Initiative 3 (Ecological Legacies of Societal Activities) is a natural topic for support by a wide range of federal agencies, including both intramural and extramural research programs at EPA, because of its applied as well as basic research aspects. This initiative differs from existing efforts, however, in its explicit focus on bringing geohistorical methods and materials to bear on the issues. Within NSF, this initiative—like the other two initiatives—would be a part of the Environmental Research and Education portfolio, and would find a logical home in the Coupled Human-Natural Systems Program within BE, or its successor program. This is another natural topic for partnerships among agencies or universities through LTERs as well as USGS and EPA programs focused on particular regions or habitats, but would also be appropriate for synthetic analysis or modeling at regional and global scales.
We do not list these agencies and specific programs to be prescriptive, but rather to give examples of how these initiatives that stress geohistorical methods complement—or are natural extensions of—existing programs.
Only geohistorical data—the organic remains, biogeochemical signals, and associated sediments of the geological record—can provide a time perspective sufficiently long to establish the full range of natural variability of complex biological systems, and to discriminate natural perturbations in such systems from those induced or magnified by humans. Such data are crucial for acquiring the necessary long-term perspective on modern systems. Information from past environmental states, both like and unlike those of the present day, provide the empirical framework needed to discover the general principles of biosphere behavior necessary to predict future change and inform policy managers about the global environment.