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Danxia Landform (Credit: Joel Gill, distributed via

Policy Fundamental sciences / blue-skies research

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European Geosciences Union

Fundamental sciences / blue-skies research

Fundamental, or blue-skies science, describes research that is driven by a desire to further our scientific understanding, without necessarily considering specific real-world applications. They play an important role in increasing public interest in science and technology, perhaps even more so than some applied scientific research topics. Notable examples are the Big Bang theory, ancient fossils, the Higgs Boson particle, and space exploration.

The EGU encompasses a broad range of fundamental Earth and space sciences. These include: inner Earth dynamics, Earth evolution, plate tectonics, theoretical geochemistry, palaeontology, and planetary analyses.

Blue-sky research has led to numerous applications resulting from serendipitous discoveries throughout the research process. These spin-off discoveries can be significant and have major implications for future research and innovation. For example, the European Space Agency has a portfolio of some 450 inventions, covering areas such as optics, robotics and electrical power and propulsion, many of which have found applications in fields outside space science.

The same applies in the Earth sciences: fundamental geomorphological or volcanological research helps to predict landslides and volcanic eruptions, or mitigate their impacts; study of past climate helps anticipate the effects of global warming; techniques developed during blue-sky geochemical or geophysical research finds applications in mineral exploration; landscape research, and the processes that shape them, has led to a greater understanding of our living environment, allowing us to safeguard and manage natural risks more effectively; plate tectonics research is helping to increase our understanding of earthquake and volcanic hazards in densely populated coastal regions.

Current EU policy

The EU has various policies for science research, which include apportionment of science funding to the Horizon 2020 scheme. As part of H2020, the European Research Council (ERC) is allocated a budget of €13.1 billion (H2020’s total budget is €77 billion) to support “frontier research, cross disciplinary proposals and pioneering ideas in new and emerging fields which introduce unconventional and innovative approaches”. Funds are available to scientists at all stages of their career. If any commercial or societal applications from blue-skies research arise, an additional ‘proof of concept’ grant of up to €150,000 (per grant) can be applied for.

Other EU policies related to the fundamental Earth sciences are often connected to areas with specific applications. For example, as a result from geomorphic processes research, the EU Water Framework Directive requires river bedload dynamics to be taken into account when constructing or restoring streams. Additionally, as a result of fundamental Earth structure and tectonic research, the European Commission’s Directive on Carbon Capture and Sequestration states that their geological characteristics of potential storage site should be taken into account to ensure no significant risk of leakage.

Future challenges

Fundamental science research plays a key role is achieving the EU’s goal of ensuring that Europe remains at the forefront of new discoveries and challenging projects, as well as achieving a better understanding of fundamental questions.

As a shift towards impact-based scientific funding occurs, a critical challenge facing the fundamental sciences is securing funding for such research. Public sector funding schemes (including the European Research Council) now require assessments of potential impacts as a part of the evaluation process. Reduced budgets resulting from the economic down-turn has contributed to this policy change. Not all scientific discovery can be pre-emptively or immediately quantified, thus policies to ensure the continuation of blue-skies sciences need to be enforced.

EGU fundamental / blue-sky research areas

Many division within the EGU involve fundamental research topics. The major subject areas are listed below but more information can be found on the Scientific Divisions and Division Presidents webpage.

Recent EGU papers



With special thanks to Nick Arndt, Professor of Professor Geology at the Université Joseph Fourier, and Susanne Buiter, Senior Researcher in Geodynamics at the Geological Survey of Norway, for helping to draft this webpage.

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