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Landscapes on the Edge: New Horizons for Research on Earth’s Surface LANDSCAPES ON THE EDGE New Horizons for Research on Earth’s Surface Committee on Challenges and Opportunities in Earth Surface Processes Board on Earth Sciences and Resources Division on Earth and Life Studies NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS Washington, D.C. www.nap.edu
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Landscapes on the Edge: New Horizons for Research on Earth’s Surface THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20001 NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. This study was supported by the National Science Foundation under award No. EAR-0738045. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations contained in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-14024-9 (Book) International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-14024-2 (Book) International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-14025-6 (PDF) International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-14025-0 (PDF) Library of Congress Control Number: 2010921862 Additional copies of this report are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, N.W., Lockbox 285, Washington, DC 20055; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313 (in the Washington metropolitan area); Internet http://www.nap.edu. Cover: The cover photographs emphasize interacting physical, chemical, biological, and human processes on Earth’s surface over different scales of space and time. The soil horizon with exposed root, plants, and a human dwelling reveals a complex series of biogeochemical interactions in the near-surface. As the Columbia Glacier on Prince William Sound, Alaska, retreats due to a warming climate, newly scoured rock is exposed and chunks of ice melt into the sound. The circular vignette of a “bare Earth” lidar image near Flathead Lake, Montana, signifies the capability of measuring various features of Earth’s surface with precision. Photos courtesy of Robert S. Anderson, University of Colorado, Boulder (Columbia Glacier), Peter Sak, Dickinson College (soil horizon), National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping (lidar image). Cover design by Michael Dudzik. Copyright 2010 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America
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Landscapes on the Edge: New Horizons for Research on Earth’s Surface THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering. The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine. The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council. www.national-academies.org
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Landscapes on the Edge: New Horizons for Research on Earth’s Surface COMMITTEE ON CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES IN EARTH SURFACE PROCESSES DOROTHY J. MERRITTS, Chair, Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania LINDA K. BLUM, University of Virginia, Charlottesville SUSAN L. BRANTLEY, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park ANNE CHIN, University of Oregon, Eugene1 WILLIAM E. DIETRICH, University of California, Berkeley THOMAS DUNNE, University of California, Santa Barbara TODD A. EHLERS, University of Tübingen, Germany2 RONG FU, University of Texas, Austin3 CHRISTOPHER PAOLA, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis KELIN X. WHIPPLE, Arizona State University, Tempe National Research Council Staff ELIZABETH A. EIDE, Study Director JARED P. ENO, Research Associate (until July 1, 2009) COURTNEY R. GIBBS, Program Associate NICHOLAS D. ROGERS, Research Associate (from July 1, 2009) 1 Until August 2008, Texas A&M University, College Station 2 Prior to September 2009, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 3 Prior to August 2008, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta
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Landscapes on the Edge: New Horizons for Research on Earth’s Surface BOARD ON EARTH SCIENCES AND RESOURCES CORALE L. BRIERLEY, Chair, Brierley Consultancy, LLC, Highlands Ranch, Colorado KEITH C. CLARKE, University of California, Santa Barbara DAVID J. COWEN, University of South Carolina, Columbia WILLIAM E. DIETRICH, University of California, Berkeley ROGER M. DOWNS, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park JEFF DOZIER, University of California, Santa Barbara KATHERINE H. FREEMAN, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park WILLIAM L. GRAF, University of South Carolina, Columbia RUSSELL J. HEMLEY, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C. MURRAY W. HITZMAN, Colorado School of Mines, Golden EDWARD KAVAZANJIAN, JR., Arizona State University, Tempe LOUISE H. KELLOGG, University of California, Davis ROBERT B. MCMASTER, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis CLAUDIA INÉS MORA, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico BRIJ M. MOUDGIL, University of Florida, Gainesville CLAYTON R. NICHOLS, Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (retired), Ocean Park, Washington JOAQUIN RUIZ, University of Arizona, Tucson PETER M. SHEARER, University of California, San Diego REGINAL SPILLER, Allied Energy, Houston, Texas RUSSELL E. STANDS-OVER-BULL, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Denver, Colorado TERRY C. WALLACE, JR., Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico HERMAN B. ZIMMERMAN, National Science Foundation (retired), Portland, Oregon National Research Council Staff ANTHONY R. DE SOUZA, Director ELIZABETH A. EIDE, Senior Program Officer DAVID A. FEARY, Senior Program Officer ANNE M. LINN, Senior Program Officer SAMMANTHA L. MAGSINO, Program Officer MARK D. LANGE, Associate Program Officer LEA A. SHANLEY, Postdoctoral Fellow
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Landscapes on the Edge: New Horizons for Research on Earth’s Surface JENNIFER T. ESTEP, Financial and Administrative Associate NICHOLAS D. ROGERS, Financial and Research Associate COURTNEY R. GIBBS, Program Associate JASON R. ORTEGO, Research Associate ERIC J. EDKIN, Senior Program Assistant TONYA FONG YEE, Senior Program Assistant
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Landscapes on the Edge: New Horizons for Research on Earth’s Surface Preface In 2008, some 60 early-career Earth scientists met to explore the dynamic interactions of life and its landscape—in essence the interplay between biological and physical Earth surface processes. Topics ranged in scale from sand grains to continents, and enthusiasm for all ran high. This National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored Meeting of Young Researchers in Earth Science (MYRES) readily achieved its aim of interdisciplinary community building. New teams of collaborators forged during the workshop continued to meet and communicate throughout the year, generating bold ideas for research that bridged multiple fields. Many of their ideas were so unconstrained by conventional disciplinary boundaries that the researchers were hard-pressed to identify the appropriate agencies and programs that might fund such investigations. Indeed, what made the meeting so successful was the rare opportunity for scientists from different fields, who might not go to the same sessions at scientific meetings or even perhaps the same meetings, to interact and explore topics with fresh, multifaceted perspectives. These perspectives came from individual expertise honed in climate science, ecology, geochemistry, geography, geomorphology, hydrology, soil science, and other disciplines, but the power of the new ideas drew from the merging of perspectives to scrutinize compelling scientific questions. The Committee on Challenges and Opportunities in Earth Surface Processes, also comprising scientists from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds (Appendix A), had a somewhat similar experience that began earlier, in late 2007, and extended over an 18-month period. Convened by the National Research Council at the request of NSF to assess the current state of the field of Earth surface processes, the 10 committee members, aided by community input (Appendix B), began immediately to identify fundamental, overarching scientific questions. What controls, for example, how resilient landscapes are to climate, tectonic, and land-use changes? What can we learn about possible future Earth conditions from Earth’s past, as recorded in its landscapes, sediments, and soils? How do ecosystems and landscapes coevolve, and how can landscapes be restored or redesigned in sustainable
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Landscapes on the Edge: New Horizons for Research on Earth’s Surface ways? The intellectual excitement of these and other ideas presented in this report lies in their integrative nature and potential to bring together scientists from diverse fields who share in common the object of study, the Earth’s surface. The committee identified the opportunities as well as the rate-limiting challenges for making significant research advances in understanding the form, composition, properties, function, and evolution of Earth’s surface. Two of the most significant research opportunities are obvious: (1) remarkable new technologies exist for exploring Earth’s surface and for dating sediments, landforms, and soils; and (2) dramatic changes have occurred on many parts of the planet in response to a variety of anthropogenic activities. The most significant technical challenges include a dearth of sites with instrumentation for long-term (decadal or more) monitoring of basic Earth surface characteristics and processes, such as soil moisture and temperature, eolian dust transport, sediment transport, or water chemistry and stream flow. The most fundamental intellectual challenges are that the state of the science of Earth surface processes has been reliant primarily upon empirical approaches, and that the interdisciplinary communities needed to advance the science are nascent. Although empirical approaches are necessary and have produced some notable achievements, quantitative (mechanistic) theories and approaches are needed to describe the processes that shape and alter the composition of Earth’s surface. With combined approaches and disciplinary perspectives, we can make more confident predictions of how landscapes respond to interacting changes. If climate change brings, say, an increase in permafrost melting, will thawed soils deliver amplified sediment and nutrient pulses to streams and coastal water bodies? If so, what feedbacks might occur as biogeochemical fluxes are altered? The landscape, its evolution, and its role as the arena for life and human activity—although intricate—are becoming comprehensible and even predictable as we work across intellectual barriers that have fragmented landscape research in the past. We imagine how the study of Earth surface processes could be transformed if events such as the MYRES workshop were commonplace, and if the climate scientists, ecologists, geographers, geomorphologists, geochemists, and others who study Earth surface processes were to have increasing opportunities to meet, share their disciplinary strengths, generate new ideas, and investigate compelling scientific problems. Our current situation—one of concern about landscapes on the edge of potentially detrimental and irreversible change—could shift to one of optimism about science and society “on the edge” of new understanding of landscape change and processes at Earth’s surface. This vision goes beyond merely the hope for more frequent and sustained interactions among scientists in presently fragmented disciplines that focus upon different aspects of landscape processes. Acquisition and management of multiple types of data are needed, as are the development and support of new tools for exploring Earth’s surface and establishing the nature of its past environmental states.
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Landscapes on the Edge: New Horizons for Research on Earth’s Surface This report is intended to inspire scientists from both the natural and the social sciences to establish broad-reaching research agendas to solve some of the key research questions about Earth surface processes operating in the past, present, or future. The report is equally supportive of the basic, discipline-specific research sponsored by NSF and practiced at multiple federal agencies. Discipline-specific research and expertise are the foundation for productive interdisciplinary endeavors, and both types of research are necessary parts of a national research support structure. This is an auspicious time for the study of Earth surface processes, with a rapidly growing base of new scientists, a wealth of relatively unexplored scientific questions, and a new cache of powerful investigative tools. The timing also is promising in that NSF’s Geovision document is directed partly toward new, interdisciplinary initiatives. We hope that the present report can be synchronized with some of the goals promoted by NSF in the Geovision document. This report also is timely, given the changes in Earth’s surface as a result of human and natural impacts. The committee is optimistic that the ideas and content of this report will promote a collective effort to address a number of societally relevant and scientifically compelling challenges in the field of Earth surface processes. New and enhanced interdisciplinary partnerships, coordinated monitoring and observation of the Earth’s near-surface systems and new scientific theories for processes of weathering, erosion, transport, and deposition of Earth surface materials could transform the field, ultimately leading to much greater capacity to predict how Earth’s surface will change in the future. Working with the scientists on this committee and hearing from colleagues who represented numerous agencies and universities throughout our deliberations provided many days of intellectual enjoyment. I thank the committee for its dedication, stamina, and hard work. The committee is grateful to Elizabeth Eide, the project study director, for her extraordinary abilities in many aspects, but in particular for her capacity to meld numerous comments and feedback into meaningful, thorough compilations that guided us as we developed the report. The committee also benefited from the dedication and excellence of research associates Jared Eno and Nicholas Rogers, and program associate Courtney Gibbs. As chair, I offer a personal note of thanks to all of these fine individuals. Dorothy J. Merritts Chair
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Landscapes on the Edge: New Horizons for Research on Earth’s Surface Acknowledgments In addition to its own expertise, the committee relied upon input from numerous external professionals with extensive experience in Earth surface processes. These individuals provided written and oral contributions, which were very important to the committee in formulating this report. We would like to express our appreciation to the many highly qualified individuals who provided testimony, data, and advice during the course of the study and aided the committee in reaching diverse corners of the broad community of researchers involved in Earth surface processes; in particular, the committee would like to thank: Teofilo Abrajano, Robert Anderson, Ramon Arrowsmith, Rafael Bras, Oliver Chadwick, Terry Chapin, Michael Church, Louis Derry, Martin Doyle, Tom Drake, Michael Ellis, Jon Foley, Christian France-Lanord, Joseph Galewsky, Arthur Goldstein, Will Graf, Neal Iverson, Richard Iverson, Matthew Larsen, Eli Lazarus, Randy McBride, Gregory Okin, Aaron Packman, Frank Pazzaglia, Denise Reed, Linda Rowan, Fred Scatena, John Shroder, Robert Stallard, Brad Werner, James Whitcomb, and Izzy Zietz. This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their participation in the review of this report: Suzanne Anderson, University of Colorado, Boulder Christopher Beaumont, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada Sergio Fagherazzi, Boston University, Massachusetts Kenneth A. Farley, California Insitute of Technology, Pasadena
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Landscapes on the Edge: New Horizons for Research on Earth’s Surface Scott Fendorf, Stanford University, California Jon Harbor, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana Zhengyu Liu, University of Wisconsin, Madison Glen M. MacDonald, University of California, Los Angeles Richard Marston, Kansas State University, Manhattan David Mohrig, The University of Texas at Austin Sujith Ravi, University of Arizona, Tucson Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by William E. Easterling, III, The Pennsylvania State University, who was appointed by the National Research Council and was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
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Landscapes on the Edge: New Horizons for Research on Earth’s Surface Contents SUMMARY 1 1 THE IMPORTANCE OF EARTH SURFACE PROCESSES 13 1.1 Introduction, 13 1.2 Examples of Interconnected Earth Surface Processes, 16 1.3 New Technologies: Monitoring Earth Surface Processes at High Resolution in Space and Time, 24 1.4 Study Considerations and Report Structure, 28 1.5 Closing Remarks, 32 2 GRAND CHALLENGES IN EARTH SURFACE PROCESSES 35 2.1 What Does Our Planet’s Past Tell Us About Its Future?, 35 2.2 How Do Geopatterns on Earth’s Surface Arise and What Do They Tell Us About Processes?, 42 2.3 How Do Landscapes Influence and Record Climate and Tectonics?, 50 2.4 How Does the Biogeochemical Reactor of the Earth’s Surface Respond to and Shape Landscapes from Local to Global Scales?, 61 2.5 What Are the Transport Laws That Govern the Evolution of the Earth’s Surface?, 68 2.6 How Do Ecosystems and Landscapes Coevolve?, 78 2.7 What Controls Landscape Resilience to Change?, 83 2.8 How Will Earth’s Surface Evolve in the “Anthropocene”?, 93 2.9 How Can Earth Surface Science Contribute Toward a Sustainable Earth Surface?, 102
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Landscapes on the Edge: New Horizons for Research on Earth’s Surface 3 FOUR HIGH-PRIORITY RESEARCH INITIATIVES IN EARTH SURFACE PROCESSES 109 3.1 Interacting Landscapes and Climate, 109 3.2 Quantitative Reconstruction of Landscape Dynamics Across Time Scales, 112 3.3 The Coevolution of Ecosystems and Landscapes, 113 3.4 The Future of Landscapes in the “Anthropocene,” 114 3.5 Summary, 116 4 MECHANISMS FOR DEVELOPING INITIATIVES AND SUSTAINING GROWTH IN EARTH SURFACE PROCESSES 119 4.1 Federal Research Framework, 119 4.2 Other Partnerships, 122 4.3 Data Collection and Distribution, Modeling, Tool Development, and Community Research Facilities and Sites, 123 4.4 Developing the High-Priority Research Initiatives, 128 REFERENCES 133 APPENDIXES A Biographical Sketches of Committee Members and Staff 139 B Community Input 145 C Observing and Measuring Earth Surface Processes 149 D Achievements in Earth Surface Processes 155 E List of Acronyms 161