Solid Earth, continental surfaces, oceans, atmosphere and the Universe. The INSU's work explores both the closest and most distant natural systems. This fundamental research aims to shed light on the formation and evolution of the cosmos and is also essential to respond to environmental challenges. In parallel, researchers' technological requirements closely link research and innovation.

From the centre of the Earth to the edge of the Universe

INSU research deepens our understanding of the Earth and the Universe, revealing our planet's secrets along with the mechanisms which control the evolution of galaxies. This fundamental knowledge also provides information on environmental risks and helps anticipate seismic and volcanic phenomena.


Discovering planet Earth's secrets

Solid earth sciences

Geosciences such as seismology, cosmochemistry, geodesy or geochemistry make use of increasingly high performance study tools and methods such as underwater exploration and drilling, seismic imaging, space observation and numeric modelling and simulation to understand more about the way the Earth is organized.

Numerous discoveries

Knowledge is continually increasing about the concentric envelopes which make up the Earth, from its core to the biosphere. Ongoing research is retracing the birth of our planet, studying its structure and natural resources. By determining the origins of telluric catastrophes, this research is helping progress to be made in preventing seismic and volcanic phenomena.

Getting to grips with environmental risks

Diagnosing and explaining environmental modifications des milieux

Research into the Earth's external envelopes involves important environmental issues such as meteorology, the climate, the composition of air, water and ground resources, ocean and coastal environments and the evolution of continental surfaces. All of these environmental spheres interact through exchanges of energy and matter. They are studied through observation, laboratory or in situ experiments and modelling predictive scenarios.

Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences

L’The INSU studies the physical, physical chemistry and biogeochemical processes which control the dynamics of these environments on large time and space scales. Progress in knowledge is mostly based on the acquisition and processing of observations for current and past climates and on the development and enhancement of numeric models of the atmosphere, the ocean and their interfaces.

Surface sciences and continental interfaces

Our researchers model exchanges within the critical zone – the interface between the lithosphere – atmosphere and hydrosphere – with the atmosphere, oceans and the "deep" Earth. They study the evolution of eco-hydrosystems, soils and hydrometeorological vagaries to understand more about their dynamics and therefore be able to predict the evolution of these essential resources.

The Earth and its environment

The Earth also interacts with its environment. The aim of space meteorology is to better understand and predict magnetic storms caused by jolts in generating solar activity which send winds of disruptive particles to the Earth's environment and biosphere. One category of small bodies in the solar system is potentially a risk to the Earth, namely near-Earth objects whose orbits may cross the Earth's own orbit. 

Exploring the near and distant Universe

Astronomy and astrophysics

The INSU's research focuses on the formation of the Universe, the nature of its constituent parts and the objects which compose it, namely galaxies, stars, planetary systems and their components. The field of study for astronomers and astrophysicists thus extends from the ionized atmosphere of the Earth to the far reaches of the Universe. This fundamental research studies conditions of temperature, pressure and density in these astronomical objects which are unknown and cannot be reproduced on Earth. In this way the researchers concerned can test the laws of physics over very broad study fields.

The solar system

INSU researchers' theoretical observations and models focus as closely as possible on the solar system and its planets, asteroids and small bodies, particles and on how the Sun functions and interacts with the Earth. 

The distant universe

Researchers search for and characterize exoplanets, especially telluric exoplanets which are made up mainly of rocks. They also study the mechanisms of star formation and evolution, the structure and composition of the interstellar medium in galaxies and the evolution of galaxies and their clusters to understand how the universe was formed and its evolution.

A major contribution to space research

Thanks to a framework agreement, the INSU is now the main partner of the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) within the CNRS. In this context, it participates in the CNES's own space programmes and also those run by the European Space Agency (ESA) or organizations from other countries (NASA, JAXA, ISRO, CNSA, ROSKOSMOS).

This has resulted in a series of jointly run space science projects involving the development of on-board satellite instruments, interplanetary probes or balloons. The Institute also develops methods for the analysis and usage of astronomical or terrestrial observations.

Identifying important issues for the future: scientific prospective studies

Every four to five years, the INSU runs a prospective study with its various laboratories and partners involving consultation with the whole community. The objective of these studies is twofold – firstly to define the current of state of the art in science and resources and secondly to define the scientific or instrumental challenges and priorities of the future.
These studies' conclusions are then used to define the Institute's overall steering plan including the future programmes and the equipment and resources required.

National programmes

To effectively involve researchers in the INSU's major priority objectives, the Institute runs programmes and projects spanning several years. These are co-funded by many different partners and cover the major component parts of the Earth's system and the Universe.

For more information on the INSU's programmes and calls for proposals please visit the dedicated site (in French).

Astronomy-Astrophysics Programmes

The INSU's Astronomy-Astrophysics department's scientific fields of study are divided into national programmes with specific action plans.

The purpose of each of the national programmes is to bring together all the actors in a disciplinary field and to provide scientific leadership. The national programmes are provided with means and resources by the INSU and its partners. There are currently seven such programmes:

Astrobiology (including exobiology and exoplanets) is a transversal subject involved in several of these national programmes.

Three specific projects (in French) currently cover transversal methodological fields. Like the national programmes, these work of these specific projects' is directed by a scientific council and they are provided with resources.

The heads of the specific projects and national programmes are invited to be members of the INSU's Astronomy-Astrophysics Commission.

The Solid Earth Programme: TelluS

TelluS is the INSU's major working programme in the Solid Earth field.

The main objective of this programme is to finance innovative projects in the field of Solid Earth and to encourage transdisciplinarity in French research. TelluS programme funding provides real leverage and allows project leaders to develop their projects sufficiently before making applications to the French National Research Agency (ANR) and/or Europe.

This programme consists of several projects corresponding to various themes in the Solid Earth fields as well as Inter-Institute calls for proposals:

The TelluS programme also includes the specific projects Artemis (for C14 measurement) and Colloquia (for the organisation of international conferences in France).

All these projects are supervised by a Thematic Committee in charge of evaluating responses to calls for proposals in the INSU's Solid Earth field of research and are provided with means and resources by the INSU and its partners.

The Ocean-Atmosphere Programme: Lefe

Lefe (in French) (Fluid Envelopes and the Environment) is the major programme in the INSU's Ocean-Atmosphere field of research.

The major aim of the national and inter-agency Lefe programme is to encourage and support original, multidisciplinary and transversal research into how the atmosphere and the ocean function along with their coupling and interactions with the other components of the climate system. This means that one of the programme's main study subjects is the evolution of the Earth system under anthropogenic pressure. The Lefe programme works by supporting innovative or innovative projects combining observations, numerical simulations and advanced instrumentation developed in laboratories.

Coordinated and managed by the INSU, Lefe is supported by Ademe, CEA, CNES, CNRS (INSU, INC, INP, INSMI), IFREMER,  INRIA, IRD, Météo-France, MTES and Mercator-Océan.

It is steered by a Scientific Council in conjunction with the Inter-Agency Committee made up of representatives from the partner organizations.

It works on 5 scientific project areas linked to the major international and European programmes:

  • Atmospheric chemistry (Chat)
  • Multiple interactions in the atmosphere, ice and the ocean (Imago)
  • Biogeochemical cycles, the environment and resources (Cyber)
  • Mathematical and digital methods (Manu)
  • The Mercator Coriolis mission group (GMMC)

For several years now, the Lefe programme has provided an interface with the EC2CO programme.

The Lefe programme brochure (in French)

The Continental Surfaces and Interfaces programme: EC2CO

The EC2CO programme (in French) (for the continental and coastal ecosphere) federates the scientific community to work on major environmental issues. This requires interdisciplinary approaches to interface subjects between hydrology, ecology and biogeochemistry such as the question of water resources, the contamination of water and land resources, coastline dynamics or the role played by microorganisms in the environment.

This programme particularly focuses on the different types of anthropogenic forcing on the continental and coastal ecospheres including the types of forcing caused by economic and social developments. The projects evaluated must demonstrate how they can play an innovative role in testing original and yet risky structuring questions, for example through network observation systems (SO, Soere, Zone Atelier, etc.). This is a prerequisite for the effective use of research results in the fields of public management and policies.

Projects can concern one or more thematic action areas. They have a maximum duration of 2 years. A final report must be submitted at the end of the project before making an application for a new project.

EC2CO is coordinated by the INSU and funded by the CNRS (INSU, InEE, INC and the Mission for Interdisciplinarity), ANDRA, BRGM, CNES, IFREMER, IFSTTAR, INRA, IRD, IRSTEA and Météo-France.

EC2CO is made up of three thematic action areas:

et d'un thème transversal :

National programme of space remote sensing (PNTS)

The PNTS programme (in French) is coordinated and managed by the INSU and financed by the INSU, the CNES, the IGN, the IRD and Météo-France. It is steered by a Scientific Council.

PNTS's objective is to develop uses of space remote sensing for the study of the Earth (characterization of the Earth's surface, interior and its fluid envelopes). This concerns Earth observation techniques and developments for the thematic use of data and products derived from these. The scientific disciplines concerned are the study of continental surfaces, ocean physics and biogeochemistry, the atmosphere, the solid earth, the cryosphere and the humanities. However this is not an exhaustive list.

PNTS finances exploratory studies which develop instruments that could be put into orbit in the future, measurement physics studies including modelling radiative transfer in soils, vegetation, ocean or the atmosphere, the development of new processing methods for instruments which have already been launched or are in the process of launching, the characterization of satellite products as compared with exogenous data and a particularly original use of space observation for a thematic application.

Conversely, the use of products from space observations obtained using proven methods is not a direct part of PNTS and must be offered to national programmes working on the theme concerned.

PNTS has reaffirmed its position on research related to methodological developments or using innovative space data.

PNTS is organized around four main scientific areas (in French):

  •  Measurement physics
  • Signal processing
  • Instrumentation and space missions
  • Specific opportunities

The Mistrals and Arctic research initiatives

The aim of the Mistrals and Arctic research projects is to promote long-term (ten-year) multidisciplinary research and major measurement missions in these environments which are particularly sensitive to global change and the human footprint. The more specific aim underpinning this work is to assess their future development in terms of their impact on the sustainability of the climate and resources required by humanity.

Innovation by and for research

INSU laboratories design the tools required for researchers' work. Innovation thus results from research carried out in laboratories. As a logical part of its prospective studies, the Institute steers the instrumental research and innovation which are essential to respond to the scientific and technical challenges of the future.

Science cannot exist without technology

The quality of research is intrinsically linked to innovation. At the INSU, innovation stems from the requirements of the Institute's scientific work. In both astrophysics and the geosciences, scientific effectiveness is closely linked to technological performance whether this involves observation, terrestrial, underwater, airborne or space instrumentation.

Designing research tools

NSU researchers design missions and instrumentation for space agencies as well as measurement devices for large ground-based observation infrastructures. They implement the high-performance computing resources which are required to model, operate and archive databases. The demands of observation and measurement requirements mean the Institute's teams often work in close collaboration with their academic partners at the CNRS, other French and foreign research organizations and also with industry. The depth of these collaboration projects is shown in the integrated teams involved which includ all the actors required to carry out successful major R&D or implementation projects.

Innovation and interdisciplinarity

The INSU's scientific approaches are naturally multidisciplinary, and by its very nature, the Institute works continually in direct contact with technology developers. The intrinsically innovative nature of the INSU's research requires working on shared interdisciplinary questions with scientists and technologists from other fields. This results in mutual enrichment and the pursuit of common objectives with different intellectual cultures.

A virtuous circle

The INSU promotes an iterative process in which all those involved in innovation (scientists, technologists, business developers and institutions) create a fertile breeding ground for innovation in the Institute's target areas or for dual applications which themselves generate new approaches. The objective of this strategy is to set up long-term research platforms involving both industry and research based on the INSU's core research areas. These platforms serve as a bridge between industry and the Institute to work on joint scientific projects. These involve topics with a strong economic and social impact, to facilitate exchanges of researchers between the academic world and industry and to enhance the position of the INSU and therefore the CNRS in today's globalized research world and in the framework of world-wide competition in research. This process includes very close relationships with leading industrial partners to promote innovations from laboratories and also to push back the performance limits of existing technologies.

A partnership strategy with industry

A partnership strategy and innovation are inherently inseparable because the former generates the latter. They both generate the development of long-term relationships creating communities of several hundred scientists from the academic and industrial spheres who together produce fundamental research.

In the last five years this strategy has led to multi-partner and multi-year agreements being signed to set up strategic research platforms involving both companies of international renown and dozens of research units. These have produced over 50 theses and 20 postdocs and represent consolidated budgets of nearly €100 million managed by the CNRS, other research organizations and our industrial partners.

Geodenergies: an Institute for Energy Transition for the use of carbon-free energy involving the subsoil

Geodenergies is one of the 7 Institutes for Energy Transition set up in the framework of the French Investments for the Future Programme. Geodenergies works on carbon-free geotechnologies and was co-led in its creation phase by the BRGM (Geological And Mining Research Bureau) and the INSU. It brings together 20 partners (13 industrial concerns and 7 CNRS laboratories) with a budget of 57 M€ over 9 years (16M€ from the Investments for the Future Programme).

  • 16 M€ of funding from the Investments for the Future Programme, 12 projects set up in 3 years
  • 20 partners (13 private, 7 public)
  • A Scientific Interest Group launched in September 2015 which was transformed into an Institute for Energy Transition at the end of 2018
  • 12 proposals: 7 projects underway, 3 approved, 2 rejected
  • 5 projects underway with CNRS Insu partner laboratories

Ecoles thématiques

L’école thématique est un outil de formation, proposé par le CNRS, et ouvert aux communautés scientifiques. Elle permet de soutenir la politique scientifique de l'institut sur ses axes de recherche majeurs, incluant les liens avec les instituts partenaires.

L’école thématique est un moyen de favoriser l’émergence de nouvelles thématiques, d’accélérer la diffusion des avancées conceptuelles, méthodologiques et techniques, de favoriser la création de nouvelles communautés, d’organiser ou rénover une communauté scientifique.

Elle est l’occasion pour des spécialistes de disciplines différentes de dépasser les cloisonnements et différences de langage pour mener ensemble des actions de recherche.


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