the environment among others. EAR currently consists of two sections on Surface Earth Processes (SEP) and Deep Earth Processes (DEP), as well as other programs and initiatives that include Education Programs, Special Programs, Critical Zone Observatories (CZOs), and Paleo-Perspectives on Climate Change.1 The SEP section, with its programs of Geobiology and Low-Temperature Geochemistry; Geomorphology and Land Use Dynamics; Hydrologic Sciences; Sedimentary Geology and Paleobiology; and Education currently provides the primary support in the nation for research relevant to Earth surface processes, although Earth surface process-related research is only one portion of the total research portfolio that SEP and its programmatic disciplines are tasked to address.

Importantly, Earth surface processes is a rapidly progressing, integrative research field that also overlaps other disciplinary elements within EAR, the other divisions in GEO, and other NSF directorates including Biological Sciences; Computer and Information Science and Engineering; Engineering, Mathematical and Physical Sciences; and Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences. For interdisciplinary research projects that may pertain to one or more funding units, NSF program officers may share proposals among units to consider joint funding. A recent report of the Committee of Visitors commended program officers in SEP for their efforts to identify opportunities for co-funding from both within and outside NSF (NSF, 2008). Although this committee encourages continuation of that type of discretionary sharing of proposals among programs and sections, this informal option is not considered sufficient by itself to foster and maintain growth in the field of Earth surface processes. Comments received by the committee during the course of this study confirm this view. Rather, explicit interdisciplinary programs and funding opportunities are more effective for such work and are especially important in the initial stages of developing broad, interdisciplinary initiatives.

NSF has existing mechanisms to accommodate research that may not fall naturally under one existing disciplinary research program. These mechanisms could allow interdisciplinary research initiatives, such as those suggested by this committee for Earth surface processes, to take root and develop:

  • Support for workshops, symposia, and conferences funds proposals in special areas of science and engineering that bring together experts to discuss recent research or education findings or to expose other researchers or students to new research and education techniques. These activities could be supported by multiple units and may lead to new programs, for example, NSF MARGINS, that employ multidisciplinary approaches.2 The Frontiers in the Critical Zone workshop3 is another example that led to the development of Critical Zone Observatories (CZOs; see Box 2.5);

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