey Programs

NOIRLab offers the opportunity to conduct major survey programs on telescopes at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (including SOAR), and Kitt Peak National Observatory. Investigators wishing to conduct surveys using the Gemini telescopes can submit proposals through the Gemini Large and Long Programs TAC. Up to 20% of the observing time available through NOIRLab may be allocated to Survey Programs. 

list of approved Survey Programs is available.

Current Status: There will be no Call for Survey Proposals in 2024B

What is a Survey Program?

A Survey Program is a significant observational program which:

  • addresses novel, well-focused scientific goals;
  • enables scientific programs requiring large, statistically complete, and homogeneous data;
  • provides a basis for planning more detailed follow-up studies;
  • enables extensive archival research; and
  • represents a significant enhancement over existing surveys.

Successful programs are expected to be completed in 3 years or less. Data must be processed with a well-tested and well-documented pipeline. Processed data, data products and other deliverables must be archived in a convenient format, and must be made publicly available no longer than one year after the data are received in the NOIRLab archive. Successful proposals will be required to deliver a detailed data plan. 

How to Propose a Survey Program

Investigators interested in submitting new survey proposals must submit a letter of intent form via a web-interface. The call for Survey letters of intent is generally made 2-3 weeks before the Call for Proposals.

The Letters of Intent will serve two purposes. First, they allow us to plan our evaluation process based on the number and content of potential proposals. This includes selection of an evaluation committee with appropriate expertise and minimal conflict of interest. Second, the description of the proposed survey will be reviewed to ensure that the program fits the adopted definition of a survey. Please keep these purposes in mind when composing a Letter of Intent and provide as much relevant information as possible. 

Proposals should include:

  • a discussion of the primary scientific goals of the survey;
  • the relationship to and advances over existing or ongoing surveys;
  • additional potential uses of survey data;
  • a description of the experimental design, including sample selection, instrumentation, scheduling requirements, calibration, etc.;
  • a statement of how and when the data will be made publicly available;
  • a table of telescopes, instruments, number of nights, and lunar phase requested for each semester during which the survey is carried out; and
  • a survey management plan including a discussion of data reductions, archiving, and staffing to carry out the program.

Survey investigators who wish their programs to be considered for one-semester allocations in the event that their Survey proposal is declined should also submit a regular proposal to be considered by the TAC (Survey proposals are reviewed by a special Survey TAC). Investigators should note on the regular proposal that the program has also been submitted as a Survey Program, and that time should not be awarded to the regular program if the

Special considerations for Survey Programs with DECam on Blanco

  • Investigators are encouraged to think creatively and ambitiously about the scientific possibilities for DECam. In addition to traditional surveys aimed at wide area coverage, we are open to “time domain surveys” wherein a smaller field is covered repeatedly with some cadence over an extended period.
  • Remote observing with DECam has been routinely used from NOIRLab headquarters in Tucson, as well as from FermiLab and LBNL, and has been successfully used by the DES and DECaLS teams.  We will be happy to provide information and guidance to survey teams interested in using existing remote-observing facilities, or in setting up remote observing-centers at their own institutions, as part of a Survey Program. Investigators should indicate any interest in this capability in their Letters of Intent.

Clarifications of Guidelines

Changes or clarifications to the guidelines for the Survey Program include the following:

  • Survey proposals must be written to be suitable for anonymous review under the guidelines in  the NOIRLab anonymization policies.  Details of the data management or release that cannot be anonymized but are needed to demonstrate team competency (e.g., the names of those assigned to DM roles), should be added in the separate Team Information and relevant Background section only.
  • Instruments or modes that have not been commissioned at the time of the call for proposals will not be available for surveys.
  • The nominal cap for the survey program is 20% of the telescope time, including commitments to ongoing surveys (but see special DECam considerations above.) Survey time allocations will generally not be allowed to dominate the time with particular, desirable characteristics (dark time, times of year). Medium (3.5m-4.2m), and small (<3.5m) telescopes are considered separately. Survey allocations may exceed the cap for small telescopes if the overall oversubscription rate is low.
  • The maximum period over which survey observations are carried out is 3 years. 
  • The Survey Program proposal form is longer and somewhat different than the regular proposal form and it includes questions about management plan and data distribution.
  • Proposals will be reviewed by a separate Survey Panel, prior to being considered by the merging TAC for inclusion into the ranked lists for the available telescopes. They will be evaluated on scientific merit, broader impact to society, credibility of management plan, data distribution plan, and the value of proposed deliverables to the community. Separate grades in each of these areas will be combined to determine a final ranking.
    • Note that there are a variety of ways to address broader impact, the NSFs second criterion, including involvement of students or the inclusion of co-investigators from non-PhD-granting institutions.
    • Following recommendation for support by the NSF's NOIRLab TAC, NSF's NOIRLab will negotiate an agreement with successful proposers on a Survey Program’s data deliverables, the manner in which they will be distributed to the community, and the schedule for delivery.
  • It is imperative that proposers carefully and explicitly justify the number of nights requested, including allowance for integration time on program objects and calibration exposures, as well as the appropriate overheads. No increase for the expected weather statistics should be included. We will take statistical weather information into account when granting time such that most surveys are able to complete their observations. Surveys will be given one chance in their penultimate year to justify an additional supplemental allocation if they have suffered from technical problems at the telescope or weather significantly worse than average.

Additional Requirements for Survey Programs

Each year there will be an Annual Survey Program Meeting, which will be held in Tucson for all approved programs. Survey teams awarded time will be expected to present their past year's work to other Survey program leads and NSF's NOIRLab staff.

Progress Reports must also be submitted to NOIRLab semi-annually. All progress reports will be reviewed and changes may be recommended in the allocations to previously approved programs. Proposers will have the opportunity to appeal any changes recommended by NOIRLab.

If you have questions, please contact


Updated on March 20, 2024, 8:09 am