hazards are essential for pursuing applied research and engineering efforts to mitigate the hazards. Most federal programs associated with natural hazards are forced by funding constraints to prioritize very directed research; without EAR basic science support, critical basic understanding of the natural hazards would lag, thereby reducing the effectiveness of mitigation efforts.
Quantifying complex geosystems requires extensive measurement of the fluxes, structures, and evolution of the systems. Recognition of this has guided EAR toward developing facilities capable of making the spatial and temporal measurements essential to understanding the dynamical geosystems. Particular progress has been made in geophysical observations with seismic, geodetic, and magnetotelluric networks being established both within the EAR Instrumentation and Facilities program and the EarthScope project. Major advances have been made in facilities for hydrological measurements and database gathering, and several Critical Zone observatories have been established for addressing the near-surface geosystem. Progress in quantifying the historical climate system and its evolution has largely stemmed from accumulation of global observations from continental and oceanic drilling, geological fieldwork, geochemical technique development, and increased understanding of the roles of geobiological processes. Essentially these endeavors probe Earth’s complex environment and quantify attributes of the dynamical systems that feed into quantitative modeling efforts. While some aspects of modeling efforts are intrinsic to monitoring operations conducted by mission-oriented federal programs, and numerous interagency partnerships are exploited to provide access to essential data, EAR efforts are guided by the design requirements for basic research and a strong commitment to NSF-based research facilities.
The BROES report made a compelling argument for the importance of sustaining three basic Earth science research capabilities: (1) techniques for deciphering the geological record of terrestrial change and extreme events, (2) facilities for observing active processes in the present-day Earth, and (3) computational technologies for realistic simulations of dynamic geosystems. This perspective is reinforced in the next chapter, which identifies areas of research opportunity for the near term, all of which intersect with the basic research agenda defined by the BROES study. Indeed, there are common themes manifested in all of the findings and recommendations from this updated report; technique development, observations on suitable spatial and temporal scales, and integrative simulation efforts underlie all of the frontiers in basic Earth science research.
The Earth sciences in the 21st century have great potential but also great challenges. The importance of the discipline is being propelled to high priority by the pressures of population growth, a quest for sustainability of living standards, and demonstration of the feedbacks on Earth’s geosystems caused by human activities. EAR is critical to the future of basic Earth science research, and can highlight the great success of such projects as EarthScope, convey the fundamental contributions of EAR science to resource, hazards, and environmental challenges facing the nation, and promote the intellectual challenges presented by complex geosystems to be quantified by a new generation of committed Earth science researchers.
This report is organized along the structure of EAR to facilitate action by EAR on the diverse topical areas. Chapter 2 of this report describes the status and future prospects of seven primary research areas and one cross-cutting methodological area and are loosely organized by spatial and temporal scale (larger to smaller), beginning with topics related to the EAR Deep Earth Processes section, followed by Surface Earth Processes section topics. These descriptions and assessments are guided by input from across the Earth science community and provide the basis for the committee’s findings and eight recommendations outlined in Chapter 3.