The National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) enhances research competitiveness of targeted jurisdictions (states, territories, commonwealth) by strengthening STEM capacity and capability.


EPSCoR envisions its jurisdictions as recognized contributors to the national and global STEM research enterprise.


  • Catalyze research capability across and among jurisdictions;
  • Establish STEM professional development pathways;
  • Broaden participation of diverse groups/institutions in STEM;
  • Effect engagement in STEM at national and global levels; and
  • Impact jurisdictional economic development.

Hawai‘i EPSCoR Current Funding Cycle Progress


‘Ike Wai: Securing Hawai‘i’s Water Future (2016-21).


‘Ike Wai is a transdisciplinary study of two aquifer systems that is building capacity for hydrogeological research in Hawai‘i, creating workforce pathways for research and
industry, and producing actionable information for water managers and policymakers in Hawai‘i. Key research findings include data to support a lack of aquifer boundaries
in highly porous basalts and a map of five distinct groundwater flow paths from the mountains to the coast based on oxygen isotope measurements in submarine groundwater discharge and geochemical analyses of over 400 well and pond samples. The results of a novel microbiome community analysis indicated that the temporal and spatial distribution of groundwater microbial communities can provide information regarding aquifer connectivity, and show alignment with the geochemical results. A novel marine geophysics study along the Kona coast suggests that there may be twice as much freshwater stored offshore of Hawai‘i Island than was previously thought, with important implications for islands around the world. An extensive reservoir of freshwater within the submarine southern flank of the Hualālai aquifer has been mapped by ‘Ike Wai researchers. The groundbreaking findings reveal a novel way in which substantial volumes of freshwater are transported from onshore to offshore submarine aquifers along the coast of Hawai‘i Island. This mechanism may provide alternative renewable resources of freshwater to volcanic islands worldwide.

A new Science Gateway online platform is a data analysis source for the state and region, serving as the central location for data management, computation, analysis, visualization, and dissemination of all data and data products generated by the ‘Ike Wai project. These include stakeholder-driven rainfall recharge scenarios representing the futures of urban, agricultural, and conservation lands and well pumping optimization models of interest to local water boards. ‘Ike Wai also made a significant investment in exploring historical and contemporary Hawaiian knowledge relating to water and hydrology. In particular, an ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i newspaper translation and data analytics effort saw Hawaiian language experts and scientists working together to identify water-related information present in the rich archive of Hawaiian newspapers from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The ‘Ike Wai project ends in May 2021. Productivity by the team to date is very high. Participants have published 137 peer-reviewed publications and ‘Ike Wai participants have submitted 122 proposals resulting in awards totaling $30,268,420 including 9 NSF awards to date. Overall, 135 individuals have participated in ‘Ike Wai including 33 faculty, five postdoctoral fellows, 24 graduate students, six non-technical support staff, 13 technical support staff, 54 undergraduate researchers and various stakeholders from the community. Student trainees have completed 14 PhD or MS degrees. ‘Ike Wai funded the hire of five new faculty at UH Mānoa to build capacity in water resource research in the fields of geology, engineering, economics and geophysics. At UH Hilo four new ‘Ike Wai-funded faculty hires have implemented a Data Science Certificate program that is now planned to become a baccalaureate degree. At Chaminade, a new Data Science program with an undergraduate degree and certification tracks has been implemented and new faculty hires have been made in Data Analytics, Environmental Science and Biology. As a Native Hawaiian-serving institution, Chaminade has also supported 152 Native Hawaiian STEM undergraduate scholars (97% retention, 100% graduation rate) through a series of awards (Kamehameha Schools, NSF, NIH) that are leveraged from ‘Ike Wai. Cyberinfrastructure resources and research have increased significantly with five new 5-year NSF awards in 2019 and 2020 in software frameworks, high performance computing, international networking, advanced data visualization and distributed cloud computing for a total of over $10M in assets. These new cyberinfrastructure resources position the UH research community to be on par with their colleagues on the mainland and are essential to the support of the UH research mission.

Impacts of Hawai‘i EPSCoR Projects


The NSF investment in EPSCoR programs in Hawai‘i, and the University of Hawai‘i’s commitment and leadership, have catalyzed significant growth in the State’s STEM endeavor. Broadly, impacts can be categorized into the following areas:

  • Increased scientific productivity and sophistication in research areas of direct relevance to the future prosperity and resilience of the State;
  • Expanded research capacity in terms of human capital, infrastructure and support for research that leverages to competitive grant applications, technology transfer and integration into regional, national and international collaborative scientific networks;
  • Educational and research training programs that support equity and inclusion in STEM, and prepares the workforce for
    key areas of state and regional need such as sustainability, natural resource management, data analytics, and genomics;
  • Growth in both research and STEM education programs at the minority and Native Hawaiian serving UH Hilo and Chaminade University of Honolulu campuses;
  • Catalysis of culturally-sustaining, inclusive and culture-based STEM education and research programs across the State; and
  • Demonstrated commitment to operational frameworks for stakeholder-driven and community-responsive research

Hawai‘i EPSCoR Prior Funding Cycle Outcomes


IMUA III: Pacific High Island Evolutionary Biogeoprahpy: Impacts of Invasive Species


This project increased the competitiveness of Hawai‘i investigators in critical areas of ecological science and island biogeography, broadened participation in the state’s STEM workforce through enhanced K-12, undergraduate and graduate student pathways, and worked to fundamentally improve relationships between researchers and local communities.

In coral reef studies (Gates) 13 IMUA III papers described linkages between genomics, transcriptomics and metabolomics. The nature and composition of coral symbiomes over space and time was defined, and IMUA III established the 3D structure from motion stereogrammetry, established as a transformative topological mapping and mathematical modeling technique for the benthos. IMUA III established the Climate-Ecosystem Observatory, a network of eight climate stations and three marine sensor buoys with state-of-the art equipment on both the windward and leeward sides of Hawai‘i Island. A novel high-resolution, long-term, submarine groundwater discharge-monitoring instrument was also developed and deployed. Two demonstration projects at Chaminade and UH located at the interface between science/indigenous knowledge and Hawaiian culture were successful, specifically on the culturally informed metabolomics of the Hawaiian ritual drink kava and the traditional ecological knowledge/ecological genomics of Hawaiian limu, a traditional marine food source. Institutional capacity built during or in parallel with IMUA III included hires in sensor engineering (David Garmire, twice-winner of the Berkeley Nanotechnology Opportunity award and the University of California, Berkeley Venture Labs
Achievement award) and data visualization/analytics (Jason Leigh, Director Emeritus University of Illinois at Chicago Electronic Visualization Lab). Cyberinfrastructure gains in IMUA III included a geographic information system (GIS) lab at UH Hilo, and a new High Performance Computing Cluster, data storage and data science team housed within a new (2014) $40M UH Information Technology Center. IMUA III enabled Hawai‘i researchers to secure almost $78M in additional extramural funding, including 20 non-EPSCoR awards from NSF. IMUA III catalyzed a Paul Allen Prize (Ruth Gates), NSF EarthCube Research Coordination Network award, Chaminade University’s first prime awardee NSF grant (Improving Undergraduate STEM Education, Helen Turner), a science/culture grant from Office of Hawaiian Affairs (Helen Turner), NSF Advanced Cyberinfrascture (ACI) award (Campus Cyberinfrastructure, Gwen Jacobs), and an NSF math education grant to UH Hilo. In addition, project faculty, staff and students published a total of 249 peer-reviewed journal articles, 16 papers in conference proceedings, 8 book chapters, 4 PhD dissertations, 11 MS theses, and delivered 356 presentations and posters at state, national and international scientific conferences.